Saturday, October 24, 2009

Read-a-Thon: 12:30 p.m. (Update #1)

I began late (9:00 instead of 8:00) and have been reading sporadically ever since. Still, in these three and a half hours, I was able to get through 42 pages of Sylvia Plath's poetry and Thomas Nashe's "The Terrors of the Night, or A Discourse of Apparitions."

Plath's poetry, despite its density, is remarkably easy to understand - at least, her poems from 1956 are, which is as far as I've gotten so far. The pretense of appearances stood out most to me as a theme: for example, "Street Song" and "Tale of a Tub." But, not surprisingly, most of the poems I read seemed concerned with some form of darkness or another. The very first one, "Conversation Among the Ruins," though quite well done, was interesting in its use of clich├ęd Gothic imagery to express a very real state of depression. Read on its own, it would probably look like the ramblings of some melodramatic Goth/emo kid who's read too much Poe and Rice, and yet it's real. Does that make any sense? She's using tropes already available in the cultural imagination to express very honest feelings. She's also rather obsessed with rooks. What is a rook?

Another observation: in "A Dialogue Between Ghost and Priest" the Ghost speaks in verse whereas the Priest speaks in prose. In English Renaissance plays, the dialogue of the noble, exalted main characters is in the former, while the words of the fools, clowns, and other comic relief are rendered in the latter. This particular poem ends with the Ghost getting the last word, but Plath is clearly implying more within the poem's very structure.

Speaking of the English Renaissance and the various forms of "melancholy" (in the 17th-century sense of the word), it was quite the coincidence that Thomas Nashe's "The Terrors of the Night" seemed to go hand-in-hand at times with the poetry of Plath. Nashe, the Renaissance English version of Mark Twain (sarcastic, irreverent writer of essays and pamphlets), believed that night and day are spiritual opposites. While the Devil stalks his prey subtly under the sunlight, come nightfall, he does away with all disguises and all-out assaults the helpless dreamer. Awake, we focus our thoughts on particular goals and ideas; asleep, the noxious vapors of our spleens ascend to our brains, put our thoughts all into turmoil, dredge up secret fears and guilt, distort them, and conjure up all manner of horrors. But the fear of death or downfall is actually far worse than the very event itself, Nashe asserts, and it is one of humanity's great paradoxes that we invest so much time in charlatans purporting to tell the future so that we may live in perpetual apprehension of it. (Of course, many a royal "prophet" was involved with the conspiracies he prophesized about, just so he could prophesize about them and be lauded for his great powers.) We all too often believe that bad must follow good and vice versa. He who sees a comedy at the theater today decides he must see a tragedy tomorrow, as some sort of illogical sense of balance.

Nashe's 17th-century English was a delight to read, full of words like "cavaliering" and "knave" and phrases like "got a maid with child" (which has forced many a future "fortune-teller," all of whom are inherenlty corrupt, to flee to Ireland or the Low Countries, although he claims to have traveled to so many exotic places he's nearly forgotten the English language). But it was also highly convoluted in some places. A good 1/4 of the essay was subsequently gibberish to me, especially since he digressed so much. (Mark Twain, by contrast, abandoned "Conversations with Satan" after going too far off onto a tangent about cigars.) But Nashe's other works seem interesting, so hopefully I will get to another one during the Read-a-Thon. I'm not sure though - "The Terrors of the Night" took a long to time read.


Padfoot and Prongs - Good Books Inc. said...

Keep it up! I love Plath's poetry great choice.

Caitlin said...

I've always liked Anne Sexton's poetry better than Sylvia Plath's, but I like Plath. She appeals to that college part of me that wanted to be dark & suicidal - married British with my head in the oven.

Anonymous said...

Wow I'm impressed. I have trouble myself getting into Sylvia Plath. Great job so far! Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Traditional read-a-thon blessing:

May the bookshelf be there to greet you.
May all the books appeal.
May the fridge be full of tasty snacks;
the words fall soft upon your eyes and until the read-a-thon ends,
may you always hold a book in the palm of your hand.

Good luck today!

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