Monday, January 28, 2008

The Decembrists

The Decembrists obviously understand and adhere to the metrical lyricism of poetry, as one can see when mapping out their metrical feet in the song, "The Island Come & See." It is interesting to hear the forcefulness of the singer as he sings the stressed syllables, and the quieter way in which he sings the unstressed syllables. The song is broken up into three succinct parts. Besides the actual musical changes within the song, one is able to notice a more subtle change when looking at the song's lyrics. The first portion of the song is written in iambs, with a masculine ending in each line. The second portion of the song is written using trochaics, with a feminine ending. The third portion of the song is written using both iambs and trochaics, with a mixture of masculine and feminine endings. The song-writer obviously paid attention to the sound and musicality of metrical feet and the changes that metrical feet can create within music, as well as poetry.

Toomer in "Fern"

Toomer writes himself into “Fern,” and after reading some of his biographical information, one is able to notice the aspects of his own life that is mirrored in the narrator’s movements. The shifting from place to place in his own musings and contemplations reflect the travels that Toomer made when he was younger, and even in young adulthood. It is interesting to see that his story takes place within Georgia, the place that Toomer finally decided to live and where he “found in him the belief that he had located his ancestral roots” (Williams 3). For it is here that one is able to see Toomer arrive and begin to make acquaintances with the people there. It is also interesting to notice that Toomer, within the story, decides to take a train back to the North. In this sense, Toomer is leaving his ancestral roots, leaving Georgia where he feels the most connected with his roots. Toomer traveled between white culture and black culture when he was young, and perhaps this story is a metaphor expressing that. Toomer also relied heavily upon the coming of the age of the African-American woman in post-Civil War society. The Fern character represents this change and idealization of that African-American woman, an “Esther” character to use the metaphor within the story. Toomer deals with identity a lot within his writings, and perhaps this mirrors his own thoughts and contemplations of his own identity, going back and forth from white and black culture during a time when there was a wall between the two.I would like to reference the quote that I used in the above blog, A Jean Toomer Biography. Scott W. Williams. 24 January 2008

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

"The Wind that Shakes the Barley" was a gripping tale of how violence can create even more violence. It reminded me much of what the American revolution underwent, also against British rule. The struggles of the revolutionaries are vast, and in most cases, the revolutionaries seem not to have a choice in the matter. Damien even says that he wished to stay out of the war, and couldn't, and now he wishes to get out of the war, and can't. This is a great summation of what happens to people within a country that is undergoing a revolution. The British are horrid in their acts towards the Irish, and I believe that it is justified that the Irish revolutionaries be horrid back in their actions towards the British. One act causes another act of equal, or more, intensity. I think it is interesting the way in which the movie portrays some of the psychological effects of revolutions, especially at an individual level, as seen in Damien's monologues. The revolution seems to almost be a "trap" that the people of Ireland cannot escape, especially because the fighting is occurring within their own back yards. War seems to suck people in and creating a violent people. All in all, an absolute great film!

The Wind, the Barley, etc.

As with everyone else, I thought this movie--wha wha--would seem to be a bit...dreary for my tastes. But, nonetheless...well, we'll move on.
I feel that this movie, as with the Decembrists song, seems also to be about perspective. Here we have two brothers Damien and the guy Teddy, both fighting for what they believe in. There isn't just an apparent parallel here, there's an absolute one. When Damien killed Chris O'Reilly, he knew he didn't want to but had to for the sake of his cause--his version of fighting for a free Ireland. Then Chris's mother said I don't wanna see you again man, and so we fast-forward to the end. And Teddy kills his brother Damien, even though he didn't want to (or did he?) but had to for the sake of his cause. And Damien's girl is like, I don't wanna see you again, you bastard. Similar. But exact. The movie doesn't continue beyond that point, and it's hard to see from this what the good side was and what the bad side was. When they were having the argument in the independent justice courts, I tended to see both aspects of the fight: we need money or we need to establish rules/legality/credibility. It's a tough situation. And the movie was able to (or the director/writer/whatever) to realistically remove itself from natural commentary on which side is best. Almost unbiased. There was no want at the end who won? or anything like that. It was pretty clear that the fight was between the two brothers, with each having their own "vision". And that's that. Sympathy was shown to both, and there was no actual bad guy. Kudos to that aspect of the movie.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

I want to start out by saying that this movie was very powerful and emotionally gripping. It was well shot and the director certainly knew what he/she was doing throughout the entire film. An aspect of the movie all the people that watched it with me were talking about was the soldiers in the beginning of the film. It was interesting to us that despite the fact that the soldiers were both English and Irish, they still treated the Irish so terribly. The scene where the red-haired soldier helped the Irish out of jail was one that caused some cheers from all of us watching. The fact that the soldier could not be a part of the men being killed was a thought that I hoped more characters in the movie would echo. Unfortunately that was not the case, as we continued to see more brutal acts being carried out throughout the film. The scene in which Sinead has her hair (and some scalp) cut off is one that sticks out in my mind as being particularly brutal and nearly impossible to watch. The second half of the movie is interesting as it pits the Irish against themselves and, more importantly for the purpose of the film, O' Donovan versus O' Donovan. This sets up a similar dichotomy as we saw in the earlier parts of the film, although on a much smaller scope. This portion of the film is particularly emotionally gripping because of the family feuding that occurs.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Wow. This movie was definitely an experience. It really gave a new and more personal insight into the history of the Irish. The plot that it built around its story was very engaging.
I think what I liked most about the movie was how it showed the internal conflict of the Irish as they worked for political freedom. From the beginning there are differences in which actions should be taken and how they should be carried out within the group of Irish. This element is enhanced by the detail given to the relationship between Damien and his brother. Through these two, we see the constantly shifting desires of the Irish.
In the beginning, Damien believes in a more political route, using his intelligence rather than anger to fight for Irish freedom. This is in complete contrast with his brother, who is the "action-taker" and more militant of the group. As the story goes on, however, we see Damien take more of the militant role, resisting British occupation at all costs.
This especially reaches a pivotal point in the movie at the court case scene. The war has forced the men (Damien's brother's) to adapt their ethics, siding with the banker (or loaner) out of necessity for arms. Damien takes the opposite side. From this point on, the conflict between the two grows until they are basically at civil war with each other. This all culminates in Damien's execution.
There were several quotes that stuck out to me, but here are a couple that I think are most relevant to this post:
"I hope this Ireland we're fighting for is worth it" - Damien says this before he executes Reilly for treason, and this foreshadows his own death.
"You just killed a fellow Irishman" - after the political split over the treaty, the men find themselves at war with each other. This scene brought about questioning what the treaty accomplished, if anything, and who it was good for.

The Wind.

This was a very interesting film that I thought was very well done. It seemed to me that the film was historically accurate, which is one of the most important aspects in films like these. The portrayal of the Irish was very heart wrenching and makes one think about your situation and the freedom that we have in this country. I could never fathom the choice that was made in coming back to fight for my country when I was about to leave and work my dream job. The Irish were very strong and brave people.
The scene that I was most fond of was when they were in the jail and the guard let the majority of them out of prison. This scene was significant to me because it explained their struggle. They have gone through it all. Before that there own friend, brother, and fellow solider was tortured, but still didn’t release any information. They were so strong as a cohesive group. They were only there for one cause and that was to free their people from the British.
Ps. What is a "Priest Infested Backwater". Lol.

Comments on the Wind that Shakes the Barley

The movie provided an insightful look at the Irish struggle for independence from the British. What struck me as particularly interesting is the film's reinforcement of the idea that people tend to tolerate oppression until it becomes intolerable. As elementary as that may seem, I think it's an interesting phenomenon worthy of some reflection. Damien provides, to me, the most interesting example of this: At the beginning of the movie we encounter him as he is preparing to depart to London to practice medicine in "one of the best hospitals in the world." Even after the appearance of the soldiers, which ends in the death of one of his fellow Irishmen (for speaking in Gaelic and fighting back when he is punched), Damien still fully intends to leave, despite his community's insistence that he stay and help. It is only upon his attempt to board the train, which is somewhat interrupted by another group of soldiers' unreasonable harassment of the train driver (and others) that Damien realizes that this oppressive behavior is unlikely to cease unless someone intervenes. In other words, the previously tolerated becomes intolerable for him. At this point he returns to his community and joins the fight against British occupation. Here an ordinary citizen. a doctor, is transformed into a man fighting for a cause.

A scene that I found particularly interesting was the one in which Damien receives the orders to execute Sir John and Chris Reilly. Sir John does not pose much of a problem for Damien, but executing Chris on the other hand proves difficult. We later find out that he and Chris had been close enough to share meals that Chris' mother had prepared. Moreover, Chris' crime was giving in to Sir John and the British soldiers threat to hurt his mother if he did not tell them the truth about his involvement with Damien's rebel group. In this situation, Damien is forced to chose between his love for his country and his love/relationship for/with Chris. Reflecting on the situation he says, "I've known Chris Reilly since he was a child. I hope this Ireland we're fighting for is worth it. " His choosing country leaves him deeply troubled (and maybe even remorseful), not necessarily because he chooses his country, but because the choice resulted in the death of his friend (at Damien's own hand). His regret is evidenced by his informing Chris' mother exactly how her son died, and his later statement to Sinead suggesting that in fighting for his country he had crossed a line; one that he most likely never thought he would cross.


This film was one of the most depressing yet thought provoking and important movie going experiences I have ever had. The film delivers in great detail, the pain and sorrow that Ireland felt during the British occupation. It was clearly easy to side with the Irish during the first half of the film on account of the unacceptable and horrific British brutality. What I saw in the film would have made me want to join the IRA and fight back. But what really hit me the most was the fact that after the long hard struggle to gain independence, the Irish only got a very watered down version of true freedom. It through into my head a quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune Messiah, “Every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own destruction.” One time allies fighting each other, and more importantly the two principle brothers on opposing sides, it was difficult to watch relationships and achievements built up to that point suddenly take a sharp decline. In the end, this is definitely a film that everyone should see at least once in their lives, an important piece of history that most history classes fail to look at. Watching it a second time…well that is something I can’t do unless forced. It was heart wrenching enough to see again. (good movie though don’t get me wrong).

The Brothers in "The Wind that Shakes the Barley"

What I enjoy about movies like "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" is that it takes an issue as intense as war, a matter that is so far removed from most people that the idea of such a struggle does not make much of an impact, and makes it so vivid that one cannot ignore it.  Like other war films, it does this by showing us first hand the people fighting and the gruesome way in which they are treated.  And though I am usually upset by them, as I was in the case of this film, I find they help affect emotions that sometimes text alone cannot evoke.

But enough rambling about films in general.  I thought "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" did a great job of introducing us to the Irish War of Independence through the relationship between the two brothers; what was particularly successful in my mind was how radically different the brothers' views were from one another and, at the same time, how similar the two could be.  For example, both are extremely dedicated to their cause; just as Damien unwillingly kills the young soldier for betraying them, so too is Teddy so firm in his beliefs that he executes his own brother despite the fact that he does not want to.  In both of these situations, both deny a request from another so that they do not have to do the act themselves and both receive the same general reaction when delivering their victims letters (both the young boy's mother and Damien's wife state they never want to see the person delivering the letters again).  So the relationship as a metaphor for the entire country of Ireland is very strong and successful for creating emotion in the viewer.

Loach's Use of Irony in The Wind That Shakes the Barley

The Wind That Shakes the Barley is a 2006 independent film by English director Ken Loach set in twentieth century Ireland. The film depicts the fictional account of two brothers in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. European criticism tend to emphasize Loach's depiction of Irish history and colonial tensions between England and Ireland. However, I will instead offer a brief analysis Loach's use of role reversal and parallels in his expression of cosmic irony in the movie.

In The Wind That Shakes the Barley, cosmic irony is manifested in identical intentions, yet opposite fates of the brothers Damien and Teddy O'Donovan. Loach achieves this effect by effectively switching the roles of older O'Donovan brother, Teddy, and that of the British occupational forces, which both brothers and the Irish Republican Army, has been opposed to since the beginning of the movie. Accordingly, Damien and Teddy are forced into conflict with one another because of their opposing political beliefs: Teddy believes that Ireland cannot achieve complete independence from Britain and therefore supports the Anglo-Irish Treaty; Damien refuses to submit to the terms of the treaty and swear an oath of loyalty to the English government, and instead does not support the treaty and believes the Irish Republican party should continue to fight for independence. Teddy effectively transforms into the original oppressor, and even adopts the green uniform and equipment of the British soldier, and yet both brothers are still fighting for a better future for their country.

This opposition between the O'Donovans climaxes when Teddy orders the death of his brother and effectively dissolves his relationship with his family for the sake of his politics. It becomes apparent at this point that Loach reinforces his irony by using parallels: where once his brother Damien was spurned and rejected by the family of a man he had slain, so does his brother Teddy face the same rejection at the hands of his brother's lover at the end of the movie. The same building in which Teddy was tortured for information and confessions from the British army becomes the location of Damien's imprisonment, and where he too must be emotionally tormented by the pleas of his brother for submission. By the end of the movie, Damien is forced to use guerrilla tactics once reserved for the British army against the new Irish army and his brother; An identical raid against a barracks that was the beginning of the Irish Republican Party's success when the two brothers were united becomes the end of another, when a raid against an Irish army barracks is the fatal maneuver of Damien and results in his subsequent capture.

The above is only a brief admiration of Loach's storytelling techniques in The Wind That Shakes the Barley. The use of parallel enhances the cathartic effects of Damien's death at the movie's end. Future analysis might invite comparisons between this movie and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather series, which operated using similar techniques.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

This film was an extremely poignant portrayal of the Irish struggle against the British. Before viewing this film I was aware of the struggles between the British and Irish but not on a knowledgeable basis. The treatment of the Irish people by the British was reprehensible and this movie can be seen to sum up in many ways the colonial domination of the British on not just the Irish but any of their colonized peoples. The air of flagrant superiority of the British soldiers and their treatment of the Irish people like subhuman animals was not unique to Ireland and occurred in the African and Indian colonies. The movie as a whole shows that it was not just the first hand British domination that created conflict in the Irish peoples lives but it was the upheaval of the native way of life that caused the subjugated peoples to have even greater conflict amongst themselves. This movie could be analyzed very superbly through a historical lens and with a greater knowledge of the Irish struggle for independence comes a greater depth to the events that occur in the movie.

Wind That Shakes The Barley

This film brilliantly portrays a little-known historical subject. Many know of the brutality of British colonialists in India (thanks to Gandhi) or Africa, but they were just as harsh towards the neighboring Irish as well. Thanks to the film, more viewers are able to see that the British Empire's brutality was experienced by their closest neighbors.

Ultimately, what the movie shows is that, in many ways, the British come out on top in the end following the signing of the treaty. What the English couldn't successfully do before the treaty (destroy the pride and independent spirit/desire of the Irish people) was what they were largely able to achieve following the document's ratification. The Irish were now fighting their fellow Irish, and the British no longer had to waste any of their soldiers to do so.

Plot-wise, what especially struck me was the scene where Damien checks on the sick little boy in bed. Despite abandoning his medical career to join the IRA and a life of violence, Damien demonstrates here that he still has love and compassion deep down, and that the doctor within him, while suppressed, is not extinguished.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

I thought the film "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" was an insightful, albeit depressing, look into the British control over Ireland and the violence that characterized it. I thought it was interesting how there was no clear-cut sense of good vs. bad that would usually be in movies of this nature. Obviously, the British soldiers were dispicable in their treatment of Irish people, but the violence that Irishmen like Damien turned to actually made it harder to distinguish the Irish from the British. I think this is best illustrated in the speech after the gunfight on the hill, which says "If they bring their savagery over here, we will meet it with a savagery of our own!”. Here, it is clear that the Irish have become the type of violent monsters the British soldiers are, even though they are violent for a different cause.

I also thought the end was very depressing, but it was also very fitting. As the screen fades out to the sobs and wails of Sinead, the movie ends without any resolution. The only difference is that the violence is now Irish vs. Irish rather than British vs. Irish. This ending shows how all the violence led to no real changes, and symbolized unending fighting and struggle that would plague the island for years.

"The Wind That Shakes the Barley"

With any movie that is connected with actual historical events it is always interesting to analyze the movie in a way that allows the audience to connect with the writer and director. That is to say that quite often when writers and directors are dealing with polarizing events like the Irish civil war, their own personal beliefs on the situation tend to dictate the attitude of the movie. Oliver Stone's movie "Platoon" is an excellent example of this, after watching the movie one feels as if they have just had a conversation with Oliver Stone about the Vietnam War, and now know that he was against the war but nonetheless has respect for those that fought in it and the brotherhood of the bush. "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" is interesting in that after watching the movie one has absolutely no idea who the writer and director side with, Damien or Teddy. While one must feel sorry for both brothers at the end of the film, the writer and director do an excellent job in creating a somewhat objective look at the Irish Civil war and their struggle for independence. This objective portrayal of an event like the Irish Civil war is particularly interesting and useful in that it makes for an interesting and somewhat educational film. While the storyline engages the audience enough to keep their attention for the duration of the two hour movie, the constant question of which brother to side with allows the watcher to critically think about the movie and about really feel as though he or she got something out of it. Overall the engaging nature and objective protrayla of the Irish Civil war makes for a greatly entertaining film.

The Wind That Shakes the Barley

This was a very good film. It was made beautifully and majority of it was historically correct. Yet, my focus of this movie was the imagery that was used to show the torture of the British on the Irish through small glimpse of atrocities of the people and others of Ireland.  The first we see the death of the young boy in the chicken coop. Then we also see the three-legged dog at the cottage in the hills. Then we finally see the young boy sick of starvation. These could all be seen as the effects of the British upon and are used to show the hardships of the people of Ireland.  We see these small pictures as plots in the movie but need to understand that they have meanings greater then the movies lets on.     

"The Wind that Shakes the Barley", War, and "Red Dawn"

The first thing that struck me about Loach’s “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” is the overall tone of the Irish revolutionaries. What made it seem so familiar was the connection between the fleeting militia in this movie, as well as (pretty much) the same characters in one of my favorite cult classics, “Red Dawn”. These two movies illustrated a great point for me. It seems as if anytime there is a foreign invader, the safest thing to do would be to leave civilization and go into the wild. Both of these movies have men that want to fight, but first must flee into the wild to establish themselves as soldiers.

However, what makes “The Wind” different is the fact they the Irish revolutionaries get caught by the British army. From there, everything begins to spiral in a different direction. It was difficult to watch the movie after they killed Chris for ratting on the men. It is hard to think it was truly necessary to kill a kid (who could not have been older than fifteen) who was practically forced into giving away his friends’ location. Nevertheless, this scene gives you a better understanding of what war can do to men. After Damien kills Chris, Finbar says, “We've just sent a message to the British cabinet that will echo and reverberate around the world! If they bring their savagery over here, we will meet it with a savagery of our own!”. Savagery should not be an answer, but these boys almost feel that it is the only way to send a message to their British colonizers. Because of this, war changes the boys to become animals, as seen in the final scene between Damien and Teddy. Teddy knows what he is doing is wrong, but the war has changed him to believe that there is nothing worse than British control of Ireland. The war also changes Damien as his gives his life to his goal of a free Ireland.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley: Depressing Much?

Repeating what the other students have said on here, I will write as best I can. First off, I really enjoy all of Cillian Murphy’s (he played Damien) films because his acting always brings me into all of his films, so that already started the movie off on a positive note for me. The Wind That Shakes The Barley was quite depressing and really gave me a feel for the times that Yeats and Toomer were experiencing. The brutish force of the British Military guys that were in Ireland was astounding. How they could just murder a teenage boy, I do not know. The way the main characters took the situation into their hands by training teens and themselves was very interesting to watch. In a way, they were sort of becoming what they hated most – murderers – but they had a different and valid agenda for their actions.

The ending of the film was so depressing. I did not expect it to just end on the somber note of Damien dying and Sinead left to deal with this. I found this extremely tragic, but at the same time an extremely important scene and metaphor for the times in Ireland. No one was safe against the British, and this was the travesty that the Irish had to deal with. This ending scene gives us insight to content and context of Yeats and Toomer and their works (and probably upcoming works).

The Wind That Shakes the Barley: A Reflection

Ken Loach's The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006) is a tragic, violent masterpiece. Like Thomas says, below, it is an incredible, historical portrayal of the violence associated with the Irish quest for Independence from Britain. Before watching this movie, I did not know much about the situation in Ireland. Now that I have seen the film, I have a newfound respect for the Irish and a hatred for the British soldiers involved in at least THIS particular series of battles (the battles in the film); just to clarify, I do not intend to generalize and say that all British soldiers (or British in general) are/were terrible, because I cannot rightly say that. In fact, I have some good friends in England.

Although I have always been interested in Ireland (i.e. I would love to visit) and other countries/cultures/languages in general, The Wind That Shakes the Barley pulls that interest to the surface. For instance, at Wabash's Celebration of Student Research, last Friday, I was excited when I realized that there was going to be a presentation on Irish music, and I promptly attended it. The presenter spoke about Irish independence as a major theme in Irish music, and this was captivating to me. The song "Zombie," by The Cranberries, was particularly interesting, focusing on the beating of an Irishman (a teenager, I think) by British men; I learned that the song brought a moment of peace to Britain and Ireland and that everyone seems to want the war to be over. I admit that the first time I ever heard this song on the radio, I immediately changed the station. I did not understand the song or its context, and the characteristic ornamentation of Irish music was peculiar and uninteresting to me (also, I was quite young at the time). Lastly, I did not even realize that the song was performed by an Irish band! Thus, not only did The Wind That Shakes the Barley convince me to attend a presentation on Irish music, it also convinced me to rethink a song that had been erased from my memory, an indictment of British violence toward the Irish. What a powerful and informative film! It definitely goes in my "must buy" list.

The Wind that Shakes the Barley

Like Jeremy just said, I am not quite sure how to go about this blog so I will just comment on a few things. The first thing I would like to say about this movie is how terribly sad it is, which in effect makes it much more touching and realistic. While doing my research on the British occupation of Ireland, I came across numerous stories and accounts of the atrocities committed by both sides. This movie depicted some of those atrocities, whether it was Teddy’s torture and the subsequent punishment or the way that Damien and his followers killed the child traitor who had turned them in. The movie was filled with stark portrayals of the violence and chaos that were part of everyday life in Ireland in the early 20th century.

From the very beginning of the movie, I felt compelled to watch and see the story of these two brothers. This seems like a simple and basic statement but what I mean is that all too often war movies are not compelling and realistic. I often find myself terribly bothered by my lack of caring for the characters in war movies. Maybe it is because I cannot relate to the characters or because I do not feel like I am watching a realistic movie. But more often than not, I find myself bored and unmoved by war movies. This movie, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. From the on set of the movie, I felt like I was there, in Ireland. The sweeping scenery and breathtaking backgrounds made me feel as though I had been to Ireland. I have never been to Ireland but I can at least say I can imagine what it looks like. I cared about Teddy and Damien. I cared about their struggle and plight. I was moved by their speeches inside the court room and I suffered along with them in their fights. And I understood both of their opinions and decisions before the deeply disturbing end to the movie.

The ending to this movie was so profound and disheartening that it is difficult to describe. I felt like I was watching a real piece of art. The dialogue in the scene was so moving and touching I honestly thought that Teddy would retract his decision to kill his brother. It is difficult to express the scene in words because of the nature of the scene. Trying to express the pain and anguish that is visible in Damien and Teddy’s face is next to impossible. These two brothers love each other and their country and it appears as though the love of their country out weighs the love they have for each other. History is rife with occurrences of brothers fighting or believing in different things. This was one of the most powerful endings to any movie I had ever seen.

"The Wind that Shakes the Barley"

I must say, I am not quite sure in how to approach this particular blog, but I will do my best. The film was, for what it was, engaging and even enjoyable at times, if in a morbid sort of way. The film succeeded in attracting my attention toward the plight of the Irish almost a century ago, and I can certainly understand important parallels at work in the world today. The saddening, gloomy overcast of the entire movie truly hits you early on, with the tortured death of the characters' friend. This short scene truly sets up the presentation of the British throughout the movie, as I found them to be comically loud and annoying when they weren't bashing in someone's teeth with the butt of an Enfield. It certainly made me despise the British for a short while, which, I imagine, was part of the purpose. The ideas of split loyalties over minor discrepancies in treaties and over family (and many other things of this sort, etc., etc.) certainly play upon the emotions throughout the story. I found one of the most powerful scenes in the first half of the film to be Teddy's stand before the British landowner, only days after having his fingernails ripped out. He stood with nobility and spoke with power and conviction, even in his threats. I respected this, and the entirety of the movie's presentation. "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" is a powerful, sad movie about human prejudices, terrible mistakes, and wasted lives.

Friday, January 25, 2008

"Karintha" and "Fern", or The Living Dead of the Post-Bellum South

The short pieces by Jean Toomer concerning the young black women named Karintha and Fern share many similarities with a great deal of southern literature from this period. Being perhaps the only southerner in the class, as a Mississippian by birth, I feel I need to direct some attention toward this. Anyone who has read Faulkner might already be somewhat familiar with what I am going to propose. Either way, the southern states, following the Civil War, were effectively recolonized by the north in a process called Reconstruction. The basic US history lesson ends here. This process, though successful by northern standards, reduced southerners of every race and social class to what is seen in the characters of the featured stories, particularly Fern. Fern does not care, or feel. She barely lives, subsisting within her own mind, allowing the men around her to take advantage of her without complaint, though many of these men do, as is mentioned, feel a sort of obligation to her afterward. I would hazard to say this is in the commonality of events in these peoples' lives, that of abuse and redemption, being as that is the sad precedent set by both north and south in the handling of events following the war. Therefore, my title referencing the living dead is for these people--the broken ones who were forced to live in the Reconstruction Hell that persisted over decades and several generations. Even into the 1950s and 60s, one could see these same events. This is not to say that old stereotypes regarding the south hold true. This is, in fact, far from the truth. Prior to its military defeat in the Civil War, the south could easily equal the north culturally, if not industrially. To make this long, rambling story shorter, it is my point to say that these things are not unique to any single ethnic group or class in the south at the time. They were all the living dead.

Toomer's Reapers

In Reapers, Jean Toomer executes the theme of the poem through his splitting of it into two four line stanzas. In the first he describes the mindless work of the "Black reapers" as they go about their tasks. In the second he describes the equally mindless work of "Black horses" who continue mowing despite killing a rat. By splitting the poem in this way each half seems to mirror the other. The black workers who are being forced to work mindlessly in the fields for survival are paralleled with animals. This parallel seems to emphasize Toomer's struggle with his own racial identity.

Identity in Cane

Probably the most constantly mentioned aspect of Toomer's life is the process through which he would identify with race. Being of mixed blood and able to pass for either white or black as resources have mentioned, finding one culture/race to identify with made a lasting impression on his work. I see this in the material that we have read thus far.
In "Reapers," from the beginning we are given a definite color. The reapers are black and the horses are black. But this color also "paints" the setting and gives the mood. The work here is non-stop, and we are aware of who is doing this work.
In "Karintha," however, we are only told that this woman's skin "is like dusk[...] when the sun goes down." The color here is not definite; when the sun sets, there are varieties of shades and when I think of dusk I don't think of distinct colors other than gray-ish. So in the story, her actual color (and thus race) does not seem to matter as much as what becomes of her.
While it seems that this could be a way of Toomer inserting himself symbolically into the story, one line that catches my attention is "she was as innocently lovely as a November cotton flower."Using associations, when most think of the early South, we come to think of slavery, and when one thinks of slavery, there is usually an association with cotton crops. I found the sentence to be full of irony in that light, since it is being said that the cotton is innocently lovely, which would definitely not be the case under those associations. And with those associations, we realize that we are being told Karintha's race after all, even with the use of ambiguous dusk.
Like many other people have mentioned here, Jean Toomer's mixed racial background made it difficult for him to identify with either the black or white communitites, preferring instead to be called an "American". But after witnessing the segreagation in Georgia as a school principal, Toomer identified himself with the African American communites. I think this strong association with this community comes through in his poems Karintha and Fern.

In these poems, Toomer is celebrating the beauty of two black women. The description of Karintha's beauty is tied directly to her color, "Her skin is like dusk on the eastern horizon". Toomer repeats this simile comparing Karintha to dusk multiple times throughout the poem, and shows how he finds incredible beauty in her dark skin color.

In Fern, another poem about a beautiful black woman, there seems to be more of a distinction between black and white people. He points out that the white men left Fern alone. Also, the speaker of the poem shows concern that somehow Fern will end up a concubine to a white man, and that he has to do something for her to ensure nothing like this will happen. This again shows a connection and identification with the black community, fighting against the white men who were taking opportunities and other things away from them. This, along with his description of beautiful black women, shows his identification with the black community during his time in Sparta, Georgia.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Toomer's "Karintha" & Southern Feminism

Compared to "Fern" and "Georgia Dusk," Jean Toomer's extended poem, "Karintha," may appear to resist an analyst's attempts to connect the poem with its author's biography. However, consideration for the poem's historical context and a feminist reading compliments this particular example of Harlem Renaissance poetry.

Like Thomas Mann, Toomer's mixed heritage is an obvious subject for an analysis of his work, but racial tensions appear to be absent in "Karintha"; only African American culture is represented. Karintha herself has skin "like dusk, when the sun goes down." Of Karintha's many admirers, no indication of race is given. However, given the controversy that would likely arise among residents of the South concerning interracial marriage, it can perhaps be safely assumed that Karintha's admirers are blacks as well.

Moving on, "Karintha" appears to avoid interracial themes by virtue of its heterogeny. Instead, the poem depicts one black Southern woman's attempts at self-expression, and her subsequent conformity to social and moral attitudes in the African American community. Karintha is compared to "a growing thing ripened too soon." She is an object of affection for men, old and young. Toomer writes, "The young fellows counted the time to pass before she would be old enough to mate with them." Even the dusk to which Karintha is constantly compared alludes to the movements of the sun and moon, which symbolized the passing of time to the ancient Greeks. Therefore, "Karintha" is, more than anything, a coming of age story for a women who has lost her innocence and subsists by sexually satisfying the men around her while remaining herself unsatisfied. Hence the meaning in the ending lines, "Karintha is a woman. Men do not know that the soul of her was a growing thing ripened too soon. They will bring their money; they will die not having found out..."

What we find in "Karintha" is Toomer's compassion account of the gender issues and social barriers that prevented the Twentieth-century black woman from fully participating in Southern society. In the first half of the poem, Karintha is compared to a free spirit, "even the preacher, who caught her at mischief, told himself that she was as innocently lovely as a November cotton flower." However, by the poem's end Karintha has been forced to participate in her society's expectation of her largely static and reproductive role, and her life amounts to a vicarious existence through the men who court her; this is why Toomer surrounds Karintha with metaphors to demonstrate the passage of time, to highlight her tragic plight. In this way Toomer anticipates the values of Second-Wave feminists, who were concerned with the unequal social treatment of women. This is why I thought "Karintha" was particularly profound.

A Jean Toomer Biography by Scott Williams's%20father1
Harlem Renaissance Women

Toomer & "Karintha"

As many have already pointed out here in this blog, Toomer had the ability to pass as white or black. As an obvious consequence, he did not identify or define himself by race, and, at least early in his adult life, he strove to live as a member of what he called the "American" race.

Even though there are clear differences between Toomer and Karintha (i.e. their gender, location, etc), I nonetheless see a possible allusion to his own life which comes out of the refrain: "Her skin is like dusk,/O cant you see it,/ Her skin is like dusk,/ When the sun goes down." (4) Like dusk, Toomer's race was unclear and hazy. One couldn't just "see" Toomer and immediately deduce whether he was white or black. Perhaps this is all a stretch, but I do feel there is some connection between the lack of clarity and haziness which accompanies a dusky early evening and the inability to accurately categorize Toomer by race.

"Reapers" - Irony and Race

Reading over Toomer’s biography, the most interesting thing to me (and probably everyone else), was that he was half-black and half-white. I found that this could be read in "Reapers" because of the obvious tensions between whites and blacks at the time, which was quite a weird position for Toomer to be in because he was both. This could be one of the reasons for the irony in "Reapers."

"Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones"

What I find interesting about these two lines is that the reapers are black (usually the ones who are oppressed) and they are the ones sharpening the scythes. This kind of irony already sets up for the poem to have a deeper contextual meaning. This contrast is only the beginning for Toomer’s poem.

"In their hip-pockets as a thing that's done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one.
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds,"

This section of the poem furthers the racial tension theme, once again using the color black as the only description (i.e., the horses). As the horses drive a mower through the field, a rat is caught in the path of the mower and is cut open due to the sharp blades. The rat represents the blacks and the hardships they face.

"His belly close to ground. I see the blade,
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade."

This section of the poem finishes the tension between the author and his two sides. As the blade cuts open the rat, the horse and machine continue to move past, as if nothing has happened at all. This is a corellation between the anamosity some whites had against blacks - no matter what travesties were brought upon the blacks, some whites just did not care and kept moving on with their lives as if nothing had ever happened.

"Fern" and 1920s Georgia

From a historical standpoint, “Fern” best illustrates Toomer’s reflections on his Georgia life. “Fern” shows a man confused by racial relations as he pursues the black woman, Fern. There is a contradiction within Toomer, as he is of both white and black descent. Because of this, his narrator notices hostility from white people (“A white man had to flick him with his whip…” (17), “people started to stare at us” (19)) and black people (“there was talk they were going to make me leave town” (19)), similar to what Toomer, himself, probably experienced in his time in Georgia. The narrator begins to break away from his mixed race as he attempts to identify more with Fern. This is where Toomer begins to identify himself, as well as his narrator, as a man with strictly black ties. Toomer experienced many racist moments in his time in Georgia. There were many lynchings and mob killings by the Klan from the 1900s to the 1920s. Governor of Georgia, Clifford Walker, also had strong ties with the Klan during this time period. During this difficult time for the black society of Georgia, Toomer broke his mix race and began to identify himself only as black. This is why at the end of “Fern”, Toomer writes, “Something I would do for her” (19). He writes this to show that although both races resent Toomer, he still tries to help the black people with their struggles in 1920s Georgia.

Jean Toomer's "Fern"

As Thomas said, Jean Toomer had a unique heritage that allowed him to be both White and Black and pass as either whenever he wanted.  Also what's interesting is that his trip to Georgia (also mentioned by Thomas) sparked his identification with his African American heritage.  As I was reading "Fern," I was struck by the fact that Fern, like Toomer, had a conflicting mixed heritage being half-Jewish (racially speaking, she has the "Semitic" nose), half-Christian.  What's surprising is that Fern is obviously very accepted in this world that Toomer has created, but she's clearly not satisfied with something in her life, maybe it is even her cultural makeup.  Biographically speaking, I think it's pretty evident that there is a connection between the two's mixed heritages, but I was unable to find a whole lot on Toomer's feelings about his own mix... perhaps someone else had more luck with it.

Georgia Dusk

As far as analyzing this particular poem from a biographical aspect Thomas has certainly done an excellent job in addressing Toomer's identification with the African-American community in the south and the possible explanations for Toomer's repeated use of sound-oriented diction. But one thing that I was particularly interested in upon reading not only Georgia Dusk, but also Karintha and Fern, is Toomer's obsession with the sunset and dusk. Before I had learned anything about Toomer's life I speculated that perhaps Toomer grew up in an environment where it was unsafe for him to venture outside at dusk to watch the sunset, or something of that nature. But after learning about his extensive travels as a college student and his constant change of scenery I am just as confused now as I was prior to reading Toomer's biographical information, and it seems that, biographically speaking, that there is no explanation for Toomer's desire to have many of his poems and short stories take place at dusk. This is perhaps just as useful of an observation as finding a biographical explanation for the sunset would have been in that it shows that analyzing an aspect of an author's works cannot always be done through a biographical lens. Just as Dr. Herzog spoke to in his lecture, biographically analyzing a text is only one of many ways to think about a poem, and does not always lead to a neat and tidy explanation for how and what an author writes.

Jean Toomer: "Reapers"

Jean Toomer grew up in the aftermath of the Civil War (1860s), as he lived from 1894 to 1967. We know that, in this time period, racism against African-Americans abounded, and indeed it is present even today. We know all about slavery and the social/economic/etc. conditions it perpetuated. What some of us might not have known is that Toomer was the offspring of parents who themselves had interracial bloodlines; thus, he was part black, and he had the advantage of being able to pass for either white or black, at will (academic source). Putting the poem "Reapers" into this context, rather than reading it a face value as a product of the now, the present, we can begin to see a cause, a reason, for Toomer's writing the poem. Since it is so short, I will go ahead and post it:

"Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the homes
In their hip-pockets as a thing that's done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one.
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds.
His belly close to ground. I see the blade,
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade."

This poem has the themes of sharpness/cutting/violence, blood/stains, darkness (black/shade), and hard labor. Throughout the poem, we see the blade as something that is very sharp and quite dangerous; we see violence (intentional or not). Next, we see two instances of blood (the RESULT of violence), one when the rat is bleeding, the other when Toomer describes the blade that has not stopped inflicting its violence, its cutting. Then, there is darkness: the word "black" comes up twice, and "shade" is the closing word. These words, while providing essential information such as the fact that the reaper and horse are black, create a running theme of darkness/somberness/melancholy in the poem. Finally, the theme of hard labour is evident throughout the poem, as it begins with work being done, and the work never stops. As we might notice, all these themes are representative of slavery in America.

While this may seem like a simple poem about slavery to us, since we learn about slavery in history class and can recognize its themes and conditions, there is more to be noticed in "Reapers." The title itself, and the word reaper (and concept of the reaper) has multiple meanings. Oxford defines "reaper" as a machine used in harvesting, a person who reaps (cuts), and, of course, the Grim Reaper (Death personified) himself/herself (OED). If we look up "reap," however, we notice that there are other definitions that we can apply: to receive as the consequence of one's own or others' actions, to take away by force, and to gain (OED). While the former set of definitions seems to apply to the slaves themselves, the latter set references/describes mostly slave-drivers, with the exception of the first definition. It is clear that all of these definitions can be used to describe both slavery itself and what is happening in the poem, which seems to be a short clip of slavery at work, or at least its institutions (hard/continuous work, blood spilling, etc.). Thus, which definition of "reapers" we use does not really matter that much; they all lead to the same place. The black workers are reapers in that they are machines, drones who continue to work no matter what; they are reapers in that they are people who do cutting; they probably reap the consequences of their actions (don't stop, or else...), though we don't really see this in the poem; and the final two definitions can even be referenced if we notice/remember that the slaves are working for slave-drivers who are trying to gain something, who will take away privileges if they don't get what they want.

Finally, I would like to point out the symbolism of the Grim Reaper definition, which I have saved for last. If we apply this definition—which, one will notice, by looking at OED, had been used by Longfellow well before Toomer started writing—the entire poem changes into a metaphor for the trials/issues that slavery presented, the darkness and violence. The Grim Reaper is the corporeal form of Death itself, and his/her appearance in a poem that mimics the institution of slavery is startling. It says that we can think of slavery itself as the reason for many deaths (of slaves), which is true. The idea of killing a mere rat, a tiny, insignificant thing, should remind us of the violence and ruthlessness with which slaves were treated in the time of slavery. Thus, with this definition, the slave-driver takes the place of the slave in the field; the slave-driver becomes the Grim Reaper, and then he/she reaps the rat, the slave. Now, we might notice a cycle: the slave reaps the weeds (re: the slave does the work), the master reaps the slaves (re: drives, punishes, and perhaps kills them), and finally the ACTUAL Grim Reaper is the one who takes all the souls away, white or black, to be judged or begin eternal life (an afterlife that will, one hopes, transcend slavery).

As we can see, the poem presents many parallels between death and slavery, and it also references some key issues that were, no doubt, close to Toomer's heart. Toomer seemed to be both speaking out against and referencing slavery (the importance of remembering it and making conditions better). That he was both "white" and "black" adds a deeper level of meaning to the poem, as he can be seen as being "on the fence" on the issues of slavery; he is on both sides, the white and the black (and North and South, if one wants to look at it that way). As a black man, he can identify with the plight of African-Americans, and as both a white and a black man, he has the authority and REASON to speak out against racism, to challenge it.

"Georgia Dusk" by Jean Toomer

Jean Toomer’s poem “Georgia Dusk” is about an idealized black southern town. One can only assume that the town is in Georgia because of the name of the poem. The time of the day is near sunset, which is indicated by the first few lines “Lazily disdaining to pursue/The setting sun” (Lines 1-2). The workers in the ‘sawmill’ are getting off of work and returning to their place of residence for a “night’s barbeque” (Line 4), perhaps it is a Friday night and the workers are anticipating the weekend? The majority of this poem has a very upbeat tone and a prevailing theme is music and sound. This is a poem filled with auditory phrases. From the second stanza until the last stanza, the poem is filled with images of music and sound. Take the 6th stanza for example. Toomer uses the line “voices rise” twice in this stanza. Both times, Toomer implies a happy, lyrical voice; one where the “pine trees are guitars” (Line 21) and “the chorus of the cane” (Line 23).

Using a biographical analysis of this poem, it was never quite clear to me why this poem was so auditory. From the biographies that I looked at for Jean Toomer, I never came across an instance of music being very crucial in his life. But then I began to think about applying a historical analysis to this poem and it became much clearer to me about the reason for these particular words. Toomer is discussing a southern town, most likely in the early 1900s, which is primarily full of African American residents. If the poem is occurring in the early 1900s, these African Americans have either outlived the Civil War and slavery or they are the direct descendants of slaves or freed Africans. In the South, during the time of slavery, slaves would often sing songs in their native tongue either to communicate with each other or as an attempt to ingest some new life into their daily routines. Music was a very critical part of their lives during the period of slavery and it appears as though music was an important part of their lives in the early 1900s.

Biographically, there are many things that are similar between this poem and Jean Toomer’s life. Toomer was a person with a mixed racial background. He was part Dutch, French, German, and African American. During his childhood, he attended all white and all black schools. Toomer had the ability to pass for either skin color and until he moved to Sparta, Georgia, he did. While he lived in Sparta he took the job as principal in a public school. As principal and resident of Sparta, he became accustomed to the racism and segregation that African American people had to face. After his job as principal, he began to identify himself as African American and eventually became a writer of the Harlem Renaissance. His identification as an African American is very evident in this poem. The poem is about an African American community who is gathering to enjoy the night time festivities. At no point does Toomer ever use the word ‘black’ or ‘African American’ but it is clear he is discussing an African American town by the use of his words like ‘cane-lipped.’ The residents of this community are completely content with their existence which is evidenced by their cheerful attitudes and “folk-songs” (Line 8). Toomer began to identify himself as an African American before he wrote this poem and this poem demonstrates his embrace of the culture.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Decembrists

Similar to both Thomas and Campbell I found this song to be not only quite pleasing as far as music goes, but also quite difficult to analyze. Besides for the sheer length of this song, the three very distinct portions make it difficult to scan and analyze as a whole. I find that one of the most interesting aspects of the song is the way in which the singer accents certain words over others. Thomas made an excellent point in noting that in the verse “Come and see” one can barely pick out the “and,” which in actuality is more of an “n” than anything. But it is also interesting to note that in “The Landlord’s Daughter” section of the song that the singer accents the verses “I’ll take no gold miss, I’ll take no silver: I’ll take those sweet lips, and I’ll deliver.” Clearly marking an emotional part of the song, the singer expresses this to the listener by making it stand out from the rest of the song by accenting the entire verse.
In the “You’ll Not Feel the Drowning” section the singer once again brings attention to certain words by irregularly accenting and emphasizing certain parts of them and not the others. For example, in the repeated chorus “You’ll not feel the drowning” conventional methods of speaking would place the accent mark on the latter part of the word “drowning,” but the singer accentuates the “drown” part and trails off in the end. This stands out to the listener in that it seemingly denotes a shift from the aggressive, faster tempo of the aforementioned verses in “The Landlord’s Daughter” section to a more remorseful attitude once the girl is dead. The shift in accentuation is prevalent throughout the song and matches up not only with the beat, but also with the emotions of the story within the song, making for an aesthetically pleasing song and powerful story telling.

B. Meyer's Amazing Analysis of "The Island/Come & See"

Of course, I cannot begin this analysis without stating whether I liked this song or not. So I won't.
Moving on, I feel that there are definitely three layers to this song (obviously), from the three different aspects, or points of view given by the three parts. Having also looked up exactly what Sycorax is (on Wikipedia), I discovered an interesting fact that postcolonialists view Sycorax, unseen mother of Prospero, to be the voice of women recovering from the effects of colonization. The Patagonians, next, are figment peoples famed to be very tall, living on some Island. Sycorax also lives on an island. Parallax is perhaps the most interesting aspect of that verse, and the song in general, because it speaks upon the different effects an object has once the perceiver is in motion, or, rather, it's all based upon the perspective of the observer.
So who's the observer?
But after all this back-story, we come to my aforementioned guess at three perspectives, rather than two from what we see. The first part of the song is told in the supposed third person. But, rather, when inspected closer, we see the use of the word "we", which places it first-person. The second and third parts are first-person as well, and so the perspectives are based upon the emotional or mental state of the observer. And the motion we see in the song, or tale, is based upon parallax, or the change in motion of the observer, the single observer we have.
In the first part, we have the Observer giving background information, sans human beings, but rather bones of "cormorants" or animals, boats, and plants/flowers in general, i.e., the setting. And it serves to set the mood, and of course the setting. The first part is removed from immediate action. The second part is direct action, live action, and the Observer incorporates the Landlord's daughter, in a very dark manner, sinisterly. But sinister only as far as telling a simple tale of innocent girl, bad thief/murderer. Not much emotional depth on the Observer's part.
The third section is where we see a darker, even more sinister and bleak aspect of the Observer, as we begin to see his (or her) mental state. It's almost the lament of an insane serial killer, with some deep emotional, repressed issues. Even after killing the landlord's daughter, the Observer wants to remain with the body to "dress" the eyelids with "dimes," etc.
But the second stanza of that section, "forget you once had sweethearts..." etc., almost reflects upon the Observer's past. Now on the island, forget all your memories, all the good aspects of your life, and die like I've died. (Physically or mentally/emotionally.)
The island to me represents something like hell. Not physical, but definite. An existence on some plane of this world or the next, a mythical place of Sycoraxes and Patagonians, but a dark, doomed place for the unlucky, brokenhearted, dying, dead, etc.

The Decemberists: The Island

The Decemberists' The Island is not what I expected it to be. For one thing, I did not expect the extremely long musical introduction, not that I dislike it; it is interesting, and I think it foreshadows the song's length. That said, I DO enjoy the song. I like the instrumental music a lot, as well as the singing itself; the timbre of the singers' voices goes well with that of the instruments, which are expertly played. Thus, the band has a "good sound," as we often say.

As we were listening, I became particularly interested in the words "Sycorax" and "patagon," especially when Professor Brewer mentioned them after the song was over, so I looked them up. While I realize that Wikipedia typically is not a credible source in the academic world, I think I can use its general definitions of these words without risking a fiasco. That said, Sycorax has several meanings/implications/allusions. First, it refers to two episodes of the British Doctor Who series. In one episode, a fictional race of aliens invades, and that race is called the Sycorax. In a later episode, the Doctor travels to Shakespeare's time and, in Shakespeare's presence, mentions the alien race from the abovementioned episode; in this Dr. Who version of history, Shakespeare likes the word "Sycorax" and decides to use the word in one of his plays. This takes us to the next definition: in fact, Sycorax IS the name of a character mentioned in Shakespeare's The Tempest. This is the earliest instance of the word that I can find, but I thought it would be interesting to tie it into the above definition first. Finally, Shakespeare's fictional Sycorax was honored with the discovery of one of Uranus' moons, which is now called...Sycorax! As for "patagon," I found that it simply refers to a mythical race of people who are double the size of regular humans.

Although there are many potential reason's for The Decemberists' use of "Sycorax," it is clear that BOTH of the words in question are references/hommages to something that is (1) fictional, (2) perhaps larger than life, (3) mysterious, and (4) other-worldly. With this context in mind, we get a sense of danger from the lyrics, as a child, asleep in its cradle, is being watched by both "Sycorax and patagon" (from different vantage points, which is what "parallax" means, for those of you who don't know the word). As such, I can only picture Sycorax as the alien race mentioned in Dr. Who. It just makes the best sense. The scene therefore can be represented by the following: a sleeping child being watched by an alien, from one point, and a mythical giant, from another point. This also accounts for the "foretold rumbling" in the next line of the lyrics, as the giant would no doubt produce a rumbling as he/she walked the Earth. Usually when we think of aliens and giants, at least in my experience, we think of them as sinister or potentially harmful, at least at first, and because of this, the song seems eerie. The dark tone of the song can also be seen in the second and third sections of the song, which speak of "death," an "ugly" person, "drowning," and "dimes laid on your eyes," to name a few examples. I am particularly interested in the line about dimes, which closes the song. The dimes seem to refer to the coins that one would put on the eyes of the dead as a tip for Charon, the driver of the underworld's ferry/boat. It also ties into a main theme in the song/poem: eyes/seeing/sight. Some examples of this theme at work include the lines "Come and see" and "With this bare waking eye."

As a final note, I would be interested in knowing the actual reason that The Decemberists used "Sycorax," as this knowledge might shed some more light on what the word means to the lyrics/poem. Perhaps there is ANOTHER definition of the words, one that I have missed. Does anyone know if there is?

The Decembrists "The Island" Reply

Stylistically, this song seems to resemble a long ballad in the tradition of “Dark Side of the Moon,” several different songs all woven by one overlapping topic. “The Island” comes off as a somber and violent tale of an oppressive power “producing pistol and saber” and taking what they wish, be it land, or in this case women. What was probably a proud and prosperous land becomes a land of death and despair, similar to that of British Colonialism (i.e. India and Ireland). The imagery in the last stanza caught my eye the most. The aftermath of the soldier’s rape on the landlord’s daughter results in her death. As she falls deeper and deeper into the water, the sick man committing the crime gives her two coins on her eyes as payment for the boatman down the River Styx, if one believed in such a thing. It puts a haunting image into my head when the main chorus is sung.

“Go to sleep now little ugly
Go to sleep now you little fool
You’ll not feel the drowning
You’ll not feel the drowning.”

It reminded me of scenes like the one in “Saving Private Ryan” where an American soldier gets into a knife fight with a German soldier. The American loses and his blade is slowly pressed into his chest. All the while, the German is telling the American silently to hush, like he’s putting him to sleep. It sends a chill down my spine.

The Decembrists- "The Island/Come and See"

To begin my look into this song (or these three songs), I want to point out just how well done the song is. It seems that when bands try to be as ambitious as The Decembrists are in this song it does not turn out well. Luckily for us, listeneing to the song seems less a chore and more a privelege. Musically, the song is interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, the contrast in the sound of the three parts stands out to me. The first part, "The Island," seems a song that we could hear on the radio, despite it's difficult lyrics. "The Landlords Daughter" though, sounds more like a song that would have been made in the mid to late 70's mixed with a pirate's drinking song. The third part, "You'll Not Feel the Drowning," seems like a strange, morbid lullaby. The fact that the three parts blend so well has much to do with the lyrics used in the song.
The lyrics in "The Island" tell a story of a great adventure, but are also mysterious and make the listener pay close attention. The repeated use of the words "come and see" become a bit of a mantra in the song. In lines like "There's an island hidden in the sound" and "In the lowlands, nestled in the heat" made me as a listener feel as though I was being given the coordinates of some treasure guarded by "Sycorax," who is a mysterious character in herself, which plays into the theme of the song. The song seems not to follow any conventional rhyme scheme. In it's written form, it seems to have a certain pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, but when sung, that also all but goes out the window, as it is sung in a manner which suggests the singer sings the song in whichever way he pleases, not to fit convention. This may add to the whimsical nature of the song, or it may be there just to drive us crazy as we try to mark the sentences, it could work both ways.
In "The Landlord's Daughter," is very interesting to me as it seems a natural progression from the directions seemingly given in "The Island." As I said earlier, it sounds a bit like a pirates drinking song. The lyrics are very traditionally masculine, as they speak of things such as spying and producing pistols and sabers, then kidnapping the beautiful young girl. Once again, the rhyming and stress of syllables seems to be irregular. The singer does the same things he does in the first song, stressing whichever notes he sees fit to be stressed.
In "You'll Not Feel the Drowning," there seems to be a tone of finality (obviously), as the topic of death is prevalent. To me this could symbolize the end of the journey in the form of death. I see this as the death of whoever the protagonist of the story is. In certain cultures, it is a tradition to place dimes over the eyes of dead. This part of the song has the same sort of irregular rhyme and stress, but the lyrics of it convey a completely different tone than the other two parts. It is much more somber than the other two parts. The biggest reason for that is the repeated line "You'll not feel the drowning." This is a line that really catches the ear of the listener, and is not ambiguous at all in terms of how it is to make us feel as a listener.

The Decemberists

The first part of the song, The Island, had a very haunting feel to it. The guitar is the only instrument that plays from 2:00 to 2:50 and that was one of my favorite parts of that section of the song (this guitar riff plays throughout the song, but the beginning was my favorite part). As I was listening to the song, every time the chorus came up, the lyrics made me think of Ulysses in the Odyssey – “And all we know for sure/Amidst this fading light/We'll not go home again/Come and see.”

The second part of the song, The Landlord’s Daughter, like Nick, also made me think of a pirate. Not only because of the way the song sounded (similar to the music in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies), but because the lyrics also fueled this – “Produced my pistol, then my saber/Said, ‘Make no whistle or thou will be murdered!’” This is definitely something I could hear ol’ Blackbeard say. I actually replayed to this part of the song to see if I could get a different perspective on it and the first thing that came to mind was a pirate, so that image was forever ingrained in my head.

The third part of the song, You’ll Not Feel The Drowning, was very serene and gave me a sense of loss and death. The opening line alluded to death, “I will dress your eyelids/With dimes upon your eyes.” This reminded me of when soldiers died in the Roman times. They would place coins over their eyes to make sure they got to the afterlife safe because they had to pay Hades or something. I don’t really remember the exact meaning, but that image instantly came to me. This part of the song also had the most emotion and evoked a true sense of anger and sadness. The chorus had my favorite lyrics – “Go to sleep now, little ugly/Go to sleep now, you little fool/Forty winking in the belfry/You’ll not feel the drowning.” It kept making me think of when someone loses a loved one they feel anger (“Go to sleep now, little ugly/Go to sleep now, you little fool”), but they know that their loved one is in a better place where pain can no longer be felt (“You’ll not feel the drowning”).

Overall, the song’s length and fluentness made me think of an epic, like Beowulf. Even though all of the songs were different, they still were wound together with some sort of togetherness that made them feel like they were all one song. That really made me want to listen to the entire song, and created the sense of a story, just from different views, like in the Bible. Even though we get similar stories (the songs), we get different perspectives on them (the different musical styles in each song), yet they all still relate to one another (the Gospels).

The Decemberists

The entirety of the song has a somber and vaguely Celtic sound to it, even though the three portions sound fairly different from one another. At times, the music even seems to have a rather out-of-place electronic quality to it. In all, it's pretty catchy.

I noticed that all three songs have a common theme of being on, near, or in water, much like M. Night Shyamalan's movies. The first song portion uses water-based imagery in a depiction of war and loss, and its very subtitle of "Come and See" seems to beseech attention for what it contains. As mentioned in class, this portion also includes a reference to Sycorax, and the phrase "patagon in paralax" would almost seem to mean a change in perspective when viewing a giant.

The second portion seems almost to be a story of rape made romantic in the scope of old seagoing pirates. As aforementioned, this is set near water, the thread that connects all the portions of the song. The third portion is either an example of (possibly unwelcomed) euthanasia or a suicide. The words "ugly" and "fool" can either be insults or self-deprecating remarks, this is not entirely clear. This adds mystery and sense of gloom to the ending of the song, therefore tying the ending and beginning together. The captain mentioned in the third portion could easily be some sort of ferryman, ushering the dead to the underworld, given the nature of the final portion.

The Island

The song “The Island” is divided into three separate pieces: “Come and See”, “The Landlord’s Daughter”, and “You’ll Not Feel the Drowning”. I tried to analyze each separate piece to understand the story of the song. It refers to the initial reaction the shipmen have interacting with the island. This is most noticeable in the third line, where the lyrics say “affix your barb and bayonet”. The men ready their weapons when they prepare for the unknown ahead of them. This leads to the sounds that guide “Come and See”. The first line says, “there’s an island hidden in the sound”, while the fifth line says, “and sorrow fills the silence all around” followed by “come and see”. Here, sorrow encompasses the crew of the ship as their time on the water runs out. The men almost do not notice the island because of their dreariness and depression. However, some notice and tell the others to open their eyes to the island before them. Once they open their eyes, they begin to notice the land around them. They do not say anything while they peer at the land, for their sorrow is still deafening. The men know this is their final travel for the men know “will not go home again” (line 19). The island is beautiful, but the men are still sorrowful.

“The Landlord’s Daughter” is completely different. The meter and tempo shift, allowing the song to flow a lot faster. The music becomes louder and more out of control symbolizing the madness of the rapist. The man says he will not take gold, but only the maiden’s lips. I can only assume that this takes story takes part chronologically, and this is where things begin to go wrong on the island. “The Landlord’s Daughter” tells a story of a man who is confused and out of his mind. As discussed in “Come and See”, the men are sorrowful and lost on an island where they will never reach their home. This appears to dive into the human psyche, as basic human reason does not apply in this case. The lyrics tend to give way to the music, as the lyrics are spread thin through this portion of the song.

“You’ll Not Feel the Drowning” tends to rip the song apart, and back into the sorrowful tone that started with “Come and See”. The guitar slows down from “The Landlord’s Daughter”. Since the song says “little sweetheart, little darling”, I think this ties into killing the Landlord’s daughter. This seems like the complete transformation from a man on the ship, to an animal of the island. The sorrow the island has given him has changed his character to a point of murder. In the last verse, the stresses on the syllables break the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience. When the captain “heaves his sorrow cry” it leads the audience to believe that the captain is the man that has committed the murder and the rape. However, at the end of the song, he steps out of his ruthlessness, and reenters the civilized, as he lays the coins on the dead’s eyes, which relates back to the Greeks belief in their dead paying the boatman of the river of Styx.

The Decembrists

First of all this song and genre are very foreign to me. I have never heard of this group or of any group like it. So all in all this was a very intriguing process I went through listening and analyzing this song. This song has a format that is not seen every day. They are three different songs all combined into one. They all have different music to accompany them. The music was something that I found important in analyzing the entire piece. The first part of the song “The Island come & see” had a slow start to it. There was just a guitar playing along with the vocals, then the whole entire band came it to accompany and the song was off to a start. I felt that this part of the song was a type of exploration for the song. They were exploring the ocean and the tide. The next part of the song “The Landlord’s Daughter” had the most up beat tempo of all three, which is ironic because it has the most controversial lyrics. This section of the song is about raping the Landlord’s Daughter. This came as a surprise to me because the music is so up tempo and in a sense overshadows the reality of the lyrics. One would think that lyrics like these would have a slow and low tone to it along with a evil feel to it. The third and final part of the song is “You’ll Not Feel the Drowning” which had a very slow and steady beat to it. This music should have been for the previous section and it would have fit perfectly. But along with the last section, this section is talking about death. The idea that there is no one left and no one care and you won’t fell the drowning because that is the least of your pains.
I also believe that in the last section of the song “You’ll Not Feel The Drowning” is more than what one can see. One might say that it is about the Landlords Daughter and her death while she is with her captor. But I see it as one persons struggle with there own life and there family. Yes family. You can see the references to family and parents all through out the song. “We will not come home again”, “A briar cradle rocks it’s babe to sleep”, and “Think you not on parents” are some examples. This part of the song is a reminder to someone that they have nothing. Don’t think about your parents because they will not be here to save you. “Go to sleep now little ugly”, and “Go to sleep now you little fool”. They are reminding them of what they have been called through out their life and not letting them fell anything different at this very point. They are continuing the process that this individual has gone through their whole life.

The Decembrists & Narration

"The Island" is a track which appears on The Decemberists' fourth album, The Crane Wife. "The Island" is divided into three parts: "Come & See," "The Landlord's Daughter," and "You'll Not Feel the Drowning." I am not interested in reader-response or the author's intention. My criticism is reserved for the poetic form and structure of the lyrics in each section of the song. I will attempt to shed light on the narrator of the following stanzas and the intentions behind his actions by this essay's end.

The first section, "Come & See," is composed of five stanzas. The rhyme scheme of this section follows an unusual pattern: In the first stanza rhythm is AABBA; In the second stanza the rhythm is CCDDE; The third stanza does not rhyme at all; In the fourth stanza the rhythm is FGHHG; and the fifth stanza is identical to the third. Each stanza ends with the words, 'Come and See;' the line is repeated twice at the end of every stanza except for the first, in which it only appears once. For this reason I did not include these lines in the rhyme scheme. This section is the account of a party's arrival on and exploration of an island. In the first stanza, we can assume that the company arrived on this island "hidden in the sound" by ship, hence the lines "Lapping currents lay your boat to ground." We might also assume that this company is armed ("Affix your barb and bayonet") or possessed of hostile intent. The description of the island in the second stanza renders this island void of humanity but not civilization, for the company finds a "harbor lost within the reeds" and "a jetty caught in over-hanging trees" but "no boot mark here nor finger prints." "Among the bones of cormorants," implies that the island was previously discovered by adventurers in the past, but none lived long enough to tell the tale. Finally, we are reminded twice in the third and fifth stanzas that the company of men will not "go home again." Accordingly, the structural transition from traditional and structured schema into an abnormal and chaotic free verse reinforces the idea that this company is departing from everyday reality and entering a chaotic and spontaneous state of mind; Perhaps they visit the ruins of a utopia swallowed by nature that has caused the downfall of many an idle traveler in search for it.

"The Landlord's Daughter" is the second section of the "Island," and only composed of three stanzas. The rhyme scheme follows the pattern ABCBBD in the first stanza, then DEE in the second stanza, and finally BB in the last stanza. In "The Landlord's Daughter," the narration switches from what one would presume to be the account of one company of several adventurers to the words of a single narrator. We are uncertain whether or not the situation described in this section occurs on the same island in the first stanza, or if the narrator is of the company which arrived on the island previously. We are made aware that he or she is armed as the previous adventurers were implied to be ("Produced my pistol, then my saber") and abducts "the landlord's daugter" who is "spied in sable" "down by the water." That the woman is a "landlord's daughter" implies the presence of civilization ("land" and "lord," one would expect him to have subjects to lord over) and given the fact that the island in the first stanza appeared to be barren and void of life discourages cohesive attempts at narration. I am inclined to consider the narrator a pirate, though not in the traditional sense; we can see from the final stanza that the narrator does not intend to use the woman to obtain wealth, but rather they claim, "I'll take those sweet lips, and I'll deliver." The deteriorating structure of the poem suggests that the narrator is departing from the realm of rational thought and is letting himself be guided by his passions; each subsequent stanza is smaller than the last, and for that reason more ambiguous. Where once we were given the narrator's account of his actions in the first stanza, in the last we are left with only his words. Perhaps he has been possessed by the greed and madness of the island, which destroyed the cormorants whose remains were visible in the first stanza. Does he possess a woman at all? Is she merely an illusion? Did the land not seem to lack any inhabitants when the company arrived? And where is the rest of his company? What was once an organized and united enterprise has fallen apart and each member may have become delusional and gone off on his own into oblivion.

Finally, "You'll Not Feel the Drowning" consists of four stanzas. The first stanza follows a ABCBDEDFF rhyme scheme; the second stanza follows a GHIHDEDFF rhyme scheme; the third stanza follows a DEDFF rhyme scheme, and the final stanza does not rhyme at all. This section appears in the form of an ode, for the narrator is clearly addressing another person. We can assume that the narrator intends or is currently in the process of killing the other person with the following evidence: "I will dress your eyelids, With dimes upon your eyes"; "Laying close to water, Green your grave will rise"; "Go to sleep little ugly, Go to sleep you little fool"; and of course, "You'll not feel the drowning." It is possible that the narrator is the raider from the second stanza, and is now in the process of killing his captive, the landlord's daughter. The narrator would appear to resort to the senseless destruction of an innocent with repeated accusations of her naivety; she is often called a "little fool" and reminded to forget everyone else, because "they've forgotten you." Furthermore, the narrator comforts his victim with the promise of a humane and painless death with "You'll not feel the drowning." It is revealed in the last stanza that the narrator himself was once addressed thus by his captain: "Weight upon your eyelids, As dimes laid on your eyes." This is the same address used by the narrator at the beginning of his speech, and suggests that the narrator himself was once put to death at sea, and now he drags an innocent into the deep with him. It therefore stands to reason that all of the remarks directed at the narrator's victim can be directed at the narrator himself as well; in fact, it is he who is forgotten by his lovers and parents. Likewise, he seeks to give his victim the same fate: She will be forever innocent and forgotten; she will belong to the narrator alone and united with him in an ignominous death. The narrator believes he is removing the woman from a world of pain and into a state of perpetual passion and dream, stranded on an "island hidden in the sound": death.

The Decembrists - The Island (Come and See)

Even though this song is visually divided up into three mini-songs, a general overlapping story seems to pop-out pretty clearly to me.  My interpretation of this is that the story is about a pirate landing on a hidden island, finding and raping a woman, and then killing her.  Where did I come up with a pirate?  While the term "pirate" is not mentioned anywhere in the song, the fact that the main character carries a saber and a pistol and the manner in which he addresses the landlord's daughter, "I'll take no gold miss, I'll take no silver / I'll take those sweet lips, and I'll deliver" just absolutely screams pirate to me.  The raping and the killing of her seem fairly obvious beyond that just by looking at the lyrics.

On the topic of formatting, the unusual rhyme scheme jumped out at me.  At the beginning of the song, we have a rhyme scheme in the first, second, and forth stanzas, each however having a different pattern (AABBAC, DDEECCC, LMNNMCC, respectively).  Also interesting to note is that the chorus (stanza three and five) make absolutely no use of rhyming.  Then, in the second mini-song, there is rhyming with water and daughter and silver and deliver, but that's it.  And lastly, in the third mini-song, rhyming seems to disappear save for the second and forth lines of stanzas one and two ( I won't consider repeating lines to be part of a rhyming pattern here).  What this means in relation to the story of the poem, I'm not quite sure, unless the gradual loss of rhyme is supposed to go along with the poem becoming darker in meaning.

Since the allusion to Sycorax was mentioned in class, I should probably address that.  Obviously as discussed in class, it is a reference to a witch in Shakespeare's Tempest (actually, I don't think she was a character in the play, I think she was only referenced).  Sycorax's son was Caliban, a deformed creature, and he had tried to rape Miranda, Prospero's daughter.  This rape obviously could be tied to the rape in the song.  And the landlord could be a reference to Prospero.  However, I hesitate to say that the song is entirely about that because I don't see a connection to the opening and closing mini-songs.


This song was hard for me to gauge, and I think that's a large part of why I found it so intriguing. At times, the song sounds like a sort of old English ballad, something that would be accompanied by a lute. Of course, at other times in the song, the electric guitar and hard drums come in, so there is very much a contrast in styles within the song itself. I'm a huge fan of The Who, and their song "A Quick One, While He's Away" is very similar to the Decembrists "Come and See." It has several short songs within one complete song, and also changes tempo, theme and style frequently.

The presence of alliteration in the song especially struck me. One example is found in the second and third verses in the "Come and See" chorus: "With this bare waking eye/ Who rose like the wind." The "w" sound corresponds perfectly with the theme of the chorus: the swirling tide and the whirling wind.

This might be a rather obvious observation, but the language used at various points in the song is not very modern. "Thou" instead of "you", and the mention of "saber" just made me think of old, rural England. I think the use of these words combined with the way the music at times sounds minstrel-like is what brings this kind of image to the forefront of my mind.

The Decemberists "The Island/Come and See"

The first thing I would like to say about this song is that I was pleasantly surprised with how the song sounded. For some reason, I assumed that I would not like it or that it would not meet my taste in music but I was wrong. The song possessed more than a few choruses and refrains which reminded me of other songs that are longer in length. Even though they are drastically different and probably not as thought provoking as this song by the Decembrists, I could not help thinking of Boston’s “Foreplay/Longtime” or Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick.” Both of these songs are similar to the Decembrists’ song not only in length but in a desire to combine more than one sound into one song. While we were listening to this song in class, I could not help but think about this similarity.

What I found to be the most interesting part of this song occurred while I was attempting to scan the lyrics. What should have been a relatively easy task became rather daunting as I was trying to simultaneously listen to the lyrics and stress the proper syllables as well. I found this very difficult to do. More often than not, I found myself working ahead of the singer and trying to stress syllables that he had not yet sung. But when the singer arrived at those lines, he often seemed to be putting stress on the syllables I had marked as unstressed. I don’t really know why this occurred. My best guess is that while I was scanning the lyrics, I was saying them quietly rather than singing them. And unlike a poem where more often than not, no one is reading it aloud, a song needs to be sung to be fully appreciated. I think scanning songs is more difficult than scanning poetry for this simple reason. If the song is not heard aloud, the person scanning the lyrics could potentially scan the lyrics improperly.

What I noticed, specifically during “The Island/Come and See” part was that the lead singer would stress and unstress whole words. The word ‘and’ is almost always an unstressed word but just because a word is unstressed does not mean that the word needs to be said quietly. The lead singer, specifically in the line “Come and see,” would barely utter the word ‘and.’ The words ‘come’ and ‘see’ were vocalized very loudly and a lot of emphasis was put on those words but the word ‘and’ was said in a much softer tone. It is much easier in song form to stress and unstress the right syllables. Take the third line of the song for example. The word ‘bayonet’ is a three syllable word with the accent on the second syllable. It is a relatively easy word to sound out and determine which syllable is stressed. But in song form, the lead singer over exaggerates the stressed syllable, almost to the point where the syllable ‘yon’ almost sounds like it is a separate word.

The Decembrists- The Island Come and See

The song itself seems to subliminally echo different aspects of colonialism. In part one there are images of colonial domination and the beginning of colonization in almost every stanza which are then contrasted by images of the natural. The barb and bayonet in stanza one, the cormorants in stanza two, and the reference to Shakespeare's The Tempest in stanza four, all echo clear images attached to British colonialism. Part one displays the adventurousness and purity that was believed to be in the new lands which were being conquered and subjugated. "No boot mark here or finger prints," shows the disregard for the native people as equally human. The consistent imagery of water, earth, and their natural elements contrasts with the colonial images to further outline the conflicts. This natural imagery especially the symbol of water changes throughout part one. It begins with lush overgrown nature, with an abundance of water, and by stanza four has degraded to "lowlands," "heat," and "briar."

In part two, The Landlord's Daughter, it seems that a gap in time has passed and that the song skips forward to a more postcolonial context. The conflict with and hatred for the landlord seems to be the overwhelming reason for the rape of the landlord's daughter. When offered gold and silver the rapist mocks the daughter and refuses to even consider taking the monetary payment. This shows that the reason for the rape is for a punishment to the landlord, personal satisfaction, or both. The symbol of water is also brought back into this section of the song, as the rape occurs "down by the water." This aspect will become more significant as it leads into the next part of the song.

In part three, You'll Not Feel the Drowning, it would appear that the landlord's daughter who was raped in part two has been murdered. The rapist and murderer takes great care in his actions by placing dimes upon the eyes of the young woman. This action was believed to be a classical practice upon the death of someone, so that they might have the payment required to pay the ferryman to cross the river Styx into the underworld. Through the repetition in this section of the song and the focus on sleep and peace, it appears that the man may feel some remorse for his actions and be attempting to rationalize the situation. Yet, the overarching theme would suggest that although he may feel remorse, the fact that he refers to her as "ugly" and a "little fool" shows that he did not commit the rape for personal satisfaction and more likely committed the rape and murder as a punishment to the landlord for his likely misdeeds to the rapist. The symbol of water comes full circle in this section of the poem as it no longer represents nature and life but death in the "drowning" of the young woman's corpse.