Miss Woodhouse's Musings

…about life, the universe, and everything. Don't panic!

Romance Or Something Like It

It’s rare that my classes fall on a holiday, so I was so excited last night when I realized that not only was my British Literature class meeting on Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t have to report for jury duty!!! This meant I was free to deviate from our study on the Romantics (which aren’t as romantic as the title would have you believe…but that’s a post for another time) and give the kids a whirlwind tour of how England’s famous writers created the Hallmark company. Erm, excuse me. I meant to say “Valentine’s Day.” Same diff?

So, we all have the basic idea that Valentine was some sort of martyr/saint/good guy, right? What you may not know is that there are actually *three* Valentines in the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia (yes, there is such a thing): one from Rome, one from Terni, and one from Africa. Their lives had nothing at all to do with love, romance, poetry, or hearts (except for the fact that theirs stopped beating because of their faith in God and their dedication to the gospel). In fact, there’s absolutely no reason why Chaucer, while writing a poem to commemorate the engagement of Richard II, would reference Valentine…but he did so.

It’s actually a lovely little poem called The Parliament of Fowls that I enjoy reading very much. It’s also 5 hundred million or so lines long, so I’ll just post some pertinent stanzas.

For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl comes there his mate to take,

Of every species that men know, I say,

And then so huge a crowd did they make,

That earth and sea, and tree, and every lake

Was so full, that there was scarcely space

For me to stand, so full was all the place.

Saint Valentine, who art full high aloft –

Thus sing the small fowls for your sake –

Now welcome summer, with your sun soft,

That this winter’s weather does off-shake.

 

Well have they cause to rejoice full oft,

Since each a marriage with its mate does make;

Full joyous may they sing when they wake;

Now welcome summer, with your sun soft,

That this wintry weather does off-shake,

And the long nights’ black away does take.’

 

And with the cries, when their song was done,

That the fowls made as they flew away,

I woke, and other books to read upon

I then took up, and still I read always;

I hope in truth to read something someday

Such that I dream what brings me better fare,

And thus my time from reading I’ll not spare.

The rest of the poem is a bunch of birds talking to each other about love and classic pairs of lovers. As one of my students said, it’s like Narnia. If you have the time, Norton has a lovely rendition online in the Middle English. Delightful!

The next major writer to start a Valentine’s tradition is Edmund Spenser, writer of The Faerie Queen. Do you know what he started? Here’s a quote to give you a hint:

She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

Did you figure it out? Oh yes, the much maligned “roses are red, violets are blue” verse! I’m as big a fan of plays on this as the next person, so it made me laugh when the lovey Ponderiss shared “Roses are red, violets are blueish. If it weren’t for Christmas, we’d all be Jewish.” I laughed for a good 5 minutes over that one.

Shakespeare? He didn’t neglect the fad either. In his famous Ophelia scenes (where she runs in and out of court singing songs, throwing around flowers, and generally running mad), she sings a Valentine’s Day song!

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

England continued on in this same vein for the next several hundred years, making them one of the most dedicated countries when it comes to this holiday. Did you know that in the 1700’s they even had Valentine factories??? Whole factories that churned out nothing but ornate, flowery Valentines. It’s a pretty cool idea.

So, there you have it! A whirlwind tour through the beginnings of Valentine’s Day! What did you do to celebrate this year?

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I Pity The Fool

As some of you know, I am a hard-core fan of the book cataloging site LibraryThing. It’s simply amazing.

Well, instead of a photo today (or, one might come later; we’ll see), I wanted to share their last blog post with you all. Enjoy!

Read LibraryThing’s blog post.

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Caveat Lector

Caesar:
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry “Caesar!” Speak, Caesar is turn’d to hear.

Soothsayer:
Beware the ides of March.

Caesar:
What man is that?

Brutus:
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15–19

“Tis the anniversary of that fateful day, the day when a great leader’s best friends reportedly stabbed him to death in the Roman streets. Poor, poor Caesar.

Just because I’m feeling litgeeky today, here’s another of my favourite quotes from Julius Caesar:

ARTEMIDORUS:

(reads aloud)

“Caesar, beware of Brutus. Take heed of Cassius. Come not near Casca. Have an eye to Cinna. Trust not Trebonius. Mark well Metellus Cimber. Decius Brutus loves thee not. Thou hast wronged Caius Ligarius. There is but one mind in all these men, and it is bent against Caesar. If thou beest not immortal, look about you. Security gives way to conspiracy. The mighty gods defend thee!

Thy lover,

Artemidorus”

Here will I stand till Caesar pass along,

And as a suitor will I give him this.

My heart laments that virtue cannot live

Out of the teeth of emulation.

If thou read this, O Caesar, thou mayst live.

If not, the Fates with traitors do contrive.

Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 3

So, dear readers beware! Tread cautiously today….

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Fire and Ice

This week I wanted to show off a PhotoShop project I worked on all on my own! It’s nothing fancy or difficult, but it did involve layers, and I did do it without any aids- books, teacher, cheatsheet, nothing. Just me.

Glancing through a book a few weeks ago, my eye was caught by Robert Frost’s poems. I may not like much about American Literature, but I do enjoy his writings. Specifically, I love one of his shorter works, Fire and Ice. It just so happened that I had some awesome fire photos (pyromaniac for the win!), so I wanted to do something with both elements.

I think it turned out really well, but what do you all think?

As per usual, click on the picture if you’d like to see it BIGGER. Have a great weekend!

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Midday Bay

I really love the ocean. I mean, really really love the ocean. There’s nothing like standing at the water’s edge staring out into the infinite horizon to realize just how insignificant you are in the scope of time. However, at the same time I love looking down at the minute grains of sand and remembering that God has them all numbered; so how much more does He care about us?

It’s an odd conflict of feelings- feeling both vastly significant and insignificant at the same time.

Then I tend to just stare out into the horizon. It’s so peaceful; there’s nothing there to distract your mind. My imagination is then free to imagine what lies beyond what I can see: more ocean, deep swells, and far-away lands.

I don’t know if I could ever live far away from the ocean. Even though I don’t go to the beach that often, it’s comforting to know that it is there. I love sitting in a restaurant looking over the bay and the ocean, driving over long bridges to get from one place to another, or even just driving by the oceanfront while running errands.

Enough pontificating, on to the picture! This is taken from the porch of one of our favourite local seafood restaurants. The food is amazing (she-crab soup with sherry especially!), but the view is really spectacular. The restaurant is set back into a bay, so this shot is taken from one end of the bay looking out to the other. The infinite ocean is to the left….

Enjoy your weekend! (Click on the picture to see it full size.)

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

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Facade

Confession time: it’s been years since I’ve written proper poetry.

By proper, I mean poetry that has rhyme, rhythm, and form; poetry that expresses feelings in roundabout and new ways.

Let’s face it: good poetry takes time. I haven’t that much time.

Good poetry takes life experience and inspiration. Want to read a poem about a frazzled barista? Didn’t think so.

However, I do write free-form poetry sometimes. Often, it’s spur-of-the-moment; I have a thought, I jot it down. Thus, when I discover it a few months later, I’ve no memory of actually writing the piece.

Except, it’s not good enough for anyone else to have written it. Ergo, it must be mine!

I’m not sure, then, what prompted me to write this piece. Maybe it was the stress of work, maybe not liking what path school was forcing me to take, maybe frustrations with my friends. Whatever the case, I apparently was trying to deck myself upside the head and tell myself to get a grip!

I think it worked.

Lately, I’ve been a lot more honest with myself. When I’m upset, I tell myself I’m upset. When I’m happy about something, I’m trying to let myself be happy. Basically, I’m a little afraid that life is flying by, and that I’m missing it by always trying to act a certain way, do certain things, be a certain type of person.

This also must be from last Fall, because there are a lot of Shakespearian sonnet references in this. Just saying….

Oh! Bonus points if you can find the Shakespeare influences! Leave your guesses in the comments.

Anyway, I’ll be very open here and *gasp* share this little glimpse into my past. Just please, please, be gentle with me!

When the façade slips

When you see me as I truly am

Sad, scared, seeking approval

Too long-sought, too hardly won.

Never finding rest

Peace.

Fleeing from myself

If I don’t like me, why should you?

I’m just a player in this

Game of chance that we call

Life.

Moved by the force of others

A ball knocked from the wicket gate

By the turn of another.

Influenced by none

Guided by all.

Who am I?

The daughter, sister, worker, friend?

Or something deeper-

Am I myself? If so

This is hidden too well

A secret guarded by

A wall of sorts

A wall of right

A wall of will

A wall of acting

A façade.

Who I am lies beneath

Ready for you to see me

As I am

If I ever let the façade

Slip.

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What A Few Weeks It’s Been!

For those of you who may have been wondering, allow me to assure you that the rumours (should there be any) of my technological death have been greatly exaggerated. I am not dead, just very busy. Unfortunately for this little blog, it has been a busyness away from the keyboard. Not that my family minds seeing my face now and then, but that does make it hard to blog.

What, you don’t believe that I’ve really been that busy? Well then, I’ll take you through a little of the past few weeks. (Actually, 11 days according to my mum. Not that anyone is counting. :))

So buckle up- it’s going to be a bit of a long ride!

Friday, 21 May 2010 Taught my last British literature session of the school year. We discussed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Murder on the Orient Express, and Elizabeth Barret Browning. There is nothing as heartwarming as seeing the look on someone’s face the first time they read the ending of Orient. I won’t give it away here, but if you’ve read it (or seen the epic movie) then you know what I mean!

Saturday, 22 May 2010 Spent the day helping my mum, her office friend, and the friend’s daughter work on small scrapbooks for the two drama teachers. I didn’t intend on spending the whole day with them, but they were so much fun I couldn’t tear myself away. They came up with some cute pages too!

Sunday, 23 May 2010 Devoted the whole day to preparing for my lecture at my university library on…

Monday, 24 May 2010 I learned about my favourite website, LibraryThing, because of the university bookclub. The thing is, I’ve far surpassed the other members in cataloging and participating with the site. So, the library dean asked if I’d give a short informative lecture to the library staff as part of a training series. I was a little rough, but it was the first time I’ve used a huge PowerPoint screen. All in all, it was fun.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010 My English club met with all the officers in the nearby downtown. Our faculty advisor hosted the meeting at her sweet little house. Afterwards, one of the officers and I went to lunch. Best. Chicken. Pita. Ever.

This was also the night of my little brother’s final concert of the year. Due to a marvelous coworker who was willing to swap shifts with me, I was able to attend. The concert was a little long (spell that veeeerrrrrryyyyyyy long), but well worth it. Besides, my friend is home from her job eight hours away and we had a chance to catch up!

Oh yes, and it was Towel Day! Do you know where your towel is?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010 My Bible study class spent the last three weeks viewing “Archaeology and the Bible” DVDs, so I thought it would be neat if my archaeology professor could come speak to the class. He’s super-busy, but he made the time to come. The talk was great- 6 people from my class are interested in auditing classes with him, and I consider that an epic win. Went shopping with Mum that night, which was a ton of fun. :)

Thursday, 27 May 2010 Aforementioned club officer and I met up so she could film a short promo for our club. She did an awesome job- I’ll post the link when it’s up on the website. Then, work.

See, here’s the thing about Thursday. There’s a quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that goes “It must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursday.” This about sums up my day. I woke up super late, couldn’t find the people I needed to see, was scheduled to work 2 hours sooner than I thought, and so the day goes. It was a full moon…full moon. Brings out the crazies- and messes up your day. Anyhoo….

Friday, 28 May 2010 Work again! Also, graduation day for the homeschool program my family is involved with. I helped out with the reception, which was a crazy, crazy ride. Long night, but I was really proud of all the kids who graduated.

Although, I’m not sure exactly when the cake decorator expected us to hold our graduation. Maybe they were so swamped with orders that they were hopeful that our order wasn’t to be filled until next year?

It was a great class; they really banded together well and defined “camaraderie.” Moving on!

Saturday, 29 May 2010 Graduation party for one of my students, and her colours were “Wicked” themed! The party was really fun; I hated to have to leave early, but work beckoned.

Sunday, 30 May 2010 Went to church, went to lunch, cleaned my room. Okay, not a hugely busy day, but still….

Monday, 31 May 2010 Memorial Day! Had a nice time hanging out with my family at my best friend’s house. She gave me my birthday gift tonight; The Romance of the Forest, Just Jane (about Jane Austen), and a purple “got books?” t-shirt. Does she know me or what?

That brings us the long, boring way to today. I simply hope that this convinces you, dear readers, that I’m not abandoning you! Life is crazy, but should setting down now that it’s June [insert maniacal laughter here].  I’ll be back with a more dignified and interesting blog post soon!

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5.5.2010

So, here’s my reasoning. 5+5=10. And 5+5+10=20. Therefore, 5.5.2010 deserves a special post. (I totally forgot that today is Cinco de Mayo- but that doesn’t concern my non-Spanish speaking self.) To mark this mathematically interesting day, I thought that I’d do some lists: my top 5 movies of all time, my 5 worst movies of all time, my 20 books that you MUST read, and my top 10 songs of all time. Let the counting begin!

Best Movies:

5. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

4. Two Week’s Notice

3. A&E Pride and Prejudice

2. Shadow of a Doubt

1. Relative Values

Worst Movies:

5. Murder, He said.. Interminable and insipid. To make a bad situation worse, it’s got this one character that sings a goofy little song through the movie, which gets stuck in your head for, say, ten years and counting.

4. The Long, Long Trailer. More like the long, long movie. I love Lucy and Desi, but this stretched my fandom too far.

3. You Can’t Take It With You. This might be a wonderful movie; unfortunately I can’t get past the fact that EVERYONE HAS TO YELL ALL THE TIME.

2. Life with Father. This is one uniquely talented director. He was given a great book, wonderful actors, and still he managed to produce a movie that sends me around the bend to even think about watching it again. Trust me, just read the book. You can thank me later.

1. It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Five words: four hours of Ethel Merman. *hits head repeatedly into a brick wall*

Must-Read Books:

20. The Westing Game

19. The Tempest

18. The Cellist of Sarajevo

17. Elsie Dinsmore

16. Fahrenheit 451

15. Beautiful Girlhood

14. Destination Unknown

13. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

12. Jack and Jill

11. Rose in Bloom

10. Hamlet

9. Macbeth

8. Great Expectations

7. Little Women

6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

5. Northanger Abbey

4. The Man in the Brown Suit

3. The Chronicles of Narnia

2. Lord of the Rings

1. Jane Eyre

Best Songs Ever!

10. Haven’t Met You Yet- Michael Buble.

9. Touchdown Turnaround- Hellogoodbye

8. I Can Only Imagine- MercyMe

7. Santa Maria- Gotan Project

6. Softly As I Leave You- Michael Buble

5. When It All Is Said and Done- Robin Mark

4. Hey There Delilah- Plain White Tees

3. I’m Not That Girl- Wicked, The Musical

2. Home- Michael Buble

1. Held- Natalie Grant

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Nothing That Is Not There

Warning: this post contains the musings of a university English major. Read at your own mental risk! :) –Miss Woodhouse

For the few of you out there who do not yet know about my feelings towards American Literature, I have some very strong ones: I don’t like American Literature. I’m currently taking an American Lit class only because I would LOVE to graduate sometime this century.

Nonetheless, I believe in giving everything your best effort as much as you can. So, let it come as a little shock when I say that reading the poetry this week was almost bearable. Almost.

I found myself somewhat taken with a poet I have not ever read, Wallace Stevens. In particular, I really enjoyed his poem entitled “The Snow Man.” I’ve reprinted it here for your reading pleasure:

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place.

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

This last stanza really captured my attention. The poem, though nicely balanced and arranged, is somewhat bleak. The landscape described is blank, desolate, frozen, and harsh (did you notice how Stevens used the words “crusted”, “shagged”, and “rough” to hint at harshness without coming out and using the word?).

The speaker in the poem reveals how he is looking at the world- not only is it harsh, but he hears mournfulness and misery in the sound of the winter wind. For some reason, these thoughts displease him, and he yearns to think like a snowman. In his mind, the snowman can see things as they truly are without the bias of human presumptions. Everything leads up to that final line as the speaker declares that since the snowman is himself nothing he can see the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

It doesn’t seem to bother the speaker (as it bothers me) that in looking to the snowman for an unbiased view of the world, the speaker is effectively placing his own bias on what he imagines the snowman to see. In reality, the speaker can find nothing worthwhile in the world around him, and the snowman becomes merely a vehicle by which the speaker can justify and rationalize the perception of meaningless life.

Life may be nothing, but for the speaker, nothingness must actually exist. If nothingness is not real and tangible, then the speaker realizes that he is most likely missing out on something huge in life. This appears to scare the speaker, thus he chronicles his winter quest to justify (ironically) the existence and purpose of nothingness. He creates this blank landscape, finds a blank “mind”, and creates a situation where nothing actually exists. He thinks that this will make him happy, that if he can achieve this goal he will no longer hear mournful wind and see harsh landscapes. Everything becomes nothing, and nothing is everything. The only problem is that this world that the speaker creates is quite…well, depressing.

So, I’ve shared how I read and interpret this poem. Why don’t you all take a moment or two to jot down in the comments what you see in the poem? I promise to respond!

Thanks to this transcript of All Things Considered for affirming that my interpretation is not completely off the wall!

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Rolling Down A Beach With A Guide To the Galaxy

In my Victorian literature class last week, we discussed the end of “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold.

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

In the last stanza, the speaker describes the condition of the world to the woman with him, “the world, which seems / To lie before us like a land of dreams.” The speaker describes a scene of hopelessness and despair, a world where nothing is real, nothing matters, a world that has become a battleground. For the speaker, this is the end of the world, the end of all his hopes of finding a reality. Faith is withdrawing from the world, and all is a dream.

We discussed in class how this seems to be Arnold’s way of working through the changes in society at the time. Darwin’s theories of evolution and the descent of man were talking hold of the world, and Christianity was slowly beginning to disappear from the forefront of life.

Fifty years later the same subject would jump the pond and show up in the poetry of the American writer/poet Stephen Crane. In his poem “Should the Wide World Roll Away”, Crane addresses the idea of the world disappearing to leave only darkness and terror.

Should the wide world roll away,
Leaving dark terror, limitless night
Nor God, nor man, nor place to stand
Would be to me essential
If thou and thy white arms were there
And the fall to doom a long way.

Like Arnold, all Crane thinks that he needs is the love of his woman- he does not need religion or a foundation if she will just hold him through it all. However, Arnold mourned the loss of faith, and hoped that it would come back. Crane acknowledges that faith is gone, but he thinks that God and faith are not essential to him.

In the 1970s, British author Douglas Adams addressed again the subject of the world dissolving away into nothingness. Where Arnold sees religion as ebbing and Crane sees it as unnecessary, Adams sees religion as a thing to mock. It does not matter what happens to the world, religion, God, or love. In fact, Adams goes so far as to talk about how God went wrong, and uses the idea of faith to “prove” that God does not exist and never has. For Adams, all you need is your towel, a portable guide to the galaxy, and improbable luck.

I really don’t have much point in posting this here, other than to show how quickly godlessness took hold in the world of literature. A scant 100 years after the first seeds of doubt about God and the Bible were planted in society, they became a weed that took over secular literature and eradicated all thought of faith.

Today we assume that “secular” means godless, religionless, faithless. This is the product of the changing times. Before 1850, it was not uncommon for secular literature to deal with religious and faith issues. As the issues seen above spread, though, the religious sphere and the secular sphere began to separate. Now, we have complete separation, but at the same time total confusion as to what matters in the world, why we are here, and what our purpose is. Unless we can unite our spheres again, the world is only going to become more and more confused, until it actually does disappear.

I’m not sure if we can do anything about this, but it is worth thinking about.

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