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John Gardner’s Letter

Gardner brings up the point that everything will eventually end. I am fascinated by this concept so I was delighted when I saw the concept in his novel. I keep a map of the solar system from a magazine in front my writing desk. The map has a Google map location marker right above Earth, along with the words “you are here”. It sounds odd enough, but I always look at the map to remind myself where I am. It is so easy to loose myself in the daily trivial matters. The map reminds me of my place in the universe, that my troubles are nothing in the passage of time. The small problems that used to bother me simply disappears whenever I look at the map. Gardner then says that we don’t need to live on the eternal values. Similarly in China, there is a saying that to live is to seek the thrill of living and to enjoy such feeling. As humans living in the vast indifference of the universe, we can only strive for a moment of happiness and prosperity instead of reaching for the unreachable eternity. In truth, we can only borrow everything in our lifetime. Nothing really belongs to us, not even our deposits in the bank, our body, or our relationships, etc. Only our feelings are ours, but even they vanish with time.

Gardner also suggests that “when working with art, one must read as much with one’s emotions as with one’s mind.” This is very true as far as I understand. Our emotions act as instincts that guide us through the blurry meanings of art, such as in a music piece. I often had to rely on my emotions to guide me through the notes and rhythms. The fact that something as emotional as humans can be born out of the indifferent universe amazes me. We not only drown in our sentiments, we also create various means to express such feelings and affect others through a shift in the air. For example, our instruments create ripples that reach out to everyone within the range to convey basic feelings. Whenever I read a composition I feel as if I am intruding into the deepest part of the composer’s emotions; it feels strangely intimate.

(I am also glad to find Gardner explain the part in which Beowulf bangs Grandel’s head against the wall.)

 

 

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New Poetry*

The Lighted Window

Sara Teasdale

He said:
“In the winter dusk
When the pavements were gleaming with rain,
I walked thru a dingy street
Hurried, harassed,
Thinking of all my problems that never are solved.
Suddenly out of the mist, a flaring gas-jet
Shone from a huddled shop.
I saw thru the bleary window
A mass of playthings:
False-faces hung on strings,
Valentines, paper and tinsel,
Tops of scarlet and green,
Candy, marbles, jacks—
A confusion of color
Pathetically gaudy and cheap.
All of my boyhood
Rushed back.
Once more these things were treasures
Wildly desired.
With covetous eyes I looked again at the marbles,
The precious agates, the pee-wees, the chinies—
Then I passed on.

 

In the winter dusk,
The pavements were gleaming with rain;
There in the lighted window
I left my boyhood.”

I like the slightly depressed mood of the poem. I especially enjoy the setting with rain and the sense of nostalgia. There are many Foster elements in this poem. The season winter emphasizes the gloomy atmosphere and the loneliness of the speaker. The dusk signals the end of things, in this case the end of the speaker’s childhood innocence. The rain further adds to the sadness. The water also washes away the speaker’s past and completes his transformation into his new life, the life of an adult full of responsibilities and stress.

At first, the speaker appears frustrated and anxious. The sound of H in “hurried, harassed” resembles the sound of someone panting when walking quickly. Descriptions of his surroundings are simple: he is mostly staying inside his mind, worrying about the works to be done. Then a shift in tone and scenery occurred when the speaker arrives at the shop’s window. The readers suddenly get an explosion of colorful images, which underlines the shock the speaker feels when he sees the shop. The adjectives turn into brighter and more positive, such as changing from “dingy” into “desired” and “precious”. However, there is still a grey undertone behind the positivity in the scene. The speaker sees his childhood toys as “pathetically gaudy and cheap”. This shows that he has already half-adapted into the harsh adult world. However, despite such remarks the speaker still can not take his eyes off the toys. This is an internal struggle that only lasts an extremely short amount of time. The turmoil eventually ends with the adulthood indifference taking over. The turn makes the process of growing up feel mechanical and harsh. The sample and short line “Then I passed on” creates yet another sudden shift, cutting off the hopeful and warm feeling that came with the description of toys abruptly. The poem ends with the speaker hinting that he will forever lose his childhood innocence and memories, as he says in the last two lines, “There in the lighted window/ I left my boyhood.”