Publish the Word
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Ocean University
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The Lord gave the Word and great was the company of those that published it. 
Psalm 68:11


1. The Ancient World – First Literatures

 Before the invention of writing, stories and songs were transmitted orally from generation to generation. Without written documents of this oral tradition, there was always the risk of its literature being irrevocably lost due to foreign conquest or natural disaster.

Writing was not invented for the purpose of preserving literature; the earliest written documents contain commercial, administrative, political, and legal information, and were created by the first "advanced" civilizations in an area that Westerners commonly call the Middle East.


These ancient civilizations were agrarian (farmers), developing in the valleys of the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers. Cities began as centers to administer irrigated fields, but they soon became centers for government, religion, and culture. The Egyptians built temples and pyramids in Thebes and Memphis; the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians build palaces and temples in Babylon and Ninevah.


The oldest writing was pictographic, meaning that the sign for an object was written to resemble the object itself; later, hieroglyphic and cuneiform scripts were invented to record more complicated information.


 The oldest existing  texts date from 3300 to 2990 B.C. and consist mostly of lists of foodstuffs, textiles, and cattle. Though such lists were well served by pictographs, by 2800 BC scribes began to make marks in a script that was later called cuneiform—the Latin cuneus means "a wedge"—to record more complicated information such as historical events. This form of writing survived more than two thousand years. In Egypt, scribes developed a different form of writing. Named at a later date after the Greek words for "sacred" and "carving," hieroglyphs also developed in more cursive versions for faster writing.


Begun in 2700 B.C. and written down about 2000 B.C., the first great heroic narrative of world literature, Gilgamesh, nearly vanished from memory when it was not translated from cuneiform languages into the new alphabets that replaced them.


Gilgamesh was reintroduced to the world when a portion of it, Utnapishtim's Story of the Flood, upon which the Bible  story of the flood is based, was accidentally discovered in 1872. Since then, tablets containing other parts of Gilgamesh have been found at sites throughout the Middle East in various cuneiform languages. Though the identity of its author and context are now lost, its stories appeal to modern readers. The narrative tells of Gilgamesh's friendship with Enkidu, his quest for worldly fame and immortality, and his death.


Though the Hebrews of Israel left few visual arts and little secular literature, they did leave a religious literature. Its texts were written down between the eighth and second centuries B.C. The religion differs from other ancient religions insofar as it is founded on the idea of one god, who is infinitely just, omnipotent, and omniscient. The script that the Hebrews created consisted of twenty-two simple signs for consonantal sounds and survives, in modified form, today.


Though the absence of written signs for vowels can confuse some readers, the consonantal (consonants) script developed by the Hebrews introduced a new form of writing that could be composed without special artistic skills and read without advanced training. Adopting the consonantal script of the Phoenicians, the Greeks added signs for vowels to form what is called the first real alphabet.

Unlike the rulers of the Tigris-Euphrates and Nile valleys, the Hebrews did not control an area of economic or military importance. They were not an imperial people, but began as pastoral tribes in Palestine who created Jerusalem as their capital. Their history includes foreign occupations by the Babylonians, Greeks, and Romans as well as exiles in Egypt and Babylon, and the Diaspora.


After a period of expansion and prosperity under kings David and Solomon, the Hebrews were deported to Babylon in 586 B.C.

With their return to Palestine in 539 B.C., the Hebrews rebuilt the Temple and created the canonical version of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. By 300 B.C., the independent state of Israel was invaded and was eventually conquered by the Greeks and later absorbed into the Roman empire. After unsuccessful attempts to revolt against Roman rule under emperors Titus and Hadrian, the Hebrews became a people of the Diaspora (scattered, without a home). It was not until the 1948 that Israel was reestablished as an independent state.


According to Hebrew religious attitudes, God created a perfect and harmonious world; physical and moral disorder is a consequence of Adam and Eve's disobedience (sin). As the stories in the Bible expound, unlike polytheistic religions (belief in many gods) in which gods often battle among themselves for control over humankind, the sole resistance to the Hebrew God is humankind itself.

The exercise of free will, which may be used for both good and evil, is in some mysterious way a manifestation of God's will.


Hebrew teachers later carried on the story of the Fall and developed the concept of a God who is as merciful as He is just, who brings about the possibility of atonement and reconciliation. This concept is highlighted in the stories of Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, and the Tower of Babel, among others. The stories of the Bible teach lessons about humankind's proper relations to God and other human beings.



Values of the Ancient World:


1. Violence rules (peace comes out of the barrel of a gun)


2. Kinship ties determine our loyalty


3. No personal wrong can go unpunished


4. Valor and courage are the most noble sentiments – either win the battle or come home on your shield


5. Men can have many lovers, but women must remain pure and faithful to only one


6. The gods and goddess on Mt. Olympus – with all the weaknesses and jealousies of humans – enter human affairs.


Questions to Consider:

Why Do Men Fight?


Are Men Born Naturally Violent?


How do we restrain such violence?


Homer, the blind poet, lived and wrote about the time of King Solomon, the wise king (Song of Songs, Proverbs).  The Iliad is the first great Western epic poem, though Gilgamesh was published earlier. 


The Odyssey continues the story of Odysseus, hero of the war.  He has many lovers as he tries to return home (all beautiful, of course).  If this literature was written by men, about men – the values of men are passed on to the next generation.


2. Confucius' s Analects – Lun Yu


Confucius, since he lived in a war-torn society – about 500 years after the war at Tro --y, was largely concerned with improving government and society. He was convinced that the problem with government and society was a lack of virtue. There were not enough government workers of the ideal kind that Confucius's pupil Zizhang described:


A public servant who on confronting danger is prepared to lay down his life, who on confronting gain concentrates on what is right, who when sacrificing concentrates on reverence, who when mourning concentrates on grief should definitely be all right. (19:1, Analects)


Since it was the case that government workers and officials would be chosen from the people themselves, Confucius worked hard at training his students (most of whom would likely go on to service in government) to make them virtuous. His belief was that if he could train virtuous persons who then went on to government, those students (or whoever) would serve as examples for the common people, who would then in turn become virtuous themselves. This is due to Confucius’s belief that people tend to gravitate towards and copy virtuous behavior.  In 20 books, each of about 25 short chapters, he sets forth wisdom.  He says:


ª      The Master said, “The rule of virtue can be compared to the Pole Star which commands the homage of the multitude of stars without leaving its place”. [II, 1]


In his ethical philosophy, we see that Confucius is concerned most with character. At the start of the Analects he says:


ª      The gentleman devotes his efforts to the roots, for once the roots are established, the Way will grow therefrom. Being good as a son and obedient as a young man is, perhaps, the root of a man’s character.


In order to help others, then, it is best that one focus one’s efforts on one’s own character. If one succeeds in developing a better and better ethical character, then one will succeed inevitably with respect to becoming a ‘polestar’. People will look up to you, and emulate your behavior. So if you have a good character, they wil try to acquire the traits (or virtues) that you possess.


Having the right character requires that the man possess virtue. What is virtue, however? Partly, it is a kind of “disposition” (we will see this again in Aristotle). A man has character X at least partly because he is disposed to do things associated with X (a man of character trait ‘courage’ is likely to do courageous things). So being virtuous requires having the right habits.


Confucius says:


ª      Tzu-hsia asked: ‘Her entrancing smile dimpling, Her beautiful eyes glancing, Patterns of color upon plain silk’. What is the meaning of these lines? The master said: “The colors are put on after the white”. “ Tzu-hsia replied “Does the practice of the rites likewise come afterwards?”. The Master said: “It is you, Shang, who have thrown light on the text for me. Only a man like you can discuss the Odes”. [III, 8]


Here we find Tzu-hsia suggesting that one must first have the right habits (the white) before one turns to refining one’s character (the colors). However, as Confucius often points out, having the right habits is not enough for virtue. Note where it is written:


ª      The Master said: “Guide them by edicts, keep them in line with punishments, and the common people will stay out of trouble but will have no sense of shame. Guide them by virtue, keep them in line with the rites, and they will, besides having a sense of shame, reform themselves”. [II, 3]


ª      The Master said: “The common people can be made to follow a path but not to understand it”. [VIII, 9]


From the first quote we are led to believe that people who do the right things, but not from having a ‘sense of shame’ (which goes beyond having the right habits) are not virtuous. Moreover, we see from the second quote that most people are not virtuous. Obviously, then, ‘being virtuous’ or ‘being a good person’ means more to Confucius than simply “doing the right acts”. People who are habituated not to steal don’t steal. But yet he is unwilling to call such people virtuous if the habit is the only reason they don’t steal. So Confucius is an agent ethicist (which seems evident). Acts are “right” when they proceed from people with the right characters, which means that what is going on inside the agent is what has primary importance (does the agent have the right character, the right intentions, and so on). Note this aphorism, which clearly indicates Confucius’s leanings:


ª      Meng Wu Po asked whether Tzu-lu was benevolent. The Master said “I cannot say”. Meng Wu Po repeated the question. The master said “Yu can be given the responsibility of managing the military levies in a state of a thousand chariots, but whether he is benevolent or not I cannot say”. What, then, about Ch’iu? The Master said “Ch’iu can be given the responsibility as a steward in a town with a thousand households or in a noble family with a hundred chariots, but whether he is benevolent of not I cannot say”. What about Ch’ih? The Master said: “When Ch’ih, putting on his sash, takes his place at court, he can be given the responsibility of conversing with the guests, but whether he is benevolent or not I cannot say”. [V, 8]


Note here that Confucius’s point is this: one can know about what one has direct observable evidence. He can tell whether one his disciples can converse with the guests, or manage the levies. Evidence of these skills comes from observing those people’s acts. But with benevolence, acts are not entirely revealing. One can do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or do the right thing but still have a bad character. So Confucius is pointing out here that since benevolence has to do with a person’s character, one cannot know for sure whether another man is benevolent since one cannot see their character.


Returning to our question, however, what does Confucius think is missing when he says that people who have only good habits are not virtuous? What is missing, it seems, is understanding. Confucius (like Aristotle) thinks that the virtuous person is not only habituated to do the right thing, but does it for the right reason, which requires that the person understand why that habit is a good one to have. This implies that virtue requires understanding, or wisdom. Without understanding or wisdom, virtue cannot exist. He says:


ª      The Master said: “It is these things that cause me concern: failure to cultivate virtue, failure to go more deeply into what I have learned, inability, when I am told what is right, to move to where it is, and inability to reform myself when I have defects.” [VII, 3]


Note here that Confucius links understanding what one has learned (perhaps by habit or lesson) on a deeper level with virtue. The man of morality thus is continually trying to achieve greater understanding, to move from a robotic automaton (of habit) to an actual individual using reason. One can see this at work all the time in the Analects – Confucius says that what is required of a man is that he is motivated to learn.


Also notice that Confucius also appears to link not only understanding with virtue, but courage. A man can never acquire the right habits without courage. Moreover, to maintain the character means that the person is disposed to continue doing the right sorts of acts, and this requires continuing courage. Here Confucius explicitly links the need for courage with (1) doing right things when they are called for and (2) reforming oneself when one is in moral error.


What are the virtues, then? A quick read of the Confucian text reveals that the central or cardinal virtue is benevolence or “love of mankind”. It is from this virtue that all others are derived. How one becomes benevolent is, of course, a matter of great textual discussion in the Analects. One thing is for sure, though – Confucius thinks that a large part of what it means to be benevolent is to be motivated to be benevolent, or to desire to have that kind of character. He says:


ª      The Master said: “Is benevolence really far away? No sooner do I desire it than it is here”. [VII, 30]


Obviously, however, this is but the first step. Central to a benevolent character are two edicts. First, that one ought to “Do one’s best” and second that one ought to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. So a benevolent man does his best at applying the “golden rule” to his behavior. A quick mistake, however, would be to assume that any character is okay, such that I could have a submissive personality and thus treat others badly in a feeble attempt to apply the golden rule as best I can.

Other than courage and wisdom, there are some central virtues that are derived from benevolence, or loving mankind. There are:




ª      The Master said: “Supreme indeed is the Mean as a moral virtue. It has been rare among the common people for quite some time”.


Justice, Generosity, Respect, and Reverence


ª      The Master said of Tzu-ch’an that he had the way of the gentleman on four counts: he was respectful in the manner he conducted himself; he was reverent in the service of his lord; in caring for the common people, he was generous and, in employing their services, he was just.


ª      (generosity) On becoming his steward, Yuan Ssu was given nine hundred measures of grain which he declined. The Master said “Can you not find a use for it in helping the people in your neighborhood?”


ª (generosity) A gentleman gives to help the needy and not to maintain the rich in style. [VI, 4]




ª      The Master told Ch’i-tiao K’ai to take office. Ch’t-taio K’ai said “I cannot trust myself to do so yet”. The Master was pleased.




ª      Yu Tzu said “To be trustworthy in word is close to being moral in that it enables one’s words to be repeated”. [I, 13]


ª      The Master said “Cunning words, an ingratiating face, and utter servility, these things Tso-ch’iu found shameful. I too, find them shameful. To be friendly towards someone which concealing one’s hostility, this Tso-ch’iu found shameful. I too find this shameful”. [V, 25]




ª      The Master said “Observe what a man has in mind to do when his father is living, and then observe what he does when his father is dead. If, for three years, he makes no changes to his father’s ways, he can be said to be a good son”. [I, 11]


ª      In serving your father and mother you ought to dissuade them from doing wrong in the gentlest way. If you see your advice being ignored, you should not become disobedient but remain reverent. You should not complain even if in so doing you wear yourself out.” [IV, 18]


All of this discussion, however, does not tell us what specific acts are consistent with the virtues Confucius lays out. This leads us to his important emphasis on the rites. Part of what it means to be a moral person is to understand the rites and traditions of one’s land. What, though, can the rites have to do with morality? As far as Confucius sees it, rites are like a language. Without a language, one cannot express oneself. Without rites, one cannot express one’s character. One has to know what generosity would be in a particular place before one’s generous character could shine through. We see Confucius’s emphasis on learning the rites in Chapter IX. But an important aphorism occurs in Book III, where he says:


ª      When the Master went inside the Grand Temple, he asked questions about everything. Someone remarked “Who said that the son of a man from Tsou understood the rites? When he went inside the Grand Temple, he asked questions about everything. The Master, on hearing of this, said “The asking of questions is in itself the correct rite”. [III, 15]


Confucius’s point here is evident: when he is in a new land or a new place, he must know how to express himself if he is to remain a person of high character.


Ending up, it should be noticed that Confucius thinks that the man of morality has no real worries at all. Why is this? His belief is derived from his thought that a man’s character is totally within his control. Since a man of morality is only concerned with his character, he is only concerned with what is in his control. Like Aristotle after him, Confucius does not see any reason to worry about something that is totally within one’s control. The man who lacks morality, however, has much to worry about. The reason is evident: such a man is concerned with profit, and whether one profits or not is not entirely within one’s control.


ª      The Master said “The man of wisdom is never in two minds; the man of benevolence never worries, the man of courage is never afraid’. [IX, 29]


The benevolent man (or ‘gentleman’), then, is continually trying to better his character. He looks within himself, finds places which require moral improvement, and is motivated to improve. Since ‘improvement’ is always within one’s own control, it is not something to worry about, although living the ‘road of benevolence’ is not easy. He says:


ª      The Master said “In his heart for three months at a time Hui does not lapse from benevolence. The others attain benevolence merely be fits and starts”. [VI, 7]


One of the reasons benevolence is so hard to achieve is that it (benevolence, morality) is necessarily opposed to self-interest. He says:


ª      The Master said “The gentleman understands what is moral. The small man understands what is profitable”.


The life of virtue is not for the sake of getting material rewards. One should not be extravagant or self serving. Self cultivation is done for the betterment of the rest of society. Confucius said that "In serving one's ruler one deals reverently with the tasks involved and makes the livelihood involved a secondary consideration" (15:38, Analects), and "A public servant who is intent on the Way, but is ashamed of bad clothes and bad food, is not at all fit to be consulted" (4:9, Analects).


The ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity of India's billion people has given rise to a diverse written and oral literary tradition that evolved over 3,500 years.


The Vedas are the primary scriptures of Hinduism and consist of four books of sacred hymns that are typically chanted by priests at ceremonies marking rites of passage.


The Upanisads argue that the soul is a manifestation of a single divine essence; release comes from understanding the basic unity between the self and the universe.

Two epics that express the core values of Hinduism are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.


Dharma is the guiding principle of human conduct and preserves the social, moral, and cosmic integrity of the universe. It refers to sacred duties and righteous conduct, and is related to three other spheres that collectively govern an ideal life: artha (wealth, profit, and political power); kama (love, sensuality); moksa (release, liberation).


The belief that all beings are responsible for their own actions and their own suffering is known as karma.


Because Buddhism was a more equal religion, it initially gained a following among women, artisans, merchants, and individuals to whom the ritualistic and hierarchical nature of Hinduism seemed constraining.


Because Hinduism and its important texts such as the Bhagavad-Gita were able to combine ideas from the other religions, it was able to triumph in India.


The idea that moral and spiritual conquest is superior to conquest by the sword is an enduring motif of the time and one that was publicly endorsed by Emperor Asoka.


The ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity of India's billion people has given rise to a diverse written and oral literary tradition that evolved over 3,500 years. Many of the languages of India, including Sanskrit, belong to the Indo-European family. Sanskrit, the language of literature, administration, and intellectual endeavor, entered India around 1500 B.C. with the nomadic Aryans.


While Sanskrit is associated primarily with Hindu culture, the more popular Pali and Prakrit dialects were the preferred languages of Buddhists and Jains. Tamil, a language of south India belongs to the Dravidian language family. Interchange between north and south led to the development of both Sanskrit and Tamil literatures. With the arrival of Islam in the twelfth century, dynasties such as the Mughals introduced Islam and Arabic and Persian literatures to Indian literature and civilization.


The onset of British colonialism in the seventeenth century positioned English as an important presence in Indian letters.


While it is known that the Indus River Valley civilization flourished (ca. 3000–1500 B.C.), the writing of the period found in Mohenjo Daro and Harappa has not yet been deciphered. The first known writings, originating from the Aryans, are the Vedas. They are the primary scriptures of Hinduism and consist of four books of sacred hymns that are typically chanted by priests at ceremonies marking rites of passage. They are considered divine revelations and are often recited in the form of mantras, or sacred utterances.


The Upanisads, or Mystic Doctrines, are mystical and philosophical meditations by thinkers wishing to gain ultimate wisdom. Without negating the authority of the Vedas, the Upanisads proffer a different worldview. De-emphasizing the role of the ritualistic present in the Vedas, the Upanisads argue that the soul is a manifestation of a single divine essence; release comes from understanding the basic unity between the self and the universe.


Two epics that express the core values of Hinduism are the Ramayana and the Mahabaratar. Though mythic in tone, it is believed that the poems are based on actual historical events in north India. Referred to as itihasa, or historical narrative, they lay the foundation for Aryan rule in the Ganges River Valley. Compiled by Vyasa, the Mahabharata focuses on a civil war between battling Aryans; Valmiki's Ramayana describes the adventures in exile of Prince Rama of Kosala. The stories have been retold in all of the major Indian languages and have inspired works of art and literature in India as well as in parts of Southeast Asia—notably Java, Thailand, and Malaysia. Both epic poems emphasize dharma—the guiding principle of good human conduct and the force that holds the social, moral, and cosmic fabric of the universe together.


Several core concepts of Hindu thought permeate the early literature of India. Dharma is the guiding principle of human conduct and preserves the social, moral, and cosmic integrity of the universe. It refers to sacred duties and righteous conduct, and is related to three other spheres that collectively govern an ideal life: artha (wealth, profit, and political power); kama (love, sensuality); moksa (release, liberation).


 All four castes, or varna, of Hindus—brahmans (priests), ksatriyas (warriors), vaisyas (merchants), and sudras (laborers)—are bound by a specific set of duties, or dharma, but only brahmans, ksatriyas, and vaisyas can work toward moksa.


A woman's dharma is related to her position as a wife, and she is thus given little space to define her own identity. While the social position of Hindus is determined at birth, making for a markedly rigid and stratified society, many Hindu texts reflect ongoing power negotiations among the brahman, ksatriya, and vaisya classes.

The belief that all beings are responsible for their own actions and their own suffering is known as karma.


A central premise of all three ancient religions of India, karma is the theory that suggests that all actions (good or bad) have consequences. In Hindu thought, the doer must bear the burden of these actions, and the soul is thus enmeshed in a perpetual cycle of life and death. According to the Upanisads, the only escape from this cycle is to identify with the pure self, thereby transcending the limitations of the human psyche. Buddhist thought rejects this idea, focusing instead on the ways that creatures can be freed from the cycle of suffering.


 The Jataka, a popular Buddhist tale collection, suggests that by detaching oneself from desire and focusing on the well-being of others, all persons can embark on the path toward enlightenment, thereby becoming a Bodhisattva.


Buddhism initially gained a following among women, artisans, and merchants, and individuals to whom the ritualistic and hierarchical nature of Hinduism seemed constraining. Under Asoka's rule, the Mauryan empire (322–186 B.C.), Buddhism became a notable presence and spread southward to Sri Lanka and other neighboring countries in the north and west.


Ultimately, because Hinduism and its important texts such as the Bhagavad-Gita were able to synthesize tenets and ideas from the other religions, it was able to triumph in India. Hindus also believe in a triad of gods—Brahma, the creator; Visnu, the preserver; Siva the destroyer—who are responsible for the lives of all creatures on a cosmic scale. It is believed that worshiping Siva or Visnu eventually helps creatures escape from the cycle of karmic rebirth.


The heroic age of Indian literature encompasses a wide range of writings. Ancient Tamil poetry valorizes love and war; Arjuna and Rama appear heroic to many because they balance the violence of warrior ways with compassion and self-restraint; Buddha's teachings of self-perfection elevated him to status as "superhuman hero-king." In all, the idea that moral and spiritual conquest is superior to conquest by the sword is an enduring motif of the time and one that was publicly endorsed by Emperor Asoka.


Bhagavad Gita


How we understand the reality of the world – not an ideal fantasy of what might or should be, but the cruelty we often find – can be found in The Bhagavad Gita, part of the Mahabharata, the epic poem of India relating the struggles between the Kuru and Pandu dynasties descended from King Bharata. The Gita starts with a battle about to occur over the possession of a few villages. One of the heroes of the Pandu faction, Arjuna, looks at his relatives and friends on the opposing side and decides that even though he is certain of victory, he has no desire for bloodshed. He denounces war as leading to the destruction of families and to lawlessness, adding that only those whose wits are blinded by greed would not experience guilt in destroying a family line or betraying friends. Attributed to Vyasa, "the arranger", the Bhagavad Gita was probably compiled by a number of writers some time between 500 and 200 BCE.


The introductory section of the Bhagavad Gita, portraying Arjuna’s compassionate human feelings, is followed by the elaboration of a Hindu theology that includes a justification for warfare and slaughter, put forward by Krishna (the incarnation of the universal Hindu God, Vishnu. Krishna’s argument relies on beliefs concerning transmigration of personal identity into other bodies (reincarnation), rejection of worldly desires, achievement of egoless tranquility of mind, exercises in yoga, and adherence to a strict caste system. From these tenets, Krishna argues that people should not be concerned with the results of deeds but merely with ensuring that the deeds are done properly.


In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna contends, first, that every class of person has a code of social-religious work incumbent upon it (a caste); and, second, a person's religious duty is to bring one's soul into unity with the Supreme Self (of which Krishna is a manifestation). Enlightenment can be reached by casting off social ties and dwelling alone in meditation, or by performing all the social and religious duties of one’s assigned caste, without regard to results. Krishna recommends the second way as appropriate for Arjuna. His caste-duty is to be a fighting man; he ought to kill people without remorse.     


The Bhagavad Gita is a theological work of 18 lessons that represented a new synthesis of the elements of ancient Hindu Vedic religion, turning it into a new theism. Furthermore, it is a more democratic religion than the previous Brahmanism: even those of low birth—women, traders, and laborers—are offered hope of reaching the supreme path. In addition, "action" is no longer to be avoided as inevitably leading to bondage. Instead it is made clear that action free from desire, carried out without selfish ends in view, can set a person free. The end section contains the description Krishna gives of the moral qualities that distinguish good and evil.

The Bhagavad-Gita is famous in the West as the inspiration for Mahatma Gandhi's empire-weakening doctrine of nonviolent resistance to oppression when India broke free of Great Britian. Yet neither the Bhagavad-Gita nor, certainly, the Mahabharata in its totality, presents an argument against violence. Krishna 's counsel to Arjuna emphasizes the state of mind in which to undertake the violence that the warrior must necessarily commit. Probably as a response to the challenge mounted to the Hindu code by pacifist Buddhist teachings, Krishna frames the problem in terms of action, not violence. One must do one's duty with a pure spirit: "Be intent on action, / not on the fruits of action" (The Second Teaching, stanza 47). In this Sanskrit masterpiece, as in the Greek Homer’s texts of The Illiad and Odyssey we see a sacred obligation between sacrifice and violence.

Action imprisons the world

unless it is done as sacrifice;

freed from attachment, Arjuna,

perform action as sacrifice!

     (The Third Teaching, stanza 9)

The early books of the Mahabharata describe the miraculous births and education of the Kuru clan. Kunti's three Pandava sons, each immaculately fathered by a different god, collectively embody the qualities of ideal kingship. Yudisthira, the oldest son, is born of Kunti's invocation of Dharma, the god of law. Although he is a trained warrior, he is not noted for feats of heroism. His two full brothers, Bhima (son of the god of wind) and Arjuna (son of Indra, the most powerful of the gods), however, master their weapons and together destroy their immoral cousins in the terrible war that ensues. In a warrior culture, how one fights defines one's nature; Bhima and Arjuna favor different weapons and represent different modes of violent action.

3. Political Literature – Plato and Machiavelli

Welcome to My World.  I am king of my world.  Today I would like to make some announcements.  First, I will change the name of Qingdao to Michaeldao, after myself.  All of the boys will be my servant-workers.  Work hard and I will pay you well.  All of the girls in here are now my wives.  Those of you who are good at cooking will cook for me.  Those of you who like children will raise our children. . . maybe 100 or 200 children. All of you will work hard to make me happy.  This is a perfect society. . . for me.

How do we create a fair and just society for everyone?

Let’s go to the Golden Age of Greece in 400 B.C., about the time of Confucius in China.

The School of Philosophers/ Groves of Academy

The first important work of European political philosophy is the Republic of Plato (circa 378 BC), a masterpiece of insight and feeling, expressed in dialogue form and probably meant to be recited aloud. More of Plato's ideas are written in his Statesman and Laws.  Plato grew up in Athens during the great war between Athens and Sparta.  Athens suffered defeat and, like many political philosophers, such as Confucius, he tried to find ways to change political injustice and decline.

The Republic is the first of the utopias – an ideal society which exists only in the mind of its creator.  The Republic is the first attempt of a European philosopher to create a moral (right/wrong) foundation to political life.

Come with me.  We are invited to a dinner party at the home of a wealthy Athenian named Cephalus.  Plato is a guest, but only as a student listening to his teacher, Socrates.  He writes down everything his teacher says.

The dialogue begins with what is a friendly conversation between Socrates and Cephalus.  Socrates asks Cephalus what he has learned from having lived a long life.  Cephalus has managed to acquire a lot of money. Socrates asks Cephalus whether age and experience have taught him anything, whether he misses the sexual appetites of his younger years, and whether the wealth may be said to be a good thing or a bad thing. Cephalus replies that he is happy to have escaped his youthful sexual appetite (one of many passions he has learned to overcome), that wealth in age provides a man the liberty of always telling the truth (never misrepresenting himself in word or deed), and that one obvious advantage of money is that it enables a man to pay his just debts. Thus it is, says Cephalus, that a man may achieve the good life and achieve justice.

Socrates then concludes that justice may be defined as telling the truth and paying one’s debts. But, he says, what if a friend in a reasonable state of mind were to lend you a sword or a knife and later, in a crazed state, should ask for you to repay the debt? Ought one to remind a friend who is in a crazed state that he is mad, and ought one to return a sword to a crazy person? The answer is plain: No.

Socrates concludes that telling the truth and paying one’s debts is not necessarily always just. It is at this point that Cephalus excuses himself from the conversation.

The lively discussion continues through ten chapters or books.  Books 5, 7-8, and 9 of the Republic state the major themes of political philosophy with poetic power. Plato's work has been criticized as reflecting the ideas of an elite wealthy class in a slave-owning society.  The work is indeed a classic example of a philosopher's dissection of society – rule by a few men over largely uninterested citizens [zens = dwellers in a citi].

The Republic criticizes current Greek politics.  The various city-states were constantly at war with each other.  Corruption within states was a continuing problem.   Plato believes that a world of permanent ideals exists beyond the limitations of human experience and that morality and the good life, which the state should promote, are reflections of these ideals. The point is best made in the famous story of the cave, in which men are chained with their faces to the wall and their backs to the light, so that they see only the shadows of reality. So imprisoned, they hide from what is truly “real” and permanent and need to be forced to face it.

The group of men have been from their childhood, having their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and only seeing what is directly in front of them. They are prevented from being able to turn their heads by the chains. They are facing away from the light of the cave's mouth, seeing only shadows on the wall before them. The shadows have been the only source of entertainment, learning and knowledge for the entire lifetime of the prisoners. They believe the shadows they see on the walls are "reality," never actually seeing the objects that create those shadows.


To understand what is real, they must see the real clearly – not reflections or shadows which they mistake for the real.  In other words, if we examine society as it really is – are people basically good or bad?  Can people be trusted to make wise decisions to benefit the most people or only themselves?  How can we create a just and fair society?  For over 70 years during the 20th Century, Socialism and Communism ruled ½ the world.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union Capitalism and Democracy became more common.  Plato says we should open our eyes and be brave to seek the real and the true.

This idealistic doctrine, known misleadingly as Realism  is at the center of Plato's philosophy. Plato, who was perhaps influenced by Indian thought – remember the Bhagavad-Gita, says ordinary life can be an illusion and the current evils of politics are the result of men pursuing their brute animal instincts. It follows that:

unless philosophers become kings and rule in cities or those who are now called (warrior) kings and princes will continue to inflict their violent and unjust rule on those who are weaker. . . there will be no end to evil for cities.

Only philosopher-statesmen can understand true justice and see “the brightest blaze of being” outside the cave.  Only men of  philosophy and action can be the true helpers of the people.  A danger is when warrior-kings rule.  Another danger is the artist-- poets and musicians who stir the emotions of the people rather than the intellect.  Poets must be banned from the city.

Plato is thus the father of modern beliefs that only a party organization, inspired by correct and “scientific” doctrines, formed by the written word and interpreted by authority, can rightly guide the state. His rulers would form an elite, not responsible to the mass of the people. Thus, in spite of his high moral purpose, he has been called an enemy of the open society and the father of totalitarian lies. But he also clearly sees the evils of power and political corruption and insists on the need to use public power to moral ends.

Having described his utopia, Plato turns to analyze the existing types of government in human terms with great insight. Kingly (mon-archy) government is the best but not always possible; in oligarchies (oli-archy--the rule of the few) -- the pursuit of wealth divides societies—the rich become immoral and the poor envious, and there is no harmony in the state. In democracy, in which the poor and common people get the upper hand, evil leaders can easily lead people in the wrong direction -- the old flatter the young, the smart seduce the ignorant. The leaders steal from the uneducated classes and divide the wealth among themselves and the people until confusion and corruption lead to tyranny, a worse form of government. For the tyrant becomes a wolf instead of a man and “lops off” potential rivals and starts wars to distract the people from their discontent. “Then, by Zeus,” Plato concludes, “the public learns what a monster they have begotten.”  Americans believed –either rightly or wrongly – that Saddam Hussein had become a tyrant.

Plato believes that, although there is a correct science of government, like geometry, it cannot be realized, and he stresses the need for the rule of law, since no man can be trusted with power.  He imagines a polis on the island of Crete, and presents a detailed program in which a state with some 5,000 citizens is ruled by 37 keepers of laws and a council of 360 states-men. During Plato’s time, Greek thinkers had already established the idea that the good man possesses four cardinal virtues: courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom.  Any rulers should possess these qualities.

Without good, philosopher-kings, the best rule goal of a state is to promote the good life and social harmony by the rule of fair and just laws.

The training of the philosopher kings would continue through a long and rigorous education because the vision of the Good requires great preparation and intellectual discipline. It leads through study of the sciences and philosophy.  Before a man can rule, he must be taught to think clearly with moral understanding.

The exact sciences—arithmetic, plane and solid geometry, astronomy, and harmonics—would first be studied for 10 years.

Five years would then be given to the study of “dialectic.” Dialectic is, the art of conversation, of question and answer. According to Plato, dialectical skill is the ability to pose and answer questions about the essences of things.

Of course, Plato’s Republic is not without fault.  He thought the only way to achieve some equality between men and women was to take babies away from their mothers to be raised by Guardians, other women who would have no emotional attachment to the child and then could raise the boy or girl fairly without spoiling them.

His ideas were a place to begin – not perfect – but at least a start.  How do we build a fair and just society. . . for all people?  Where do we find good rulers?  Where do our laws come from?  How do we avoid corruption?

His ideas did have a major influence on Western political thinking for a long time.

The next great political book was written in Niccolò Machiavelli and it is The Prince written in 1532 as a type of job application.

Let’s travel to Florence, Italy, to a world of beauty and great excitement.  Florence was a powerful city-state.  It was supposed to be a republic, a city in which the citi-zens had some say in the government, but mostly the city was ruled by one powerful family – the Medicis.  Lorenzo Medic, known as Lorenzo “the Magnificent” because he loved art and supported artists to build him buildings and paint him pictures and make wonderful sculptures that still exist today.  The famous artist Michelangelo was a Medici artist.

Young Niccolo Machiavelli wanted a career in politics – to serve Florence.



4. Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels is a famous satire, written as a “travel” book and published in 1726 in England.

What is a satire?  A satire is a literary work that makes fun of human weakness and flaws.  A skillful writer can make us laugh at the same time he / she says something important about human behavior.


An example of a Chinese satire you might know is about the strong wine made by Du Kang that he named Staying Drunk for 1000 Days.    A friend named Liu Ling drank some and fell down, as though dead.  His wife buried him.  Three years later Du Kang came to find his friend and when he heard Liu Ling was in a coffin he ordered that his friend be dug up.  Liu Ling then woke up and said, ”Du Kang, your wine is really good!”  Du Kang changed the wine so it was not as strong.  He named it Liu Ling Got Drunk.


About the same time Swift was writing about Gulliver, in China, Cao Xueqin was about to begin writing Dream of the Red Chamber.


Gulliver’s Travels tells the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a practical-minded Englishman trained as a surgeon (doctor) who takes to the seas when his business fails. In a first-person narrative – the use of “I” -- that rarely shows any signs of self-reflection or deep emotional feelings, Gulliver tells  the adventures that befall him on these travels to four foreign lands.

Gulliver’s adventure in Lilliput begins when he wakes after his shipwreck to find himself bound by tiny threads.  He is addressed by tiny captors who are in awe of him but protective of their kingdom. They are not afraid to use violence against Gulliver, though their arrows are little more than pinpricks. But overall, they are friendly, risking famine in their land by feeding Gulliver, who consumes more food than a thousand Lilliputians combined. Gulliver is taken into the capital city by a huge wagon the Lilliputians have specially built. He is presented to the emperor, who is entertained by Gulliver, just as Gulliver is flattered by the attention of royalty. Eventually Gulliver becomes a national resource, used by the army in its war against the people of Blefuscu, whom the Lilliputians hate for ideological differences -- concerning the proper way to crack eggs. But things change when Gulliver is convicted of treason for putting out a fire in the royal palace with his urine and is condemned to be shot in the eyes with poisoned arrows. The emperor eventually pardons him and he goes to Blefuscu, where he is able to repair a boat he finds and set sail for England.


After staying in England with his wife and family for two months, Gulliver undertakes his next sea voyage, which takes him to a land of giants called Brobdingnag. Here, a farmer discovers him and treats him as little more than a small animal, keeping him for amusement. The farmer eventually sells Gulliver to the queen, who makes him a court toy and is entertained by his musical talents. Social life is easy for Gulliver after his discovery by the court, but not particularly enjoyable. Gulliver is often shocked  by the physical features of the Brobdingnagians, whose ordinary flaws are many times magnified by their huge size. Thus, when a couple of courtly ladies let him play on their naked bodies, he is not attracted to them but rather disgusted by their enormous skin pores and the sound of their body noises. He is generally startled by the ignorance of the people here—even the king knows nothing about politics. More unsettling findings in Brobdingnag come in the form of various animals of the realm that endanger his life such as a pet cat the size of a full grown lion who wants to eat him. Even Brobdingnagian insects leave slimy trails on his food that make eating difficult. On a trip to the frontier, accompanying the royal couple, Gulliver leaves Brobdingnag when his cage is picked up by an eagle and dropped into the sea.


Next, Gulliver sets sail again and, after an attack by pirates, ends up in Laputa, where a floating island inhabited by philosophers and academics oppresses the land below, called Balnibarbi. The scientific research undertaken in Laputa and in Balnibarbi seems totally foolish  and impractical, and its residents too appear wholly out of touch with reality. Taking a short side trip to Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver is able to witness the magical conjuring up of figures from history, such as Julius Caesar and other military leaders, whom he finds much less impressive than in books. After visiting the Luggnaggians and the Struldbrugs, the latter of which are senile immortals (they live forever)  who prove that age does not bring wisdom, he is able to sail to Japan and from there back to England.


Finally, on his fourth journey, Gulliver sets out as captain of a ship, but after the mutiny of his crew and a long confinement in his cabin, he arrives in an unknown land. This land is populated by Houyhnhnms, (whin-mms – sound a horse makes) rational-thinking horses who rule, and by Yahoos, animal-like human creatures who serve the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver sets about learning their language, and when he can speak he tells his voyages to them and explains the constitution of England. He is treated with great courtesy and kindness by the horses and is enlightened by his many conversations with them and by his exposure to their noble culture. He wants to stay with the Houyhnhnms, but his bared body reveals to the horses that he is very much like the animal-Yahoo, and he is banished. Gulliver is grief-stricken but agrees to leave. He builds a canoe and makes his way to a nearby island, where he is picked up by a Portuguese ship captain who treats him well, though Gulliver cannot help now seeing the captain—and all humans—as shamefully Yahoo-like – as brute animals. Gulliver then end his story with a claim that the lands he has visited belong by rights to England, as her colonies, even though he questions the whole idea of colonialism.


Swift’s satire is not merely the weapon of making fun of what others hold in high regard. Swift also uses mock seriousness and understatement; he parodies and uses burlesque – a type of bold comedy. He presents a virtue and then turns it into a vice. He ridicules  all sorts of sacred cows. Besides science, Swift makes fun of the whole sentimental attitude surrounding children. At birth, for instance, Lilliputian children were “wisely” taken from their parents and given to the State to rear (does this remind us of Plato?). In an earlier satire, A Modest Proposal, he had proposed that the very poor in Ireland sell their children to the English to eat as gourmet food – this would also reduce over-population.


Gulliver’s Travels was the work of a writer who had been using satire as his weapon for over 25 years. His life was one of continual disappointment, and satire was his complaint and his defense—against his enemies and against humankind. People, he believed, were generally ridiculous and petty, greedy and proud; they were blind to the “ideal of the mean,” as Confucius would say.


Swift was not one of the optimists typical of his century. He did not believe that the Age of Science was the triumph that many of his countrymen believed it to be. Science and reason needed limits, and they needed a good measure of humanism. They did not require making Science a god.


Swift was a highly moral man and was shocked by people’s worship of reason as the solution to mankind’s problems. To so easily believe science would cure every social ill amounted to non-reason in Swift’s thinking. He offered the impractical scientists of Laputa and the impersonal, but absolutely reasonable, Houyhnhnms as examples of science and reason carried to ridiculous limits. Swift, in fact, created Gulliver’s Travels in order to give the public a new moral lens. Through this lens, Swift hoped to “trouble” his readers by offering them new insights into the game of politics and into the social games of humans.



4. Poets of the Tang Dynasty


The root meaning of the word poetry is “something made.”  The Chinese word shih, translated as “poetry” can be explained as “speaking what is intensely on the mind.”  Between these two ideas – poetry and shih—there is a subtle but profound difference.  Poetry in the European tradition can be a false truth – “My Daughter At the Planetarium” – emotionally true, but factually false.  Shih is always true in the sense that the reader or listener, who is considered a friend or companion of the poet, knows when the writer is evasive, uneasy or directly blurting out what is “intensely on the mind.”


Poems can be narrative – tell a story.  They can be lyrical – closer to song.  They can be descriptive, as many great Chinese poems are, especially the landscapes of a poet-painter like Wang Wei.  Poems can be dramatic if they contain a discussion between the poet and someone else, as in The Song of Songs – the lover and the beloved.  The discussion can even be an inner conversation the poet is having with himself or with inanimate objects, such as Li Bai talking to the moon and his shadow.


But all great poems also give us history – in two parts.  First, we encounter the personal history of the poet, what he or she was thinking, feeling or recording at a particular point in his or her life.  Second, we have a lasting cultural record of one or many places.  The cumulative effect of the 50,000 surviving poems of the Tang Dynasty is to give us today some idea of the lives of the people, the events that shaped those lives, as day to day word-photos.  Each poem is filtered through the mind of the individual poet.  So the Buddhist monk Han Shan might respond differently to some moment of solitude than would the very exuberant Li Bai.


Style of T’ang Poems


"The classical poems were usually composed of lines of four characters, or words, with every other line rhymed. Lines were allowed, however, of more or fewer words. Under the reign of the Emperor Wu (140-87B.C.) of the Western Han Dynasty new types of poetry were introduced; and the five-character and seven-character poems became popular and have dominated ever since.


The number of characters of each lines was uniform; no irregular line might occur. These two types were afterwards named the "ancient" or "unruled" poems. Nearly all poems before the T'ang Dynasty were in this form. The Emperor Wu introduced also the Po Liang style, which is a seven-character poem with every line rhyming in the last word. Po Liang was the name of a pavilion in the Emperor's garden where, while he held banquets for his literary friends -- each wrote one line to complete a long poem. This has been a favorite game among Chinese poets.


The Poems of the T'ang Dynasty


The T'ang Dynasty is commonly recognized as the golden age of poetry. Beginning with the founder of the dynasty, down to the last ruler, almost every one of the emperors was a great lover and patron of poetry, and many were poets themselves.


A special tribute should be paid to the Empress Wu Chao or the "Woman Emperor" (684-704), through whose influence poetry became a requirement in examinations for degrees and an important course leading to official promotion. This made every official as well as every scholar a poet. The poems required in the examination, after long years of gradual development, followed a formula, and many regulations were established.  The chin-shih served two important purposes: 1) to elevate the value of poetry, and 2) to teach that poetry was an essential part of every young person’s education – not just for academic knowledge, but for inner growth.


Not only must the length of a line be limited to a certain number of the characters, usually five or seven, but also the length of a poem was limited to a certain number of lines, usually four or eight or twelve. The rhymes, the parallelism of characters, and the balance of tones were other rules considered essential. This is called the "modern" or "ruled" poetry.


In the Ch'ing or Manchu Dynasty the examination poem was standardized as a five-character-line poem of sixteen lines with every other line rhymed. This "eight-rhyme" poem was accompanied by the famous "eight-legged" literature (a form of literature divided into eight sections ) as a guiding light for entrance into Mandarin life.


The above-mentioned rules of poetry applied first only to examination poems. But afterwards they became a common exercise with "modern" or "ruled" poems in general. Chinese poetry since the T'ang Dynasty has followed practically only two forms, the "modern" or "ruled" form and the "ancient" or "unruled" form. A poet usually writes both. The "eight-rhyme" poem, however, was practiced for official examinations only.


The progress of T'ang poetry may be viewed through a division into four periods, as distinguished by different style and a differing spirit. There were, of course, exceptional works, especially at the transient points, and it is difficult to draw an exact boundary-line between any two periods.


The first period is approximately from A.D. 620 to 700; the second from 700 to 780; the third from 780 to 850, and the fourth from 850 to 900.


The first period is represented by Chang Yueh (677-730) and Chang Chiu-ling (673-740), two premiers, and by Sung Chih-wen (died 710) and Tu Shen-yen (between the seventh and eighth centuries).


The second period, corresponding to the summer season of the year, is regarded as the most celebrated epoch. Its representative figures are Li Po (705-762), the genie of poetry; Tu Fu (712-720), the sage of poetry; Wang Wei (699-759) and Meng Hano-jan (680-740), the two hermit-poets, and Ts'en Ts'an (given degree, 744) and Wei Ying-wu (about 740-830), the two magistrate-poets


The third period produced Yuan Chen (779-832) and Po Chu-yi (772-846), two cabinet ministers, and Han Yu (768-824) and Liu Tsung yuang (773-819), two master literati more famous for their prose writing than for their verse.


The fourth period saw Wen T'ing-yun (ninth century) and Li Shang-yin (813-858), the founders of the Hsi K'un school, and by Hsu Hun (given degree, 832) and Yao He (A.D. 9th century).


from "Three hundred poems of the T'ang Dynasty 618-906"

All the verse forms of the past were freely adopted and refined, and new forms were crystallized. One new form was perfected early in the dynasty and given the definitive name lü-shih ("regulated verse"). A poem of this kind consists of eight lines of five or seven syllables--each line set down in accordance with strict tonal patterns--calling for parallel structure in the middle, or second and third, couplets.

Another verse form much in vogue was the chüeh-chü ("truncated verse"). An outgrowth and a shortened version of the lü-shih, it omitted either the first four lines, the last four lines, the first two and the last two lines, or the middle four lines. Thus, the tonal quality of the lü-shih was retained, whereas antithetic structure was made optional. These poems of four lines, each consisting of five or seven words (syllables or characters), had to depend for their artistry on suggestiveness and economy comparable to the roba'iyat ("quatrains") of Omar Khayyam and the Japanese haiku.

The fine distinctions of tonal variations in the spoken language had reached their height during this period, with eight tones; and rules and regulations concerning the sequence of lighter and heavier tones had been formulated. But since the observance of strict rules of prosody was not mandatory in the ku-shih ("ancient style") form still in use, it was possible for an individual poet to enjoy conformity or freedom as he saw fit.

Of the more than 2,200 T'ang poets whose works--totaling more than 48,900 pieces--have been preserved, only a few can be mentioned.

Wang Wei, a musician and the traditional father of monochrome landscape painting, was also a great poet. Influenced by Buddhism, he wrote exquisite meditative verse of man's relation to nature that exemplified his own dictum that poetry should have the beauty of painting and vice versa. Li Po, one of the two major poets of the T'ang dynasty, a lover of detachment and freedom, deliberately avoided the lü-shih and chose the less formal verse forms to sing of friendship or wine. An example is the poem "To Tan-Ch'iu," translated by Arthur Waley.

My friend is lodging high in the Eastern Range,

Dearly loving the beauty of valleys and hills.

At green Spring he lies in the empty woods,

And is still asleep when the sun shines on high.

A pine-tree wind dusts his sleeves and coat;

A pebbly stream cleans his heart and ears.

I envy you, who far from strife and talk

Are high-propped on a pillow of blue cloud.

Generally considered the greatest poet of China was Tu Fu, a keen observer of the political and social scene who criticized injustice wherever he found it and who clearly understood the nature of the great upheaval following the rebellion of dissatisfied generals in 755, which was a turning point in the fortunes of the T'ang. As an artist, Tu Fu excelled in all verse forms, transcending all rules and regulations in prosody while conforming to and exploiting them. His power and passion can perhaps be suggested by a single line (translated by Robert Payne): "Blue is the smoke of war, white the bones of men."

One of the admirers of Tu Fu as a poet-historian was Po Chü-i who, like his great predecessor, was deeply concerned with the social problems of his age. Po Chü-i sought to learn from ordinary folk not only naturalness of language but also their feelings and reactions, especially at the height of his career when he wrote what he called the Hsin yüeh-fu shih ("New Yüeh-fu Poems").

At the end of the T'ang and during the Five Dynasties, another new verse form developed. Composed normally of lines of irregular length and written as lyrics to musical tunes, this form came to be known as tz'u, in contrast with shih, which includes all the verse forms mentioned above. Since the lines in a tz'u might vary from one to nine or even 11 syllables, they were comparable to the natural rhythm of speech and therefore easily understood when sung.

First sung by ordinary folk, they were popularized by professional women singers and, during the T'ang, attracted the attention of poets. It was not, however, until the transitional period of the Five Dynasties (907-960), a time of division and strife, that tz'u became the major vehicle of lyrical expression.

Of tz'u poets in this period, the greatest was Li Yü, last monarch of the Southern T'ang, who was seized in 976 as the new Sung dynasty consolidated its power. Li Yü's tz'u poetry is saturated with a tragic nostalgia for better days in the South; it is suffused with sadness--a new depth of feeling notably absent from earlier tz'u, which had been sung at parties and banquets.

Persian Poetry

Jelaluddin Rumi was born in the Eastern part of the Ancient Persian Empire, presently Afghanistan, in 1207. His first name literally means Majesty of Religion, Jalal means majesty and din means religion. Because of the threat of Mongol invasion in Persia his family fled, finally settling in Turkey. He passed away in1273.


As a theologian, a scholar, and a pillar of Islam,  Rumi underwent a spiritual transformation in 1244 after meeting Shams, a spiritual teacher. With appearance of Shams, Rumi soon started his work "Mathnawi," consisting of 24,000 verses at age 38. Rumi's poetry is spiritually searching.


One of Rumi's favorite musical instruments was ney (flute). In Persia, poems can be sung or can be read. Rumi said, music can be a form of remembering that there is only one God -- which in Arabic is La illaha illa llah.


Rumi's poetry has been translated into many languages.  His work is well known throughout the world. Rumi was the founder of the Mevlevi Dervish Order, also known as the whirling dervishes a branch of Islam known as Sufism.


In the Islamic world today, Rumi is read for much the same reasons he was revered during his life: for his excellence as a poet; for his rare ability to empathize with humans, animals and plants; for his flawless moral center and ability to direct others towards good conduct and union with God.


The best explanation for Rumi's popularity may simply be that he was a very wonderful poet -- uniquely capable of transcending "outward appearances" and creating in words the mystical "inward reality" -- yet entirely realistic and modest about the limitations of his words. Mathnawi, Rumi's longest work, is a Persian classic and by itself would ensure his literary immortality.


Oh Beloved,

take me.

Liberate my soul.

Fill me with your love and

release me from the two worlds.

If I set my heart on anything but you

let fire burn me from inside.


Oh Beloved,

take away what I want.

Take away what I do.

Take away what I need.

Take away everything

that takes me from you.


Oh Beloved,

take away what I want.

Take away what I do.

Take away what I need.

Take away everything

that takes me from you.


Out in Empty Sky

If you catch a fragrance of the unseen,

like that, you won't be able to be contained.

You'll be out in empty sky. Any beauty the world has,

any desire, will easily be yours. As you live deeper in the heart,

the mirror gets clearer and cleaner. Shams of Tabriz realized God

in himself. When that happens, you have no anxieties

about losing anyone or anything. You break the spells

human difficulties cause. Interpretations come,

hundreds, from all the religious symbols

and parables and prayers. You know

what they mean, when God

lives through you

May the lover be drunk and infamous all the year.

May he be charmed, frenzied, and mad.

While sober, we suffer for everything.

When we get drunk, we let go of everything.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

The Rubaiyat is not a single poem, but is rather a collection of verses written by Omar Khayyam, the Persian mathematician, philosopher and astronomer who lived from about 1048 - 1122.

7   Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring

 Your Winter garment of Repentance fling:

 The Bird of Time has but a little way

 To flutter--and the Bird is on the Wing.


The Rubáiyát is a Persian form of 101 quatrains. Qua-train means 4-lines.  Its name derives from the Arabic plural of the word for "quatrain," Rubá'íyah. This, in turn, comes from the Arabic Rubá, meaning "four."


This Persian form of poetry is a series of rhymed quatrains. In each quatrain, all lines rhyme except the third, leading to this pattern:



An "Interlocking Rubáiyát" is a Rubáiyát where the following stanza rhymes its 1st, 2nd, and 4th lines with the sound at the end of the 3rd line in the previous stanza (Rubá'íyah) before it.


American poet Robert Frost borrowed this poetic form for his famous poem:


Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening


Whose woods these are I think I know. (a)

His house is in the village though;  (a)

He will not see me stopping here  (b)

To watch his woods fill up with snow. (a)


My little horse must think it queer  (b)

To stop without a farmhouse near  (b)

Between the woods and frozen lake  (c)

The darkest evening of the year.  (b)

Here is one of the most famous and often quotes stanzas from the Rubaiyat:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

 A Loaf of Bread, a jug of wine -- and Thou

 Beside me singing in the Wilderness --

 Oh, Wilderness were Paradise even now!

                              [Stanza 12]

But the poem is mostly a meditation upon the beauty and brevity of life – how short!

96   Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!

 That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!

 The Nightingale that in the branches sang,

 Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows!  

1001 Arabian Nights

Could you tell a good story?  Good enough to save your life?

The Arabian Nights (Arabic: alf laila walaila (“the thousand and one nights”)) is the most famous Middle Eastern literary work.

The stories come from India, Persia and Arabia; there are even stories from China, such as Aladdin, in some editions. These stories all reflect the civilized Islamic world of the ninth to thirteenth centuries. This culture stretched from Spain across North Africa to Egypt, across the Arabian peninsula, up to Damascus, Syria and Baghdad, Iraq, farther north to Samarkand, across what is now Afghanistan, down into India, and beyond. Many of the people in this huge area shared the religion of Islam, a religious language, the Arabic of the Koran, and many cultural traditions and celebrations derived from the culture of Islam and its seventh century roots in the Arabian peninsula, now mostly Saudi Arabia.

A traveler could wander across this huge region speaking Arabic, sharing in a familiar culture, studying and praying in mosques, and trading with fellow Muslims.

Ironically, though, the work was not widely accepted as serious literature by the intellectual and literary elite of the Islamic world.  This rejection reflects the Koran’s condemnation of fictional narratives as “lying”; most traditional Arabic narrative was didactic or religious – history, useful knowledge, moral instruction.  Imagination and fantasy were more commonly expressed in poetry, which had a tradition in Arabic life pre-dating Islam and was not constrained by religious concerns.  The Arabian Nights has often been banned by Arab governments, even as recently as 1989 when Egypt issued a ban.


6. Dante, Beowulf, Canterbury Tales


Canto I

A Dark Wood / The Dark Wood of Error  


1   When I had journeyed half of our life's way, 

2   I found myself within a shadowed forest, 

3   for I had lost the path that does not stray. 


4   Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was, 

5   that savage forest, dense and difficult, 

6   which even in recall renews my fear: 


7   so bitter death is hardly more severe! 

8   But to retell the good discovered there, 

9   I'll also tell the other things I saw. 


10   I cannot clearly say how I had entered 

11   the wood; I was so full of sleep just at 

12   the point where I abandoned the true path. 


Where are we?  What has happened?


At the age of thirty-five, on the night of Good Friday, the day that recalls the death of Jesus in the year 1300, Dante finds himself lost in a dark wood and full of fear . He sees a sun-drenched mountain in the distance, and he tries to climb it, but three beasts, a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf, stand in his way. Dante is forced to return to the forest where he meets the spirit of Virgil, the Roman poet, who promises to lead him on a journey downward into the earth, through Hell so that he may be able to enter heaven or Paradise. Dante agrees to the journey and follows Virgil through the gates of Hell.


Virgil (70-19 B.C.) – Dante’s guide through the first two journeys, lived under Julius Caesar and then Augustus during Rome's growth from republic to empire.  He wrote in Latin his famous Aeneid. This epic poem tells the journey of Aeneas from Troy (he is a Trojan prince)--following its destruction by the Greeks--eventually to Italy, where he founds the line of rulers that will lead to Caesar and the Roman empire of Virgil's day. The poem is a magnificent piece of political propaganda aimed at honoring the emperor Augustus. Two episodes from Virgil's epic were of particular interest to Dante. Book 4 tells the tragic tale of Aeneas and Dido, the queen of Carthage who kills herself when Aeneas--her lover--abandons her to continue his journey and fulfill his destiny by founding a new civilization in Italy. Book 6, in which Aeneas visits the underworld to meet the shade/ghost of his father (Anchises) and learn future events in his journey and in the history of Rome. This provides key ideas about the Greek & Roman concepts of the afterlife-- mythological monsters and rivers of burning sulphur --that Dante uses to shape his own version of the afterlife – especially hell.


After hell – the underworld – where people suffer for the sins and evil they have done in life, Dante will visit two other realms – Purgatoria/Purgatory, a type of middle world between the punishments of hell and the joys of heaven.  Here people have hope that once they have paid for the wrongs they have done through some minor sufferings or punishments, they might ascend to heaven.  Heaven,in Dante’s third book is Paradiso/Paradise.


What do we need to know as readers to understand Dante’s masterpiece?  One writer has called the Commedia a foundational work of European literature.


First, a comedy, in the medieval sense does not mean funny or humorous.  In simple terms, a comedy is a story that ends happily.  A tragedy is a story that ends sadly. 


In China at this time, the Song Dynasty has ended and the Mongols are ruling.  Kublai Khan rules over all of China as emperor of the Yuan dynasty.  In the West many city-states are growing strong – Rome, Florence, Naples in Italy, Athens in Greece, Madrid in Spain..  The very first university in the world has been founded by Christian monks in Paris – the university of Paris.  The second and third universities – Oxford and Cambridge – are been established in England, also by Christian monks, scholars and teachers. 


Why is it important to mention that these first centers of advanced learning were founded by Christians?  Because how one views the world – one’s world view – influences the literature.  Remember that in the Middle Eastern culture of Asia at this time – the Persian and Arabic literatures were shaped by Islam, the beliefs handed down from the prophet Mohammed as contained in the Koran, the book of religious writings.  In China, Confucianism, but also Buddhism and Taoism, and in India, Hinduism, provide answers to the big questions of life:  Who Are We?  Why Are We Here?  What is the Meaning of Life?  Where Do We Go When We Die?


The Christian worldview is a core idea in Dante’s writing.  But before we continue with that or with the Comedy, who was Dante?


Dante was born in Florence in May 1265. His family was of an old family, of noble birth but no longer wealthy.


When he was only 12 years old, his marriage to the daughter of the famous Donati family was arranged, along with the amount of her dowry. These betrothals and marriages were family affairs, and Dante dutifully married her, some years later, at the proper time and had two sons and one daughter.


Dante studied at the University of Bologna, one of the most famous universities in the medieval world. There, he came under the influence of one of the most famous scholars of the time, Brunetto Latini, who never taught Dante but advised and encouraged him. Latini appears in Canto XV of the Inferno.


When Dante was still very young, 10 to 12 years old, he met a 9-year-old girl at a public event. She wore a bright red-crimson dress, and to Dante, she glowed with the innocent beauty of an angel. The girl was Beatrice, and there is no doubt that she was the great love of Dante’s life, and the greatest single influence on his work. Dante loved her from a distance, and she was probably unaware of Dante’s love for her. He wrote about his feelings for her in an early work Vita Nuova  --A New Life.  After Virgil, the poet, can guide Dante no higher in Purgatory, she becomes his guide.


As a young man, in his 20s, Dante gets caught up in the war of the ruling families to see who will control Florence.  At first his side wins, and he is given a post as a type of diplomat to Rome.  But while he is gone the power shifts to the other family and he suddenly becomes an exile, in 1302.  He will never return to his beloved city of Florence.


In exile he begins to write his life’s work – the Comedy.  Only several hundred years later will the word “Divine” be added to the full title.


The poem is 100 Cantos – or chapters.  The first is an introduction.  The next 33 Cantos make up hell.  The next 33 Cantos are about Purgatory.  The last 33 Cantos take Dante into the heavens and then a realm beyond space and time where God dwells.  Each Cantos varies, but is usually between 100-200 lines.  The lines are grouped into 3-line stanzas.


Dante created a a poetic form called the terza rima, a type of 3 line stanza with an interlocking rhyme – very like the Ruby-iat of Persian poetry. 


The stanzas are aba – bcb – cdc – and so on.  Here are the first three stanzas in Italian, the original language.


1   Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita  

2   mi ritrovai per una selva oscura 

3   ché la diritta via era smarrita. 


4   Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura  

5   esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte 

6   che nel pensier rinova la paura! 


7   Tant'è amara che poco è più morte; 

8   ma per trattar del ben ch'i' vi trovai, 

9   dirò de l'altre cose ch'i' v'ho scorte. 


Why is The Divine Comedy so important to Western and World literature?


First, Dante’s work is masterfully organized – 3-lines of poetic beauty, into 33 cantos of 3 books that show the poet’s skill of language, image, sound and meaning.  He is a great poet.


Second, Dante explores important ideas:  what happens when bad people die?  When good people die?  When people who are 50 percent bad and 50 percent good die?  What is eternal justice?  So someone who is evil but grows rich and successful in this life will be punished when God, the judge of the universe, examines a person’s life after death.  And good, but poor people, will be rewarded.  A murderer who escapes punishment on earth will not escape after death.  This world may not be just – evil people prosper – but after death, justice will rule.


The worldview that underlies Dante is the Western view, often known as the Judeo-Christian worldview.  It dates from the time of the Holy Bible, first begun in 1500 B.C. – one of the very first recorded world literatures – and finished in about 100 A.D., during the Han Dynasty.  This view says that one, living God, the great Dao, created the heavens and the earth and all of life on earth.  His power sustains all life today.  This power is what makes your heart beat, even when you sleep.  This power allows us to breathe.  What we breathe, our atmosphere, the complex mix of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, the life, breathing organism that is our world, with water, land, living, growing food, all of the 1.5 million living species of life are the result of God speaking this life into being. 


And the highest creation, made last was man.  Well, technically, woman was created after man, so she is probably superior.


The first parents of human beings, Adam and Eve, lived in a garden of earthly delights known as paradise.  They did not wear clothes.  They did not need to.  They were as innocent as children.  They had not sense of shame, no need to cover up.  They had one rule to obey.  God told them not to eat the fruit of one tree – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The fruit looks delicious, but they have every other kind of fruit tree, every growing plant to eat.  But they are tempted by the Serpent – known as Satan, or the devil – and they eat the fruit.  They disobey God.  They break his one law.  They must be punished.  They must leave the garden.  Sin or disobedience has entered this perfect world.  Death now has entered the world.  All of creation is affected.  Adam and Eve no longer have such a good relationship with their Father God.


This story explain why evil exits in the world – sickness, rape, theft, lying, war, death – because every human being is now born with a type of spiritual birth defect, a moral cancer  – sin – a natural temptation to break God’s law.


According to Dante and everyone who would read and understand his poetry, human beings all sin – everyone breaks God’s laws.  What are these laws?  They are written on our hearts.  Do we not know when we tell a lie that it is wrong?  Do we not know when we steal something that does not belong to us that it is wrong?  When we murder someone we know?  When we engage in sexual sin or adultery, we know it is wrong.  God has written his laws of right and wrong – his moral law – on people’s hearts.


Second, he has given all people a conscience – a type of inner voice that talks to us.  Con is Latin for with and science is knowledge.   So when someone breaks the moral law written on our hearts, we do so with knowledge.


Third, and most importantly, because God loves his special creation – human beings – He offers forgiveness to all men and women through the death of Jesus, the savior of the world.  But many people will reject this forgiveness because the power of evil is so strong.


worldview says no one is without an excuse – we are all guilty for our wrong doings and though we might not be punished in this life, we will be in the next.  In our own minds we think we are pretty good people.  We judge ourselves by our human standards, which are often very low.  But when we leave this life, we must stand in the courtroom of eternal justice, before God, who is fair and just.  All wrongs will be made right. 


When Dante descends into hell he recognizes many evil people from Florence and from history who have not escaped the wrongs they have done.  There is descending degree of punishment in the Inferno – a funnel shape with the very worst people at the very bottom.


Hell is a horrible place of darkness, smoke and fire, the smell of burning flesh, screams and crying.  Demons torture people. 


Who does he meet? 


In the second circle he meets the lovers Paolo and Francesca in a  place completely dark.  There is noise worse than that of a storm at sea. Weeping, moaning, and shrieking, the spirits are whirled and swept by a wind storm. Dante learns that these are the spirits doomed by sexual lust. He asks the names of some that are blown past, and Virgil answers with their names and some knowledge of their stories.


Dante asks to speak to two sinners who seem stuck together in an embrace. Virgil tells him to call them in the name of love. They come, and the girl thanks Dante for his pity and wishes him peace, and she then tells their story. She reveals first that a lower circle of Hell waits for the man who murdered them. With bowed head, Dante tells Virgil he is thinking of the "sweet thoughts and desires" that brought the lovers to this place. Calling Francesca by name, he asks her to explain how she and her lover were lured into sin.


Francesca replies that a book of the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere – the knight and wife of King Arthur of England -- caused their downfall. They were alone, reading it aloud, and so many parts of the book seemed to tell of their own forbidden love. They kissed, and the book was forgotten. “We read no more that day.”


During her story, the other spirit weeps bitterly, and Dante is so moved by pity that he also weeps—and then he faints.


Paolo & Francesca lived when Dante did. Francesca's father lord of Ravenna had waged a long war with Malatesta, lord of Rimini. Finally peace was made and to make it more firm, they decided to cement it with a marriage. Guido would give his beautiful young daughter Francesca in marriage to Gianciotto, eldest son of Malatesta. Though Gianciotto was very capable and expected to become ruler when his father died, he was ugly and deformed. Guido's friends informed him that if Francesca sees Gianciotto before the marriage, she would never go through with it. So they sent Gianciotto's younger brother Paolo to Ravenna with a full mandate to marry Francesca in Gianciotto's name. Paolo was a handsome, pleasing, very courteous man, and Francesca fell in love the moment she saw him.


The deceptive marriage contract was made, and Francesca went to Rimini. She was not aware of the deception until the morning after the wedding day, when she saw Gianciotto getting up from beside her. When she realized she had been fooled, she became furious. In any case, the feelings of Paolo and Francesca for each other were still very much alive when Gianciotto went off to a nearby town on business. With almost no fear of suspicion, they became intimate. Gianciotto's servant found them out, and told his master all he knew. Gianciotto returned secretly to Rimini and went to Francesca's room. Since it was bolted from within, he shouted to her and pushed against the door. Paolo and Francesca recognized his voice, and Paolo pointed to a trapdoor that led to a room below. He told Francesca to go open the door as he planned his escape. As he jumped through, a fold of his jacket got caught on a piece of iron attached to the wood. Francesca had already opened the door for Gianciotto, thinking she would be able to make excuses, now that Paolo was gone.


When Gianciotto entered and noticed Paolo caught by his jacket. He ran, rapier in hand, to kill him. Seeing this, Francesca quickly ran between them, to try to prevent it. But Gianciotto's rapier was already on its way down. Before reaching Paolo, the blade passed through Francesca's bosom. Gianciotto, completely beside himself because of this accident— for he loved the woman more than himself— withdrew the blade, struck Paolo again, and killed him. Leaving them both dead, he left, and returned to his duties. The next morning, amidst much weeping, the two lovers were buried in the same tomb.


Count Ugolino and Archbishop Ruggieri were friends, planning together to overthrow their government. However, Ruggieri had other plans. He seized control of the city and imprisoned Ugolino with his sons and grandsons in the "tower of hunger."

There is only a slit in the wall for a window... and the solid door is nailed shut. Ugolino realizes that not only are they not ever leaving this cell, but their jailors have no intention of feeding them.

The children, realizing the predicament, offer themselves as food for their father, saying "You gave us flesh... now take it from us!" After four days, the children die.

By the sixth day, with nothing eaten, Count Ugolino has gone blind and emaciated from the hunger. His vision and senses blurred, he gropes over their dead bodies, unable to see them any longer. Though they were dead, he called their names out for two days.

and.. "Then hunger proved more powerful than grief."


7. Beowulf/Canterbury Tales


Old English Translation of Beowulf

HWÆT, WE GAR-DEna in geardagum,
þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,
monegum mægþum meodosetla ofteah,
egsode eorlas, syððanærest wearð
feasceaft funden; he þæs frofre gebad,
weox under wolcnum weorðmyndum þah,
oð þæt him æghwylc ymbsittendra
ofer hronrade hyran scolde,
gomban gyldan; þæt wæs god cyning!
Ðæm eafera wæs æfter cenned
geong in geardum, þone God sende
folce to frofre; fyrenðearfe ongeat,
þe hie ær drugon aldorlease
lange hwile; him þæs Liffrea,
wuldres Wealdend woroldare forgeaf,
Beowulf wæs breme --- blæd wide sprang---
Scyldes eafera Scedelandum in.
Swa sceal geong guma gode gewyrcean,
fromum feohgiftumon fæder bearme,

An Early English translation of Beowulf

LO, praise of the prowess of people-kings
of spear-armed Danes, in days long sped,
we have heard, and what honor the athelings won!
Oft Scyld the Scefing from squadroned foes,
from many a tribe, the mead-bench tore,
awing the earls. Since erst he lay
friendless, a foundling, fate repaid him:
for he waxed under welkin, in wealth he throve,
till before him the folk, both far and near,
who house by the whale-path, heard his mandate,
gave him gifts: a good king he!
To him an heir was afterward born,
a son in his halls, whom heaven sent
to favor the folk, feeling their woe
that erst they had lacked an earl for leader
so long a while; the Lord endowed him,
the Wielder of Wonder, with world's renown.
Famed was this Beowulf:[1] far flew the boast of him,
son of Scyld, in the Scandian lands.
So becomes it a youth to quit him well
with his father's friends, by fee and gift,
that to aid him, aged, in after days,
come warriors willing, should war draw nigh.

Seamus Heaney’s modern translation

So, the Spear-Danes in days gone by

And the kings who ruled them had courage and greatness.

We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.

There was Shield Sheafson, scourge of many tribes,

A wrecker of mead-benches, rampaging among foes.

This terror of the hall-troops had come far.

A foundling to start with, he would flourish later on

As his powers waxed and his worth was proved.

In the end each clan on the outlying coasts

Beyond the whale-road had to yield to him

And begin to pay tribute.  That was one good king.

Afterward a boy-child was born to Shield,

A cub in the yard, a comfort sent

By God to that nation.  He knew what they had suffered,

The long times and troubles they’d come through

Without a leader; so the Lord of Life,

The glorious Almighty, made this man renowned.

Shield had fathered a famous son:

Beow’s name was known through the north.

And a young prince must be prudent like that,

Giving freely while his father lives

So that afterward in age when fighting starts

Steadfast companions will stand by him

And hold the line.  Behavior that’s admired

Is the path to power among people everywhere.

Beowulf is the longest and greatest surviving Anglo-Saxon poem.


2000 years ago, the first people in England were the Britons, a tribe of Celts.  Beginning about 400-500 A.D., the Angels, the Saxons, the Jutes and the Danes were four tribes that migrated from northern Europe to the islands of Britain.  These early settlers spoke their own languages.  But over time, a common language developed that used words from all of these tribes.


Old English was the language spoken and written in England before AD 1100. It belongs to the Anglo-Frisian group of Germanic languages. Four dialects are known: Northumbrian (in northern England and southeastern Scotland), Mercian (central England), Kentish (southeastern England), and West Saxon (southern and southwestern England).


The great epic poem of Old English is Beowulf written as early as 800 A.D.. Old English had three genders (masculine, feminine, neuter) for nouns.. Old English had more strong verbs than does Modern English, and its vocabulary was more heavily Germanic.


In modern, written poetry, we often judge the excellence of the creator by the use of unusual but appropriate imagery. The more original the poem is, the better. The bards who performed in the oral-formulaic tradition, however, were evaluated for the skill with which they could weave together familiar phrases in that poetic tradition in order to tell a story that was either already known to the audience or that was an extemporaneous effort by the scop (a traveling bard).


The poet’s apprenticeship would have included learning certain traditional themes, popular stories, names of various characters, and the formulas through which the bard eventually performed the tales or created his own stories. We might expect a performer to be able to fit the theme of the piece, and even the length, to a particular occasion, as Hrothgar’s scop does in Beowulf. The more accomplished bard would be the one who made most effective use of the common arsenal of formulas. A popular piece might be presented over the course of two or three or more evenings.


The only surviving manuscript of Beowulf is written in Old English (Anglo-Saxon). Rather than being composed at a specific time, the poem probably developed out of various influences, especially folk tales and traditions. Parts of it may have originally been performed by court poets or traveling bards (scops, pronounced “shops,” in the Anglo-Saxon) who would have sung or chanted their poems to the accompaniment of a musical instrument such as a harp. We can conclude, then, that the work grew out of popular art forms, that various influences worked together, and that the story may have changed as it developed.


Evidence suggests that Beowulf began as an oral poem, passed by singers of one generation to the next. It’s a good guess Beowulf would have disappeared along with those singers themselves if someone had not caused the poem to be written down around A.D. 1000.


No one knows who “wrote” Beowulf. Like all early oral poetry, it had as many authors as singers who performed it. The singers may have performed it when warriors gathered in meadhalls to celebrate their prowess at gatherings like those described in Beowulf. In fact, it is from this poem that we derive many of the details for our reconstructions of Anglo- Saxon social life.


Scholars speculate that the poem may be been shaped by a singer who recited the poem while a scribe took it down or possibly by the two scribes in whose handwriting Beowulf has reached us.





The setting of the epic is the sixth century in what is now known as Denmark and southwestern Sweden. The poem opens with a brief genealogy of the Scylding (Dane) royal dynasty, named after a mythic hero, Scyld Scefing, who reached the tribe’s shores as a castaway babe on a ship loaded with treasure. Scyld’s funeral is a memorable early ritual in the work, but focus soon shifts to the reign of his great-grandson, Hrothgar, whose successful rule is symbolized by a magnificent central mead-hall called Heorot. For 12 years, a huge man-like ogre named Grendel, a descendant of the biblical murderer Cain, has menaced the aging Hrothgar, raiding Heorot and killing the king’s thanes (warriors). Grendel rules the mead-hall nightly.


Beowulf, a young warrior in Geatland (southwestern Sweden), comes to the Scyldings’ aid, bringing with him 14 of his finest men. Hrothgar once sheltered Beowulf’s father during a deadly feud, and the mighty Geat hopes to return the favor while enhancing his own reputation and gaining treasure for his king, Hygelac. At a feast before nightfall of the first day of the visit, an obnoxious, drunken Scylding named Unferth insults Beowulf and claims that the Geat visitor once embarrassingly lost a swimming contest to a boyhood acquaintance named Breca and is no match for Grendel. Beowulf responds with dignity while putting Unferth in his place. In fact, the two swimmers were separated by a storm on the fifth night of the contest, and Beowulf had slain nine sea monsters before finally returning to shore.


While the Danes retire to safer sleeping quarters, Beowulf and the Geats bed down in Heorot, fully aware that Grendel will visit them. He does. Angered by the joy of the men in the mead-hall, the ogre furiously bursts in on the Geats, killing one and then reaching for Beowulf. With the strength of 30 men in his hand-grip, Beowulf seizes the ogre’s claw and does not let go. The ensuing battle nearly destroys the great hall, but Beowulf emerges victorious as he rips Grendel’s claw from its shoulder socket, sending the mortally wounded beast fleeing to his mere (pool). The claw trophy hangs high under the roof of Heorot.


The Danes celebrate the next day with a huge feast featuring entertainment by Hrothgar’s scop (pronounced “shop”), a professional bard who accompanies himself on a harp and sings or chants traditional lays such as an account of the Danes’ victory at Finnsburh. This bard also improvises a song about Beowulf’s victory. Hrothgar’s wife, Queen Wealhtheow, proves to be a perfect hostess, offering Beowulf a gold collar and her gratitude. Filled with mead, wine, and great food, the entire party retires for what they expect to be the first peaceful night in years.


But Grendel’s mother—not quite as powerful as her son but highly motivated—climbs to Heorot that night, retrieves her son’s claw, and murderously abducts one of the Scyldings (Aeschere) while Beowulf sleeps elsewhere. The next morning, Hrothgar, Beowulf, and a retinue of Scyldings and Geats follow the mother’s tracks into a dark, forbidding swamp and to the edge of her mere. The slaughtered Aeschere’s head sits on a cliff by the lake, which hides the ogres’ underground cave. Carrying a sword called Hrunting, a gift from the chastised Unferth, Beowulf dives into the mere to seek the mother.


Near the bottom of the lake, Grendel’s mother attacks and hauls the Geat warrior to her dimly lit cave. Beowulf fights back once inside the dry cavern, but the gift sword, Hrunting, strong as it is, fails to penetrate the ogre’s hide. The mother moves to kill Beowulf with her knife, but his armor, made by the legendary blacksmith Weland, protects him. Suddenly Beowulf spots a magical, giant sword and uses it to cut through the mother’s spine at the neck, killing her. A blessed light unexplainably illuminates the cavern, disclosing Grendel’s corpse and a great deal of treasure. Beowulf decapitates the corpse. The magic sword melts to its hilt. Beowulf returns to the lake’s surface carrying the head and hilt but leaving the treasure.


After more celebration and gifts and a sermon by Hrothgar warning of the dangers of pride and the mutability of time, Beowulf and his men return to Geatland. There he serves his king well until Hygelac is killed in battle and his son dies in a feud. Beowulf is then named king and rules successfully for 50 years. Like Hrothgar, however, his peace is shattered in his declining years. Beowulf must battle one more demon.


A fiery dragon has become enraged because a lone fugitive has inadvertently discovered the dragon’s treasure-trove and stolen a valuable cup. The dragon terrorizes the countryside at night, burning several homes, including Beowulf’s. Led by the fugitive, Beowulf and eleven of his men seek out the dragon’s barrow. Beowulf insists on taking on the dragon alone, but his own sword, Naegling, is no match for the monster. Seeing his king in trouble, one thane, Wiglaf, goes to his assistance. The others flee to the woods. Together, Wiglaf and Beowulf kill the dragon, but the mighty king is mortally wounded. Dying, Beowulf leaves his kingdom to Wiglaf and requests that his body be cremated in a funeral pyre and buried high on a seaside cliff where passing sailors might see the barrow. The dragon’s treasure-hoard is buried with him. It is said that they lie there still.


The struggles the poem depicts are of the good against evil: strength of sinew, heart and spirit, truth and light, pitted against dark power that gives no quarter as it shifts from shape to shape. That the darkness (be it Grendel, a dragon, or treachery, greed, and pride) is familiar only renders it more frightening -- and the more instructive.


In the poem’s narrative, challenge is constant and death always waits. True, there are victories -- glorious ones, sometimes, like Beowulf’s triumph over Grendel -- but in the end even the hero’s strength and vitality must be sapped by age.


And yet, although the poem ends with the death of its hero and the prophecy of extinction for his people, Beowulf is not a gloomy work, and our experience of it does not cause despair. That is because, like Beowulf himself, the poem never backs away but greets what comes with courage. To this, probably as much as the tales of monsters, or the high adventure, or the blood and gore, Beowulf’s audiences have always reacted most strongly. Students respond to a world where might and right will always overcome darkness.


Middle English was the common spoken and written language in England from about the 1200-1500s. It can be divided into three periods: Early, Central, and Late. The Central period was marked by the borrowing of many Anglo-Norman (French) words and the rise of the London dialect, used by Geoffrey Chaucer in his 14th-century class The Canterbury Tales.. The dialects of Middle English are usually divided into four groups: Southern (which would become Welsh), East Midland, West Midland, and Northern (which would become Scottish).


The Canterbury Tales           



Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales between 1387 and 1400. It is the story of a group of thirty people who travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The pilgrims, who come from all layers of society, tell stories to each other to pass the time while they travel to Canterbury. He never finished his enormous project and even the completed tales were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain about the order of the tales. As the printing press had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his works, (not until 1455), the Tales have been passed down in several handwritten manuscripts.


In April, with the beginning of spring, people of different social classes come from all over England to gather at the Tabard Inn in preparation for a pilgrimage to Canterbury to receive the blessings of St. Thomas à Becket, the English martyr. Chaucer himself is one of the pilgrims. That evening, the Host of the Tabard Inn suggests that each member of the group tell tales on the way to and from Canterbury in order to make the time pass more pleasantly. The person who tells the best story will be awarded an elegant dinner at the end of the trip. The Host decides to accompany the party on its pilgrimage and appoints himself as the judge of the best tale.


Middle English

    Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote

 The droghte of March hath perced to the roote

 And bathed every veyne in swich licour,

 Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

5 Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

 Inspired hath in every holt and heeth

 The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne

 Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,

 And smale foweles maken melodye,

10 That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

 (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);

 Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

 And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes

 To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

15 And specially from every shires ende

 Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,

 The hooly blisful martir for to seke

 That hem hath holpen, whan that they were weeke.


More Modern English  

      When in April the sweet showers fall

 That pierce March's drought to the root and all

 And bathed every vein in liquor that has power

 To generate therein and sire the flower;

5 When Zephyr also has with his sweet breath,

 Filled again, in every holt and heath,

 The tender shoots and leaves, and the young sun

 His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run,

 And many little birds make melody

10 That sleep through all the night with open eye

 (So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)

 Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage,

 And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,

 To distant shrines well known in distant lands.

15 And specially from every shire's end

 Of England they to Canterbury went,

 The holy blessed martyr there to seek

 Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.


Shortly after their departure the day, the pilgrims draw straws. The Knight, who draws the shortest straw, agrees to tell the first story—a noble story about knights and honor and love.


When the Knight finishes his story, the Host calls upon the Monk. The drunken Miller, however, insists that it is his turn, and he proceeds to tell a story about a stupid carpenter. At the end of his story, everyone roars with laughter—except the Reeve, who had once been a carpenter. To get back at the Miller, the Reeve tells an insulting story about a cheating miller. At the end of The Reeve’s Tale, the Cook, Roger, promises to tell a true story, but he doesn’t complete his tale.


The Wife of Bath is the next to tell a story, and she begins by claiming that happy marriages occur only when a wife rules over her husband. When the Wife of Bath finishes her story, the Friar offers his own tale about a summoner. The Host, however, always the peacekeeper, scolds the Friar to let the Summoner alone. The Summoner interrupts and says the Friar can do as he likes and will be repaid with a tale about a friar. Nevertheless, the Friar’s tale about a summoner makes the Summoner so angry that he tells an obscene story about the fate of all friars and then continues with an obscene tale about one friar in particular.


After the Friar and Summoner finish their insulting stories about each other, the Host turns to the Clerk and asks for a lively tale. The Clerk tells a story about Griselda and her patience—a story the exact opposite of The Wife of Bath’s Tale. The Merchant says that he has no wife as patient and sweet as Griselda and tells of tale of a young wife who cheats on her old husband. And so on. . .


One of the most popular stories is the Wife of Bath’s tale.


Before the Wife begins her tale, she shares information about her life and her experiences in a prologue. Having already had five husbands, she has experience enough to make her an expert.


To defend her position, the Wife refers to King Solomon, who had 300 wives. She says that God commanded men and women to “be fruitful and multiply.”  Sexual organs, she says, are made both for functional purposes and for pleasure. And unlike many cold women, she has always been willing to have sex whenever her man wants to.


The Wife of Bath then tells about her former husbands and how she was able to gain the upper hand over them. Unfortunately, just at the time she gains complete mastery over one of her husbands, he dies. Then she explains how she gained control over her fifth husband.


At her fourth husband’s funeral, she could hardly keep her eyes off a young clerk named Jankyn, whom she had already admired. At the month’s end, she and Jankyn were married, even though she was twice his age. As soon as the honeymoon was over, she was troubled  to find that Jankyn spent all his time reading -- especially books that attacked women. One night, he began to read aloud from this collection, beginning with the story of Eve, and he read about all the unfaithful women, murderesses, prostitutes, and so on, that he could find. Unable to tolerate these stories any longer, the Wife of Bath grabbed the book and hit Jankyn so hard that he fell over backwards into the fire. He jumped up and hit her with his fist. She fell to the floor and pretended to be dead. When he bent over her, she hit him once more and again pretended to die. He was so upset that he promised her anything if she would live. And this is how she gained “sovereignty” over her fifth husband. From that day until the day he died, she was a true and faithful wife for him. Her tale, which follows, emphasizes her belief that a happy match is one in which the wife has control.


A lusty young knight in King Arthur’s court rapes a beautiful young maiden. The people are repulsed by the knight’s behavior and demand justice. Although the law demands that the knight be beheaded, the queen and ladies of the court beg to be allowed to determine the knight’s fate. The queen then gives the knight a year to discover what women most desire.


The year passes quickly. As the knight rides sadly back to the court knowing that he will lose his life, he suddenly sees 24 young maidens dancing and singing. As he approaches them, the maidens disappear, and the only living creature is a foul old woman, who approaches him and asks what he seeks. The knight explains his quest, and the old woman promises him the right answer if he will do what she demands for saving his life. The knight agrees. When the queen bids the knight to speak, he responds correctly that women most desire sovereignty over their husbands.


Having given him with the right answer, the old crone demands that she be his wife and his love. The knight, in agony, agrees. On their wedding night, the knight pays no attention to the foul woman next to him. When she questions him, he confesses that her age, ugliness, and low breeding are repulsive to him. The old hag reminds him that true gentility is not a matter of appearances but of virtue. She tells him that her looks can be viewed as an asset. If she were beautiful, many men would be after her; in her present state, however, he can be assured that he has a virtuous wife. She offers him a choice: an old ugly hag such as she, but still a loyal, true, and virtuous wife, or a beautiful woman with whom he must take his chances. The knight says the choice is hers. And because she has “won the mastery,” she tells him, “‘Kiss me … and you shall find me both … fair and faithful as a wife.” Indeed, she had become a lovely young woman, and they lived happily ever after.


As a response to women ruling over men, the Merchant tells a tale to defend the men.


Using his own experiences—after only two months of marriage, his wife causes him constant agony—the Merchant has a cynical and bitter view of marriage. He makes clear that his story will paint a different picture of wives. In his tale, however, the Merchant offers such high praise of marriage and such praise for the role of the wife that his guests are confused as to whether he is sincere or being sarcastic.


In The Merchant’s Tale, January, a wealthy, elderly knight, decides to marry. His reasons are clear enough: He wants to fulfill God’s wish that man and woman marry, and he wants a son to inherit his estates. January calls many of his friends together to listen to his plans and to offer him advice. One close friend argues against marriage, pointing out the unfaithfulness of women. The knight’s other friend argues that January should make up his own mind. Surveying the young maidens of the country, January chooses a beautiful virgin named May.


One of January’s attendants is a handsome young man named Damian, who immediately falls in love the moment he sees May. His love is so powerful that he becomes physically ill. Because January likes this handsome youth, he sends his wife and other women to Damian’s bedside to comfort him. Damian passes a note to May in which he professes his undying love for her. May responds with a note to Damian, acknowledging her same desire. Then January suddenly goes blind, and he insists that May remain by him at all time.; She can go nowhere unless he is holding her hand. Nevertheless, May is able to give Damian a wax impression of a key to January’s secret garden, and she later signals for Damian to climb a pear tree.


As a tale with this tale, the god Pluto and his wife, Proserpina, discuss the situation involving January and May. Pluto admits that he will restore January’s sight because women are so deceitful, but he wants to wait until just the right moment to do so. His wife, Prosepina, says men are so lecherous that she will provide May with a believable excuse when he does.


Later, May leads January to the pear tree and, pretending she has a hunger for a pear, tells her husband to bend over and let her stand on his back.


 She “went up into the tree, and Damian / Pulled up her smock at once and in he thrust”


“Damian / Gan pullen up the smok, an in he throng”.


At this moment, while the couple enjoys sexual bliss, January’s sight is miraculously restored. He looks up and sees the young couple “swyving” (having sex), and he bellows with rage, “He swyved thee, I saugh it with myne yen”


“He ******* you, I saw it with my own eyes”.


Thanks to Proserpina, however, May gives a good excuse: January’s sight is bad—the same as awakening from a deep sleep when the eyes are not yet accustomed to the bright light and seeing strange things dimly. She then jumps down from the tree, and January clasps her in a fond embrace.


When the Merchant ends his tale, the Host says he wants to be preserved from women like May, but his wife does have a sharp tongue and many more vices. He regrets that he is tied to her for life but hopes no one will mention it because women have ways of finding out.


One final story is told by a priest, the Nun’s Priest.


It is a fable or story with animals as the main characters. This tale takes place on the farm of and old, poor widow. All that she owns can be summed up in a few lines. It is among her possessions that we find the rooster Chanticleer, who’s crowing is better than any clock and a voice that was more beautiful than any church organ.


 The tale is told from the point-of-view of the rooster. One night he has the dream of a fox chasing him and killing him. When he wakes, his wife tries to convince him that it was just a dream and that it has no meaning.


 Chanticleer argues with his wife and tells a tale of his own. Two young travelers in search of lodging must separate. One of the travelers found a bed in a farmer’s barn, the other in a hotel. In the night, one of the travelers hears his friend in a dream calling out for help. He says that he is to be murdered for his money and his body is to be hidden in a dung cart at the west end of town. In the morning, the man goes in search of is friend and discovers him dead in the exact location he learned from his dream. Chanticleer uses this story to prove to his wife that dreams have meaning.


Now the fox enters the scene the next morning as the hens and Chanticleer come down from their roost to feed and relax in the sun. The fox waits and watches Chanticleer and the hens for most of the day from a nearby cabbage patch. However, right before he is about to crow, Chanticleer catches a glimpse of the fox and silences himself. The fox senses that his meal may be lost, so quickly comes up with a new trick. He claims to be friendly and means no harm towards Chanticleer. He then uses flattery on Chanticleer, convincing him that the fox came only to hear his beautiful voice and how he had been waiting so long to hear.  Chanticleer  is fooled.  At that moment the fox strikes and runs with the almost lifeless body of Chanticleer towards the woods. The widow hears the hens outside and begins to chase the fox.


 Knowing that his death is near, Chanticleer does some quick thinking. In a last attempt to save himself, Chanticleer convinces the fox to turn around and taunt his pursuers. The moment that he opens his mouth, Chanticleer escapes and flies into the trees.


The moral lesson of this fable is to not believe everything that is said to you.  At the end of The Canterbury Tales Chaucer’s says that anything that displeases should be forgiven for his lack of ability and not to his intentions.


He would have very gladly written better if he had the power.  He asks for everyone to pray for him “that Christ have mercy on me and forgive me for my sins.”


The tales are the best surviving example of Middle English literature and give us many insights into the history and culture of England in the 14th Century.  And the tales and characters are still entertaining today.


8. Japanese Literature


Japanese literature begins, as do most cultures, in the oral traditions first recorded in written form in the early eighth century – about the same time as The Tang Dynasty -- after a writing system was introduced from China. The Kojiki, a Record of Ancient Matters, and Nihon shoki, a Chronicle of Japan, were completed in 712 and 720, respectively, as government projects. The first is an anthology of myths, legends, and other stories, while the other is a chronological record of history. The Fudoki, Records of Wind and Earth, compiled by provincial officials beginning in 713, describe the history, geography, products, and folklore of the various provinces.


The most brilliant literature of this first period, known as the Nara period, was the Man-yo-shu , the Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves, an anthology of 4,500 poems composed by people ranging from unknown peasants to emperors.  These poems were collected around 759.


Already emerging was a verse form known as tanka.  Tanka comprises 31 syllables in five lines : 5-7-5-7-7.


In 905 a second major collection was published -- the Kokin wakashu or Ko-kin-shu, a Collection of Poems from Ancient and Modern Times.  This was published as the first poetry anthology commissioned by an emperor -- its introduction paid high tribute to the great possibilities of literature to transform society from the inside.


Let’s briefly mention four other important periods of Japanese Literature:


Following the Nara is the Heian Period, from 794-1185.  During the Heian the first great novel ever written was penned by an aristocratic woman -- Murasaki Shikibu, who wrote the 54-chapter novel, The Tale of Genji.  Also at this time, another woman – probably an acquaintance of Lady Murasaki named Sei Shonagon, wrote The Pillow Book, a collection of notebook/journal writings and essays that also became very popular. 


The influence of Chinese culture and politics are obvious in Japanese court. For a number of centuries Chinese was the language used for government documents and records. Using Chinese as the official language allowed the government's to keep the participation in politics to a few well-educated men. Women were not taught to read or write Chinese. Some women, however, were able to find their own way of getting around this restriction. Lady Murasaki learned how to read Chinese by listening to her brother while he was taught the language. She was such a natural at learning language, that she was soon able to translate the passages her brother found too difficult. But she knew the public opinion of a woman who could understand the Chinese language, so she pretended to be unable to translate even the simplest phrases, even while she continued to read the Chinese classics in secret. In 905 when the anthology of poetry, the Ko-kin-shu, was published, Japanese writing was dominated by women. Japanese was considered to be a private, and therefore female, medium.  The well-known poet, Ki no Tsur-a-yuki, wrote his diary in Japanese -- pretending to be a woman.


The next period was Kamakura-Muromachi Period from about 1185-1573 – during the Late Song, the Yuan and into the Ming Dynasties.  Among the works produced was The Tale of the Heike,which tells of the rise and fall of the Taira or Heike clan with the spotlight on their wars with the Minamoto clan (Genji).  This was completed in the first half of the thirteenth century, probably before 1219. It is a grand epic deeply rooted in Buddhist ethics and filled with sorrow for those who died. We read colorful descriptions of its varied characters and of exciting battle scenes. The tale was originally told to the accompaniment of a Japanese lute.


The next period known as Edo Period lasted from 1603-1868.  Edo is the old name for Tokyo.  There was a great flowering of joruri, a form of storytelling that used chanted lines, and kabuki plays.  But my personal favorite literature, during this time was the poetry – of two types:  renga, known as  linked verses because several people take turns to compose a long poem.  First, one person would write a 3-line stanza.  Then a second would write a two-line stanza.  Then a third would write a three-line stanza again.  A fourth person would write two lines, and so on.  This became a favorite pastime and gave birth to haikai, a type of renga, in the sixteenth century that would evolve into the haiku. It was the most famous seventeenth century poet Matsuo Basho who perfected this new very short poetic form of 17 syllables : 5-7-5 that combined graceful simplicity with tranquility, usually of nature.


The final period was the Meiji era, 1868-1912, in which unifying the written and spoken language was advocated.  An important work from that period was a new form of the novel by Futabatei Shimei's -- Ukigumo  or Drifting Clouds, in 1887.   


In modern times, two Japanese fiction writers have won the distinguished Nobel Prize for Literature, 1968 –, Yasunari Kawabata, and 1994 - Kenzaburo Oe.


The earliest poetry was about many topics – love, of course, but also devotion to rulers, nature, plants, and animals. Sadness, personal unhappiness and loss were written about but not directly – usually through the use of metaphor, such as the changing seasons and the brief life of flowers and so on


Here are some early poems from the Manyoshu written by Kakinomoto-no-Hitomaro:


Tamamokaru Minumewosugite natsukusano Noshimagasakini funechikazukinu

Passing through Minume, where seaweeds are reaped for offering to the altar, the ship came near Noshima covered with summer greenery..



Awajino Noshimanosakino hamakazeni imogamusubishi himofukikaesu

When I arrived at Noshima cape in Awaji, the sea breeze make the strings of clothes tied by my wife flutter.



kiminakuha nazomiyosoowamu kushigenaru tsugenoogushimo toramutomoomowazu

Why do I want to dress me up without you around me? I don't even feel like taking my comb made of box tree in the vanity case.


These are very brief poems – very brief thoughts – almost fragments.  The meaning may not be clear because the poems demand a great deal of understanding of context – the culture, the language, individual characters and all the meaning that comes with each character.


The Japanese poem that has had most impact outside of Japan is the haiku.  The first great master was Basho.

The most common form for Haiku is three short lines. The first line usually contains five (5) syllables, the second line seven (7) syllables, and the third line contains five (5) syllables. Haiku doesn't rhyme. A Haiku must "paint" a mental image in the reader's mind. This is the challenge of Haiku - to put the poem's meaning and imagery in the reader's mind in ONLY 17 syllables in just three (3) lines of poetry!


Here is an example from Basho:

How reluctantly
the bee emerges from deep
within the peony

Elements of awareness, compassion, silence, and mystery were greatly influence by Zen – a unique form of Buddhism that grew in Japan.  Zen depends upon the mind being stilled, like a quite pool or a pond with no waves, no movement of water at all.  And then suddenly, when all is a quiet and at peace, an unexpected flash of insight might ripple across the mind.

Here is a poem by the poet Issa:

A world of dew,
and within every dewdrop
a world of struggle

Of which world are we talking about?  The world of the dewdrop or our world?

Let’s examine a haiku more closely.   Kikaku writes:

In the Emperor's bed,
the smell of burnt mosquitoes,
and erotic whispers

First, we must realize that the burning of mosquitoes clears the air for erotic play.  The Emperor is with his wife (we assume the woman is his wife). Then we may wonder whether the "smell of burnt mosquitoes" might become a kind of sweet incense for the Emperor – to arouse his lust. Thus, lust, love and death are joined in these mysterious 3 lines.  We don’t have enough information to know for sure, but we can make connections between the connotations these words bring to the poem. Does the poet intend for us to think that this emperor is normal or strange?  Does what happens in the private life of his bedroom happen in everyone’s love life?  And what does that reveal about ourselves? Revealing the relationship between these simple activities is like a Zen slap in the face, a call to awaken to what really is.

Who was Basho, the greatest of haiku poets?

Basho (bah-shoh), pseudonym or pen name of Matsuo Munefusa, 1644-1694.  Born into a samurai family important among nobles, Basho rejected that world and became a wanderer, studying Zen, history, and classical Chinese poetry, living blissfully poor.  He accepted a modest patronage and from donations by his many students. From 1667 he lived in Edo/now Tokyo, where he began to compose haiku.


His haiku reflects the simplicity of his life. When he felt the need for solitude, he withdrew to his basho-an, a hut made of plantain leaves –basho—thus, his name. Basho has a mystical quality in much of his poetry.  He writes about universal themes through simple and natural images -- from the harvest moon to the fleas in his cottage.


In the last ten years of his life Basho made several journeys, drawing from them more images to inspire his poetry. He also collaborated with local poets on the renga, the linked-verse form. In addition to being the supreme artist of haiku and renga, Basho wrote haibun, brief prose-and-poetry travelogues such as Oku-no-hosomichi, translated as The Narrow Road to the Far North or The Narrow Road to the Interior which became his most famous work in world Literature.


Spring departs.
Birds cry
Fishes' eyes are filled with tears


A autumn wind
More white
Than the rocks in the rocky mountain


Breakfast enjoyed 

in the fine company of 

morning glories 


Traveling this high 

mountain trail, delighted 

by violets 


A solitary 

crow on a bare branch- 

autumn evening 


This first fallen snow 

is barely enough to bend 

the jonquil leaves


At the ancient pond 

a frog plunges into 

the splash of water 


Nothing in the cry 

of cicadas suggests they 

are about to die


Seen in plain daylight 

the firefly's nothing but 

an insect 


Autumn full moon, 

the tides slosh and foam 

coming in


Searching storehouse eaves, 

rapt in plum blossom smells, 

the mosquito hums


Through frozen rice fields, 

moving slowly on horseback, 

my shadow creeps by 


This bright harvest moon 

keeps me walking all night long 

around the little pond


Even these long days 

are not nearly long enough 

for the skylarks to sing


To write a three-line haiku, count the syllables:  5 in the first line / 7 in the second / 5 in the third


So I said, write poems

Just 17 syllables?

My sneeze is longer!


9. Spanish Literature


Background – Poetry: Surviving for centuries as oral literature, Spanish ballads or romances  -- which were meant to b e sung or recited with music -- link medieval heroic epic – about the time of the early Ming Dynasty -- to modern poetry and drama. The earliest romances—from 1500s commemorated history as it happened: a victory in battle, the birth of a king’s son, the marriage between two important people.  These ballads formed a sourcebook of national history and character; they were collected n the Cancionero de Romances  or “Ballad Songbook” and in the Silva de Varios Romances  --“Miscellany of Various Ballads”, both published about 1550. The romance form of octosyllabic lines – 8 syllables, having a single assonance was used by cultured poets and also became the style for popular story poems.


Assonance is a type of rhyme where only the vowels “rhyme” or are similar-sounding; consonants are ignored. Like perfect rhyme, assonanl rhyme begins with the last stressed vowel of a line of poetry


Whose woods these are I think I know

His house is in the village though


In Spanish, two-syllable rhyme is called “feminine”; one-syllable rhyme is “masculine”.  Spanish has many, many of these matching vowel sounds which adds to the musical rhythm of the spoken language.  It is an easy language to rhyme.


Allí arriba, en alta sierra,

alta sierra montesina,

donde cae la nieve a copos

y el agua menuda y fría,

donde canta la culebra

por el pedregal arriba,

allí había un ermitaño

que hacía muy santa vida.


The Old French word romanz originally meant “the speech of the people,” or “the vulgar tongue,” from a popular Latin word, Romanice, meaning written in the common language, in contrast with the written form of literary Latin – a form of old Italian.


The collective body of Spanish folk ballads—romances -- make a unique tradition of European balladry or song-poems. They resemble epic like The Illiad or Odyssey or Bhagavad-Gita or Beowulf in their heroic, aristocratic tone, their themes of battle and honor, and their historical orgin; but they are still only ballads, compressed dramatic narratives sung to a tune.


It was once thought that they were the source of such 12th-century Spanish epics as El Cantar de Mío Cid  -- “The Song of the Cid” – or El Cid.  Cid means Lord or Chief.  This is an epic poem of a little over 3700 lines as it has reached us. The author is unknown.  It tells about the national hero of Spain who drove the Moors from North Africa out of much of Spain.




And they that held Castille, when they saw that swift attack begin,

Fled in great fear, and through the gates Roy Diaz entered in

With the sword naked in his hand; and fifteen Moors he slew

Whom he ran down. In Castejon much gold, and silver too,

He captured. Then unto him his knights the booty brought

To my lord Cid they bore it. The spoil they valued not.


Some ballads are brief stories from known oral epics. They frequently deal with conflicts or loves between Spaniards and or with the King Arthur or Charlemagne legends.


Unlike the folk poetry of England, Scandinavia, or Germany, the ballads form a chain of tradition from the earliest Spanish common  literature to the literature of the 20th century. As the sourcebook of national history and national character of Spaniards of all classes, they lie at the heart of the national consciousness. They inspired many of the poems, dramas, and novels by the masters of Spanish literature and remain the chosen medium for popular narrative or story verse.  So as the ancient Chinese lyrics from The Book of Songs or the well known Tang Dynasty poems are still recited and enjoyed today, the Spanish story-poems give the Spanish speaking people a similar sense of identity.


In modern English the word “romance” from Old French romanz can mean either a medieval story poem or a love affair, or, again, a story about a love affair, generally one of a rather ideal or pure type of love, sometimes marked by strange or unexpected events and developments – think of Romeo and Juliet where everything goes wrong.


The tradition of great Spanish poetry began in the 1600s and has continued from Spain into Latin America with the work of popular poets like Chilean Pablo Neruda.  See the movie The Postman or Il Postino to appreciate Neruda’s work.


Juan Ramon Jimenez


I am not I


I am this one

walking beside me whom I do not see,

whom at times I manage to visit,

and whom at other times I forget;

the one who remains silent while I talk,

the one who forgives, sweet, when I hate,

the one who takes a walk when I am indoors,

the one who will remain standing when I die..



I have a feeling that my boat

has struck, down there in the depths,

against a great thing.

                    And nothing

happens! Nothing...Silence...Waves...


     --Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,

and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?


Platero and I


11. Platero

Platero is a small donkey, a soft, hairy Donkey: so soft to the

touch that he might be said to be made of cotton, with no bones.

Only the jet mirrors of his eyes are hard like two black crystal


I turn him loose, and he goes to the meadow and, with his nose,

he gently caresses the little owers of rose and blue and gold.... I

call him softly, "Platero?" and he comes to me at a gay little trot

that is like laughter of a vague, idyllic, tinkling sound…

He eats whatever I give him. He likes mandarin oranges, amberhued

muscatel grapes, purple as tipped with crystalline drops of


He is as loving and tender as a child, but strong and sturdy as a

rock. He is as loving and tender as a child, but strong and sturdy as a


Steel, yes. Steel and moon silver at the same time.


9. Dawn

In the slow dawns of winter, when the watchful roosters discover

the first roses of daybreak and gallantly greet them, Platero,

fresh from sleeping, brays a long, long bray. How pleasing his

distant awakening in the blue light that lters through my

shutters. I, also eager for the day, think of the sun from my soft


And I think of what might have been the fate of Platero if, instead

of falling into my hands, hands of a poet, he had fallen into those

of one of the charcoal-burners who go before day on hard, frostcovered,

solitary roads to rob the forest of its pines; or into those

of one of the unkempt gypsies who dye their donkeys and give

them arsenic and stick pins in their ears to keep them from


Platero brays again. Does he know I am thinking of him? What

does it matter? In the tenderness of the dawn the thought of him

is a pleasant to me as daybreak. And God be thanked he has a

stable as warm and snug as a cradle, as kind as my thoughts. The drops of honey…


He is as loving and tender as a child, but strong and sturdy as a rock.

When on Sundays I ride him through the lanes in the outskirts of the town,

slow-moving country-men, dressed in theiry clean, watch him a while, speculatively:


Other Songs for Guiomar’


I will write this on your fan:

I love you, so as to forget you.


So as to forget you, I love you.




 And I’ll send you my song:


‘One sings what one loses’


and a green parakeet


for your balcony, to say it.


Miguel Hernandez (1910-1942)


Love Ascended Between Us’

(XLI: From ‘Cancionero Y Romancero De Ausencias’)


Love ascended between us

like the moon between two palm-trees


that have never embraced.


The intimate murmur of our two bodies


made the cooing the sea-swell brings,


but the hoarse voice was stifled,


the lips turned to stone.


The yearning to encircle moved our flesh


illuminated our inflamed bones,


but our arms’ desire to reach out


died away in our arms.


Love and the moon passed between us


and devoured our lonely bodies.


And we are two ghosts who search


and find each other from afar.



The Mouth

(LXVI: From ‘Cancionero Y Romancero De Ausencias’)


Mouth that tugs at my mouth.

Mouth that has tugged at me:


mouth that comes from far off


to illuminate me with its rays.


Dawn that gives to my nights


a radiance, reddened and white.


Mouth inhabited by mouths:


bird filled with birds.


Song that flaps its wings


upwards and downwards.


Death reduced to kisses,


dying slowly to thirst,


you give the blood-stained grass


two great beats of your wing.


The upper lip is the sky,


and the earth is the lower lip.


Kiss that wheels in the darkness:


kiss that comes rolling


from the first cemetery


to the last stars.


Star that holds your mouth


dumb and enclosed,


until a celestial dew comes


to quiver your eyelids.


Kiss that moves to a future


of young girls and boys,


who won’t leave the streets


or the fields empty.


How many mouth-less mouths


already buried we disinter!


I drink from your mouth to them,


toast them from your mouth,


as many as fell: over the wine


in their loving glasses.


They are memories, memories,


kisses distant and bitter.


I sink my life in your mouth,


I hear the murmurs of space,


and infinity seems


to have emptied itself over me.


I have to return to kiss you,


I have to return. I sink: I fall,


descending among the centuries,


towards the deep ravines,


like a feverish snowfall


of kisses and lovers.


Mouth that unearthed


the clearest dawn,


with your tongue. Three words,


you’ve inherited, three fires:


Life, Death, Love. There they remain


written on your lips.



Frederico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936)


Gacela of Unexpected Love


No one understood the perfume

                    of the shadow magnolia of your belly.


                    No one knew you crushed completely


                    a human bird of love between your teeth.




                    There slept a thousand little persian horses


                    in the moonlight plaza of your forehead,


                    while, for four nights, I embraced there


                    your waist, the enemy of snowfall.




                    Between the plaster and the jasmines,


                    your gaze was a pale branch, seeding.


                    I tried to give you, in my breastbone,


                    the ivory letters that say ever.




                    Ever, ever: garden of my torture,


                    your body, flies from me forever,


                    the blood of your veins is in my mouth now,


                    already light-free for my death.


  Lucía Martínez


Lucía Martínez.

Shadowy in red silk.


Your thighs, like the evening,


go from light to shadow.


The hidden veins of jet


darken your magnolias.



Here I am, Lucía Martínez.


I come to devour your mouth


and drag you off by the hair


into the dawn of conches.



Because I want to, because I can.


Shadowy in red silk.


Pablo Neruda


                              From: ‘Memorial de Isla Negra’


And it was at that time... Poetry came

to find me. Don’t know, don’t know from where,

it leapt, winter or the river.

Don’t know how or when


no, not words, not


voices, not silence,


but I was called from the street,


from the branches of the night,


suddenly, from the others,


in violent flames,


or coming back alone,


I, without a face,


it touched me.



I did not know how to say, my mouth


no names,


my eyes


were blind,


and something began in my soul,


fever or lost wings,


and I made it alone,




that fire,


and I wrote the first, vague line,


vague, without a body, pure




pure knowledge,


of he who knows nothing,


and suddenly saw


the sky




and open,




pulsating spaces,


perforated shadows,




with fires, flowers, flights,


the revolving night, the universe.


And I the smallest thing,


made drunk by the great void,




in the image, likeness


of mystery,


felt myself pure part


of abyss,


turned with the starlight,


my heart broken loose in the wind.                  


Love Sonnet XI

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.

Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.

Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day

I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.


I hunger for your sleek laugh,

your hands the color of a savage harvest,

hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,

I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.


I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,

the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,

I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,


and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,

hunting for you, for your hot heart,

like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.


‘I can write the saddest lines tonight’


                              XX From:’ Veinte poemas de amor’


I can write the saddest lines tonight.


Write for example: ‘The night is fractured


and they shiver, blue, those stars, in the distance’


The night wind turns in the sky and sings.


 I can write the saddest lines tonight.


I loved her, sometimes she loved me too.


On nights like these I held her in my arms.


I kissed her greatly under the infinite sky.


She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.


How could I not have loved her huge, still eyes.


I can write the saddest lines tonight.


To think I don’t have her, to feel I have lost her.


Hear the vast night, vaster without her.


Lines fall on the soul like dew on the grass.


What does it matter that I couldn’t keep her.


The night is fractured and she is not with me.


That is all. Someone sings far off. Far off,


my soul is not content to have lost her.


As though to reach her, my sight looks for her.


My heart looks for her: she is not with me         


The same night whitens, in the same branches.


We, from that time, we are not the same.


I don’t love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.


My voice tried to find the breeze to reach her.


Another’s kisses on her, like my kisses.


Her voice, her bright body, infinite eyes.



I don’t love her, that’s certain, but perhaps I love her.


Love is brief: forgetting lasts so long.


Since, on these nights, I held her in my arms,


my soul is not content to have lost her.


Though this is the last pain she will make me suffer,        


and these are the last lines I will write for her.



More Spanish poems can be found at this website:



Pablo Picasso


Don Quixote – considered by many Western scholars as the greatest novel ever written.


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra lived from 1547 -1616 during Spain's golden age. All his life he shared the ideals of a national identity that led to Spain's glory and then downfall when the nation was ravished by the advances of the Turkish powers.


Born into a poor family, Miguel Cervantes was the fourth son of seven children. His father was a surgeon, but he earned very little to feed his family. Little is known of Cervantes' early life, but it is doubtful if he received much formal education.


When he was twenty, Miguel joined the army with his brother Rodrigo. He participated in the battle of Lepanto where the Spanish sea power defeated the Turks. Sick below the ship’s decks, Cervantes insisted on joining the battle. He fought bravely, receiving two shots in his chest and a wound that caused his left hand to be useless the rest of his life.


After healing, Cervantes rejoined the army to fight in more famous battles in Tunis, North Africa; Sardinia, Naples, Sicily, and Genoa in Italy, learning much about Italian culture during this time. Returning with his brother to Spain, their ship was captured by pirates and both brothers were sold as slaves in Algiers.


The story of his incredible bravery during those five years is almost legendary, for Cervantes tried again and again, not only for his own escape, but for the liberation of many fellow slaves. Each time he failed, he declared he alone, and not his countrymen, was to blame-- knowing full well the harsh punishment escaped Christians by the Muslim Turks. Although Rodrigo was eventually ransomed, it was not until much later that Miguel was finally freed.


In 1580, Cervantes returned to Spain without any means of livelihood.  In desperation he began to write.


The Story:


Alonso Quixano, a man of fifty, lean bodied and thin faced, lives modestly in the Spanish country village of La Mancha with his niece, Antonia, and a cranky housemaid. He is practical in most things, compassionate to his social peers, the local clergy, and the servant classes.  He is also respectful toward the ruling classes, whom he unquestioningly accepts as his superiors. He is driven neither by ambition for wealth and social position.


Well read and thoughtful, Quixano’s most prized possessions are his books. From his readings and studies, he becomes interested, then obsessed, with the codes, deeds, and tales of chivalry or heroic life — of knights errant – professional soldiers who go on missions or errands for some high and noble mission. As his hunger for the stories of chivalry grows, Quixano begins to sell off acres of his farmlands, using the money to buy more books, and increasingly throwing himself into his studies. “From little sleep and too much reading his brain dried up and he lost his wits. He had a fancy… to travel through the world with horse and armor in search of adventures” with the purpose of “redressing all manner of wrongs.”


Outfitting himself with some old rusty armor, Quixano enlists his old horse to go forth in search of knightly adventures. Hopeful of finding a proper noble to make him a knight, Quixano finally is dubbed by an innkeeper -- who Quixano believes to be a lord of a manor. Now Quixano is “Don Quixote de La Mancha”; his horse becomes “Rosinante.”


A fat, simple-minded peasant becomes his squire – Sancho Panza.


All the new knight needs now is a lady to whose service he can devote himself.  He chooses Dulcinea del Tobosa, who is really Aldonza Lorenzo, a farm girl whom he had been in love with at one time.


After three days on the road, Quixote encounters a group of traveling salesmen whom he attacks after they refuse to acknowledge Dulcinea’s great beauty. He is badly beaten by the servant of the salesman – the first of many mis-adventures he and Sancho will suffer as they travel about seeking to do good.


What makes the story so unique?  It seems to be just a series of episodes about a crazy man who suffers one beating after another – by windmills, by cats, by men and women.


Don Quixote can be seen as a satire of chivalry romances, also a story of heroic idealism, perhaps a commentary on the author's alienation, maybe even a critique of Spanish imperialism. While the novel's humor keeps us laughing, finally Don Quixote becomes a tragic hero.  Readers at the time understood Cervantes's intention to make fun of the popular yet outdated romances of his time.


Don Quixote does make fun of the adventures of literary knights-errant, but its plot also views the historical realities of 17th-century Spain.


Most importantly, Cervantes offers an enduring and entertaining story of imagination, heroism and companionship.


10. William Shakespeare


SONNET 18 – the famous love poem


Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer's lease hath all too short a date:


The Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet

Scene II. Capulet's Garden.


[Enter Romeo.]



He jests at scars that never felt a wound.


[Juliet appears above at a window.]


But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east and Juliet is the sun!

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief

That thou her maid art far more fair than she.


Hamlet’s famous soliloquy:


To be, or not to be: that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer (65)

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks (70)

That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, (75)

Must give us pause: there's the respect

That makes calamity of so long life;


Who Was Shakespeare?


 William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564, in Stratford-on-Avon. He  probably  he learned Latin and a little Greek and read the Roman dramatists. At eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, a woman seven or eight years older. Together they raised two daughters.


Little is known about Shakespeare's life between 1585 and 1592. He was an actor and playwright. Shakespeare may have taught at school during this period, but it seems more probable that shortly after 1585 he went to London to begin his apprenticeship as an actor. Due to the plague, the London theaters were often closed between 1592 and 1594. During that period, Shakespeare probably had some income from his patron, the earl of Southampton, to whom he dedicated his first two poems, Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). The fomer was a long narrative poem depicting the rejection of Venus by Adonis, his death, and the consequent disappearance of beauty from the world. The poem was immensely popular and was reprinted six times during the nine years following its publication.


In 1594, Shakespeare joined the Lord Chamberlain's company of actors, the most popular of the companies acting at the Royal Court. In 1599 Shakespeare joined a group of Chamberlain's Men that would  build and operate a new playhouse: the Globe, which became the most famous theater of its time. With his share of the income from the Globe, Shakespeare was able to purchase New Place, his home in Stratford.



While Shakespeare was regarded as the foremost dramatist of his time, evidence indicates that both he and his world looked to poetry, not playwriting, for enduring fame. Shakespeare's sonnets were composed between 1593 and 1601, though not published until 1609. That edition, The Sonnets of Shakespeare, consists of 154 sonnets, all written in the form of three quatrains and a couplet that is now recognized as Shakespearean. The sonnets fall into two groups: sonnets 1-126, addressed to a beloved friend, a handsome and noble young man, and sonnets 127-152, to a fascinating "Dark Lady," whom the poet loves in spite of himself. Nearly all of Shakespeare's sonnets examine the inevitable decay of time, and honor beauty and love in poetry.


In his poems and plays, Shakespeare invented thousands of words, often combining or contorting Latin, French and native roots. His impressive expansion of the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, includes such words as: arch-villain, birthplace, bloodsucking, courtship, dewdrop, downstairs, fanged, heartsore, hunchbacked, leapfrog, misquote, pageantry, radiance, schoolboy, stillborn, watchdog, and zany.


Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. These are usually divided into four categories: histories, comedies, tragedies, and romances. His earliest plays were mostly comedies and histories such as Henry VI and The Comedy of Errors, but in 1596, Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, his second tragedy, and over the next dozen years he would return to tragedy, writing the plays for which he is now best known: Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Anthony and Cleopatra. In his final years, Shakespeare turned to the romantic with Cymbeline, A Winter's Tale, and The Tempest.


Only eighteen of Shakespeare's plays were published during his lifetime; a complete collection of his works did not appear until the publication of the First Folio in 1623, several years after his death


Sometime after 1612, Shakespeare retired from the stage and returned to his home in Stratford. He drew up his will in January of 1616, which included his famous bequest to his wife of his "second best bed." He died on April 23, 1616 – the exact same day as Spains greatest writer – Miguel Cervantes – also died.


English writer and contemporary of Shakespeare, Ben Jonson predicted Shakespeare’s dazzling future when he declared, "He was not of an age, but for all time!" in the preface to the First Folio.


While most people know that Shakespeare is, in fact, the most popular dramatist and poet the Western world has ever produced, students new to his work often wonder why this is so. Here are four reasons why Shakespeare has stood the test of time.


1) Illumination of the Human Experience

Shakespeare’s ability to summarize the range of human emotions in simple yet profoundly eloquent verse is perhaps the greatest reason for his enduring popularity. If you cannot find words to express how you feel about love or music or growing older, Shakespeare can speak for you – he is often quoted:


2) Great Stories

Marchette Chute, in the Introduction to her famous retelling of Shakespeare’s stories, summarizes one of the reasons for Shakespeare’s immeasurable fame:  William Shakespeare was the most remarkable storyteller that the world has ever known. Homer told of adventure and men at war, Sophocles and Tolstoy told of tragedies and of people in trouble. Terence and Mark Twain told cosmic stories, Dickens told melodramatic ones, Plutarch told histories and Hand Christian Andersen told fairy tales. But Shakespeare told every kind of story – comedy, tragedy, history, melodrama, adventure, love stories and fairy tales – and each of them so well that they have become immortal. In all the world of storytelling he has become the greatest name. (Stories from Shakespeare, 11)


Shakespeare's stories transcend time and culture. Modern storytellers continue to adapt Shakespeare’s tales to suit our modern world, whether it be the tale of Lear on a farm in Iowa (Jane Smiley’s famous novel, A Thousand Acres) , Romeo and Juliet on the mean streets of New York City (the musical West Side Story), or Macbeth in medieval Japan Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood).


3) Fascinating Characters

Shakespeare invented his share of commonly recognized characters, known as “stock” characters – the innocent young lovers, the evil king, but his truly great characters – particularly his tragic heroes – are unequalled in literature, greater even than the famous creations of the Greek playwrights. Shakespeare’s great characters have remained popular because of their complexity; for example, we can see ourselves as gentle Hamlet, forced against his better nature to seek murderous revenge. For this reason Shakespeare is deeply admired by actors, and many consider playing a Shakespearean character to be the most difficult and most rewarding role possible.


4) Ability to Create Memorable Language

Many of the common expressions now thought to be clichés were Shakespeare's creations. Chances are you use Shakespeare's expressions all the time even though you may not know it is the Bard you are quoting. You may think that fact is neither here nor there, but that's the short and the long of it.

. Here is the sonnet form that now bears his name – The Shakespearean sonnet:

Sonnet 130


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips' red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.


I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.


I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.


And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

As any she belied with false compare.


Here is a modern translation of Sonnet 130:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;

coral is far more than her lips are.

If snow is white, all I can say

is that her breasts are a brownish grey color.

If hairs can be compared with wires

then black hairs grow on her head.

I know what pink, red and white roses look like

but I don't see any roses in her cheeks.

And there's more pleasure in some perfumes

than there is in my mistress' reeking breath!

I love her voice although I know that music

is more pleasing to the ear.

And there's more pleasure in some perfumes

than there is in my mistress' reeking breath!

I love her voice although I know that music

is more pleasing to the ear.


11.  Voltaire’s Candide, Goethe’s Faust, Defoe’s Crusoe


Candide begins in the German town of Westphalia, where Candide, a young man, lives in the castle of Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh. A noted philosopher, Doctor Pangloss, tutors the baron on philosophical optimism, the idea that “all is for the best . . . in this, the best of all worlds.” Candide, a simple man, first accepts this philosophy, but as he experiences the horrors of war, poverty, the maliciousness of man, and the hypocrisy of the church, he begins to doubt the voracity of Pangloss’s theory. Thus, philosophical optimism is the focus of Votaire’s satire; anti-war and anti-church refrains also run throughout the novel.


Called the Father of the French Revolution, Voltaire is the name he adopted in his maturity.  His real one was Francois Marie Arouet. He was born in 1694, in Paris, the fifth child of his middle-class parents. Voltaire's father was a rich lawyer. A sickly child, Francois was not expected to live.  Yet he was to live that life energetically and to survive until 1778 – at age 84


In the first chapter, Doctor Pangloss is having an illicit affair with Paquette, a chambermaid. The baron’s beautiful daughter, Cunégonde, witnesses the affair and decides to try something similar with Candide. When the baron catches them, Candide is kicked out of the castle.


Hungry and cold, Candide makes his way to a neighboring town, where he is helped by two soldiers. He is pressed into service and endures beatings at the hands of his superiors. He runs away, coming across war-torn villages in the process and witnessing the horrors of war firsthand. Candide makes his way to Christian Holland, where he hopes to find charity but finds hardhearted people, save one who shows Candide kindness and generosity.


Candide then meets a beggar suffers from a disfiguring disease and soon discovers that the beggar is Doctor Pangloss. Pangloss recounts his recent experiences, including the death of the baron and his family at the hands of soldiers. In spite of Pangloss’s condition and the horrors around him, the good doctor still believes in philosophical optimism. Candide and Pangloss go to Lisbon via ship. When a storm blows up, the ship later breaks up, leaving Candide, Pangloss, and a rescued sailor as the only survivors. No sooner do they land on the Lisbon shore than an earthquake shakes the city.  In response, church leaders decide to show an auto-da-fé, or act of faith, which includes a sacrifice of people. Pangloss is hanged, but Candide survives, helped by an old woman.


The old woman cleans and feeds Candide, and then takes him to Cunégonde, who survived the brutal attack on the baron’s family. She is living with two powerful men who try to share her affections, and she was responsible for saving Candide from the killings during the auto-da-fé. Cunégonde’s two men come upon the young lovers, and Candide kills them both. Frightened, Candide, Cunégonde, and the old woman escape to a port city, where a military vessel is loading up for a mission in Paraguay. Candide’s military training impresses the Spanish general, and Candide is made a captain with command of an infantry. With Cunégonde and the old woman, Candide sails for South America. During the voyage, the old woman tells her story, which is horrific—she has suffered far more than anyone else in the party. Candide begins to seriously question Pangloss’s theory of philosophical optimism.


In Buenos Aires, they meet the governor, Don Fernando, who takes an interest in Cunégonde and asks for her hand in marriage. Candide is heartbroken, but he cannot stay and fight for Cunégonde, because he must flee from police officers who traced Candide to the region. Aided by Cacambo, a valet, Candide escapes and soon meets the Reverend Father Commander, leader of a Jesuit army in Paraguay. The commander turns out to be Cunégonde’s brother, who was left for dead when his mother and father were killed in Westphalia. The two catch up until Candide reveals that he is love with Cunégonde and hopes to someday marry her; the baron’s son is so enraged by this notion that a fight ensues, and Candide kills the man.


Again, Candide flees with Cacambo comes to Eldorado, a country filled with gold and jewels for which the citizens have no use, because everyone’s needs are met by the government. Eldorado also has no court rooms or prisons, because citizens treat each other fairly and do not break laws. The citizens of Eldorado believe in God but never pray in supplication—they only give thanks because they have all they need.


Eager to find Cunégonde, Candide and Cacambo leave Eldorado with a team of red sheep loaded with gold, jewels, and other supplies. When they reach Surinam, the two traveling companions split up, with Cacambo heading in secret to Buenos Aires to buy the release of Cunégonde, and Candide heading to Venice, where he will not be sought by the police. Candide is robbed by a ship’s captain, a ruthless man. Dejected, Candide advertises a contest for the most unfortunate man he can find; an elderly scholar named Martin wins the contest and becomes Candide’s new traveling partner. The two head to France, en route to Venice.


In Paris, Candide becomes ill and is attended by a variety of people, all of whom want a piece of his fortune. He recovers, but is tricked by an actress into giving away much of his fortune and is eventually arrested by the police, who are suspicious of all strangers. From there, Candide and Martin are sent to England, where they witness more violence, and then finally reach Venice. Through various discussions with Martin, as well as meetings with a variety of people, Candide comes to lose faith in philosophical optimism. Soon, Candide finds Cacambo, now a slave, who informs Candide that Cunégonde is in Constantinople, working as a servant. Candide buys Cacambo’s freedom, and the three men travel toward Constantinople. They soon meet Pangloss and the baron’s son, both of whom were presumed dead, and discover that, back in Lisbon, the noose on Pangloss’s neck slipped, while the baron’s son recovered from Candide’s stab wound. The five set off to find Cunégonde, who is with the old woman and is no longer beautiful, and Candide buys their freedom, as well. When the baron’s son again steps in to stop Candide’s marriage to Cunégonde (a marriage Candide no longer desires), the party kills the baron’s son.


Candide marries Cunégonde and buys a small farm with the last of his Eldorado fortune. The entire party—Candide, Cunégonde, Cacambo, Martin, Pangloss, and the old woman—live there together, and are soon joined by Paquette and her companion, Friar Giroflée. They discuss philosophy and are utterly miserable until they meet a happy Turk relaxing under a tree. The Turk explains that he has only a small farm but he is happy because he works it with his children. The farm meets his needs and saves him from boredom and evil desires. Candide decides that this is how his little group will find happiness, and they begin to work their farm.


Faust also called Faustus, or Doctor Faustus, hero of one of the most lasting legends in Western folklore and literature, the story of a German magician or astrologer who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power. There was a historical Faust, indeed perhaps two who both died about 1540, leaving a tangled legend of sorcery and alchemy, astrology and soothsaying, studies theological and diabolical, necromancy. Contemporary references indicate that he was widely traveled and fairly well known, but all observers testify to his evil reputation.  Some consider Faust's pursuit of knowledge as noble and others as the pride and arrogance of man who seeks to understand God. This was the approach also adopted by Goethe.


Goethe's play, which contains epic, lyric, dramatic, opera, and ballet dance elements, ranges through various poetic styles to present a  cultural commentary that draws upon theology, mythology, philosophy, political economy, science, aesthetics, music, and literature. In the end Goethe saves Faust by bringing about his salvation and redemption.


Faust was the figure in which the Romantic Age recognized its mind and soul; and the character, in his self-awareness and crisis of identity, continued to appeal to writers through the centuries.


Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749-1832, German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theatre director, critic, considered the greatest German literary figure of the modern era.


In the literary culture of the German-speaking countries, Goethe has had so dominant a position that he appears as the central and unsurpassed representative of the European Romantic movement. He could be said to the most important artist of the era that began with the Enlightenment and continues to the present day as William Shakespeare does to the culture of the Renaissance and Dante to the culture of the High Middle Ages. His Faust is also Europe's greatest long poem since Dante's The Divine Comedy.


The play opens with a bet between God and Mephistopheles. God gives permission to the devil to lure the soul of Faust, a scholar and alchemist, and maintains that Faust would be saved despite his reliance on reason and sorcery rather than faith. Later, Faust complains that "Wir nichts wissen können!" (we cannot know anything!). All science stays in the dark, because it lacks a secure and certain foundation. This is why Faust devotes himself to magic: "Daß ich erkenne was die Welt / Im Innersten zusammenhält" (That I may know what the world / holds at its very core.)


Faust is not interested merely in power, pleasure, and knowledge, but longs to take part in the divine secrets of life. He conjures up an Earth-Spirit, but it refuses to help him gain knowledge. Faust becomes depressed and wants to kill himself. But it is Easter and the church bells tell of the resurrection. He is overcome by childhood memories: "Die Botschaft hör' ich wohl, / allein mir fehlt der Glaube" (I hear the message clearly, / but I alone lack the faith). He does not commit suicide, but his inner tensions heighten. He is both sick of life and unbearably hungry to know and experience its deepest offerings. He hunts for knowledge but he also yearns to satisfy his bodily desires for action. In this situation, Mephistopheles makes an appearance and offers to fulfill Faust's every desire—for the price of his soul.


In both parts of the drama, innocent people become victims of Faust's pact with the devil. In the first part, the victims are the girl Margarete (nicknamed Gretchen), her mother, and her brother. With the help of Mephistopheles, Faust seduces Margarete, but the drug  he gives to her mother has a lethal effect. Margarete's brother attempts to take revenge for his mother and the lost honor of his sister in a duel with Faust, but he falls by Mephistopheles's intervention. Gretchen gives birth to Faust's child, kills it, and ends up in jail.


In the second part, Faust's hunger for knowledge demands human sacrifices. He wishes to take land from the sea in Greece, so he begins the engineering construction on a system of dykes—thus becoming an archetype not just of one pursuing scientific knowledge, but also of someone intent on technological power. The servants of Mephistopheles burn down the home of an old couple who had cared for him as a young man, which was the only thing that the enormously wealthy yet discontented Faust did not own. The fire kills the old couple. Faust as an engineer does not foresee the unintentional consequences of his work but finally accepts them approvingly.


Goethe's Faust is a tale of reckless striving for boundless love, knowledge, and power.  Unlike Candide, who eventually accepts this world as the best of all possible, Faust can only find satisfaction by leaving this world.


Daniel Defoe


Defoe's early life was not easy. He was born about 1660 in London to a poor, but hard-working butcher who was, in addition, a Dissenter from the Church of England. Because his father was a Dissenter, Daniel was unable to attend such traditional and prestigious schools as Oxford and Cambridge; instead, he had to attend a Dissenting academy, where he studied science and the humanities.


Defoe  recognized his independent, ambitious nature and wanted to be a part of the rapidly growing business world of London. So, after a short apprenticeship, he decided to set up his own haberdashery shop in a fashionable section of London. Not only did Defoe prove that he had a flair for business, but he also tried his talents in yet another field: politics. England, in 1685, was ruled by James Stuart, a Catholic, who was strongly anti-Protestant. Defoe was a staunch believer in religious freedom.  His popular ideas soon brought him trouble with the government and he was sent to prison for three years – for his ideas – nothing he had done.


1719, Defoe finished and published Robinson Crusoe, a long, imaginative literary masterpiece. It was popular with the public and has never lost its appeal to adventure and romance. Other novels soon followed, in addition to his multitude of articles and essays.  He died in 1730 – at age 70.


Robinson Crusoe, as a young and impulsive wanderer, defied his parents and went to sea. He was involved in a series of violent storms at sea and was warned by the captain that he should not be a seafaring man. Ashamed to go home, Crusoe boarded another ship and returned from a successful trip to Africa. Taking off again, Crusoe met with bad luck and was taken prisoner in Sallee. His captors sent Crusoe out to fish, and he used this to his advantage and escaped, along with a slave.


He was rescued by a Portuguese ship and started a new adventure. He landed in Brazil, and, after some time, he became the owner of a sugar plantation. Hoping to increase his wealth by buying slaves, he aligned himself with other planters and undertook a trip to Africa in order to bring back a shipload of slaves. After surviving a storm, Crusoe and the others were shipwrecked. He was thrown upon shore only to discover that he was the sole survivor of the wreck.


Crusoe made immediate plans for food, and then shelter, to protect himself from wild animals. He brought as many things as possible from the wrecked ship, things that would be useful later to him. In addition, he began to develop talents that he had never used in order to provide himself with necessities. Cut off from the company of men, he began to communicate with God, thus beginning the first part of his religious conversion. To keep his sanity and to entertain himself, he began a journal. In the journal, he recorded every task that he performed each day since he had been marooned.


As time passed, Crusoe became a skilled craftsman, able to construct many useful things, and thus furnished himself with diverse comforts. He also learned about farming, as a result of some seeds which he brought with him. An illness prompted some prophetic dreams, and Crusoe began to reappraise his duty to God. Crusoe explored his island and discovered another part of the island much richer and more fertile, and he built a summer home there.


One of the first tasks he undertook was to build himself a canoe in case an escape became possible, but the canoe was too heavy to get to the water. He then constructed a small boat and journeyed around the island. Crusoe reflected on his earlier, wicked life, disobeying his parents, and wondered if it might be related to his isolation on this island.


After spending about fifteen years on the island, Crusoe found a man's naked footprint, and he was sorely beset by apprehensions, which kept him awake many nights. He considered many possibilities to account for the footprint and he began to take extra precautions against a possible intruder. Sometime later, Crusoe was horrified to find human bones scattered about the shore, evidently the remains of a savage feast. He was plagued again with new fears. He explored the nature of cannibalism and debated his right to interfere with the customs of another race.


Crusoe was cautious for several years, but encountered nothing more to alarm him. He found a cave, which he used as a storage room, and in December of the same year, he spied cannibals sitting around a campfire. He did not see them again for quite some time.


Later, Crusoe saw a ship in distress, but everyone was already drowned on the ship and Crusoe remained companionless. However, he was able to take many provisions from this newly wrecked ship. Sometime later, cannibals landed on the island and a victim escaped. Crusoe saved his life, named him Friday, and taught him English. Friday soon became Crusoe's humble and devoted slave.


Crusoe and Friday made plans to leave the island and, accordingly, they built another boat. Crusoe also undertook Friday's religious education, converting the savage into a Protestant. Their voyage was postponed due to the return of the savages. This time it was necessary to attack the cannibals in order to save two prisoners since one was a white man. The white man was a Spaniard and the other was Friday's father. Later the four of them planned a voyage to the mainland to rescue sixteen compatriots of the Spaniard. First, however, they built up their food supply to assure enough food for the extra people. Crusoe and Friday agreed to wait on the island while the Spaniard and Friday's father brought back the other men.


A week later, they spied a ship but they quickly learned that there had been a mutiny on board. By devious means, Crusoe and Friday rescued the captain and two other men, and after much scheming, regained control of the ship. The grateful captain gave Crusoe many gifts and took him and Friday back to England. Some of the rebel crewmen were left marooned on the island.


Crusoe returned to England and found that in his absence he had become a wealthy man. After going to Lisbon to handle some of his affairs, Crusoe began an overland journey back to England. Crusoe and his company encountered many hardships in crossing the mountains, but they finally arrived safely in England. Crusoe sold his plantation in Brazil for a good price, married, and had three children. Finally, however, he was persuaded to go on yet another voyage, and he visited his old island, where there were promises of new adventures to be found in a later account.


12. English Romanticism


“The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.” — Philosopher Blaise Pascal


“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry from The Little Prince


Some General Thoughts About the Romantic Movement:


The French Revolution of 1789-99 and the Industrial Revolution were two main political and social factors that created the Romantic poets of early 19th-century England.  But many aspects of Romanticism in literature also sprang from philosophy. The French writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau


emphasized the uniqueness of each individual and the power of inspiration – ideas that influenced William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and William Blake and the great Scottish poet Robert Burns


Romanticism must also be seen as a reaction against 18th-century rationalism with its emphasis on intellect.


Belief in self-knowledge was a main idea of Romantic thought. The Romantics believed that the real truth of things could be explained only through examining their own emotions in the context of the natural world, outside the growing urban and industrial cities. Because of this emphasis on inspiration – the emotions over the intellect -- the poet came to viewed in a central cultural role—that of visionary – who could imagine a better, more harmonious future


A new importance of the poet's role emphasized the language of the heart and of ordinary men, and Wordsworth even tried to invent a new simple diction. Poetry became separate from any 18th-century social responsibility– thus, a poet was answerable only to ultimate Truth and himself.


Two examples of the Romantic poet were the mystic visions of John Keats and the superior man of Lord Byron—indeed, satires of the Romantic hero were to become a theme of later novelists such as the Russian Fyodor Dostoyevsky.


The fact that Dostoyevsky was a Russian showed how the Romantic stream flowed across Europe. In Spain and Italy, Hungary, Poland, and the Balkans, it took the form of drama, which in England failed to produce great works except poetry and prose.


In America, a Romantic thread also joined with the beginnings of national feeling in the adventurous stories of James Fennimore Cooper’s, The Last of the Mohicans; in the supernatural element in Edgar Allan Poe; in the epic poetry of Walt Whitman and patriotic poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; and in the worship of creation instead of  the Creator in Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.


The power of Romantic poetry began to fade after about 1830 and gave way to more traditional styles, although many of its themes such as the misunderstood artist or the unhappy lover continued to be common.


At the same time Romantic literature flourished, these ideas of emotion and passion and inspiration and nature, also shaped the art and music of Europe.  Two of England’s greatest artists at this time are Constable and Turner –


Among the best know Romantic composers that emphasized feeling and nature in their music were:


Franz Schubert, Hector Berlioz, Felix Mendelssohn, Frédéric Chopin, Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi, Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky and many more.  Perhaps music was the most natural and dominant art form to express Romanticism – to take people away from the struggles of life in an ever-more industrialized world into peaceful realms of music.


Let’s talk about the British poets and what made them unique:


Nature was of supreme importance to the Romantic poets. The idea of living deeply in the natural or beautiful, or in some cases the natural and frightening as in Blake’s The Tiger is Romantic. Blake writes about the fierce burning tiger but then also about the gentle Lamb which seems like a child’s nursery poem in its innocence and sweetness.


Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


In what distant deeps or skies

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare sieze the fire?


And what shoulder, & what art.

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?


What the hammer? what the chain?

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?


When the stars threw down their spears,

And watered heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?


Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?





When Blake asks in The Tiger “Did he who made the lamb make thee?” he is essentially asking the great mysteries of nature --beautiful, but also deadly.


Little Lamb, who make thee

Dost thou know who made thee,

Gave thee life, and bid thee feed

By the stream and o'er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing, wolly, bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice?

Little Lamb, who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?


Little Lamb, I'll tell thee;

Little Lamb, I'll tell thee:

He is called by thy name,

For He calls Himself a Lamb

He is meek, and He is mild,

He became a little child.

I a child, and thou a lamb,

We are called by His name.

Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Little Lamb, God bless thee!


Blake, who was an artist and printer, developed a unique style of illustrating his poems – much like the Middle Eastern Illuminated poetry of the Middle Ages and even the Chinese poem-paintings of the Tang Dynasty and earlier.


William Blake is known for his collected works in Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience.


Other British Romantic poets you should know:  Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and then his long poem, Kublai Khan that came to him in a dream-like state.


In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree :

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round :

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;

And here were forests ancient as the hills,

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted

Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !

A savage place ! as holy and enchanted

As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted

By woman wailing for her demon-lover !


Coleridge was best friends with the poet William Wordsworth.  Together they would take long walks through the Lake Country of west central England to admire the beauty and find new inspiration for their poems.


William Wordsworth’s Prelude is the most significant English expression of the Romantic discovery of the self as a topic for art and literature. The poem also makes much of the work of memory, a theme explored as well in the Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.


"Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"


FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur. -- Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

That on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

The day is come when I again repose

Here, under this dark sycamore, and view

These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,

Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,

Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves

'Mid groves and copses. Once again I see

These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines

Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,

Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke

Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!

With some uncertain notice, as might seem

Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,

Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire

The Hermit sits alone.



George Gordon Lord Byron’s narrative poems are greatly celebrated, including Childe Harold and Don Juan – somewhat autobiographical which we shall get to in a minute. He died at age 36 of fever while engaged in the Greek struggle for independence in 1824.


John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn and Ode to a Nightingale are among his most well known works – sensitive meditation about beauty. Keats had a very short life, dying when he was 25. Literary critics often see this as a tremendous tragedy given his early potential.


Percy Bysshe Shelley also died quite young, at the age of 30. His most celebrated works include Ozymandias, Ode to the West Wind and To a Skylark.


Here is one of the most unusual stories of literary history – Shelley, his second wife, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron:


Brilliant, but something of a playboy, Percy Shelley was expelled from Oxford University at age 19 when he published The Necessity of Atheism.  Oxford had been founded by Christian monks seven hundred years earlier and still respected its heritage.  Shelley’s early poems advocated social reform, reflecting the influence of philosopher William Godwin.  Shelley married his first wife Harriet after being expelled from the university – still only 19.  Then he goes to visit Godwin, whose work he admires.  He then falls in love with Godwin's 15-year old daughter Mary, whose mother was the first great feminist writer.  Her mother dies during Mary’s birth and Mary grows up also brilliant and raised to be independent.  At age 16 she runs away to France and then Switzerland with the handsome Shelley.  Of course, Shelley's wife is a little unhappy – she and Percy now have two children, and she commits suicide in 1816 by drowning.  Their oldest child, a daughter, will die in Italy a couple years later. Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin then marry – she is 19, he is 24.  They return to England and have a son, William, become bored and travel to Lake Geneva, to the villa of Lord Byron. 


Byron was born with a club-foot, which had a profound effect on his personality.  Mary Shelley was to write, “No action of Lord Byron’s life – scarce a line he has written – but was influenced by his personal defect.”   Byron has had to flee England a year earlier because he fathered a child with his half-sister, Angela, even though he was married, unhappily, to another woman.  So the Shelley’s arrive with Claire Claremont, Mary’s 16 year old stepsister, who has also probably slept with Shelley – he was like a pop star.  But Claire soon becomes the lover of Byron.


On a stormy night in 1816 Lord Byron challenged his friends to a contest — to write a ghost story. The group included Shelley; Mary; Claire; and Byron's physician, John Polidori.


None of the guests expected much of the child-like Mary. But the famous result of that night was Mary Shelley's famous novel Frankenstein, which appeared in print two years later (1818) and created the Gothic fiction genre.


Less well known was Polidori's work, the first vampire novel. It too would inspire a legend – Dracula


And the evening also brought a curse: within a few years of Frankenstein's publication, nearly all of those involved met unexpected deaths. Shelley was lost at sea in 1822, while sailing off the coast of Italy – he was 29.  Dr. Polidori would commit suicide at age 26.  Mary would live until age 54.


 Taken in sum, the Romantic poets forever changed poetry, inventing new forms and influencing later poets.


Nowhere is their influence felt more than in the American poets and writers of the mid 19th century who we will talk about next. Many think the poetry of Walt Whitman, or the theories of Ralph Waldo Emerson could not exist without the influence of the Romantic poets.


13. Early American Literature


When the first Europeans began to colonize America in the 1500s – the Pilgrims, who came for religious freedom, for example – Asians had been living in North America for centuries.  Probably people had come from Mongolia, Manchuria and across a land bridge in Siberia – across the Bering Straits and then come down through Canada to people what is today America.  Many, many tribal groups – who look Asian or even Chinese – still live in Native American communities throughout the Americas, especially in the Pacific Northwest, the desert Southwest, the Upper Midwest – in fact, throughout America, though they are today a silent minority.  They were the first Americans.


But when we talk today about American “literature” we don’t usually include the folk literatures of those people, though they have poetry, stories, dramas, dances, songs.  That “America” exists, but only for a small group of scholars, mostly anthropologists who study language and culture. 


Unfortunately, the academic establishment that determines what university students will study focuses primarily on the American literature that comes from writers of European ancestors – many of whom carried on the traditions of . . . for example. . . European Romanticism or Rationalism . . . into the early colonies in the 1600s and then the first states in the 1700s.  In China, the Manchus, under the peasant rebel Li Zicheng, established the Qing Dynasty in 1644.  At this time in America, 1600s, most of the literature was practical – journals, diaries and letters that record life in the New World, as it was called.  A few well-educated people wrote poetry, but it was private.  Then we begin to seein the 1700s more political essays as the colonies think of breaking from England.  Only with Independence in 1776 and after do we begin to see a truly “American” literature begin to emerge – so let’s fix a date at the year 1800, and say when we look at truly “American” literature, we are talking about a period of only 200 years, from then until now.


Which writers should we know?  Well, Washington Irving was called the first American storyteller – his tales set along the Hudson River in upstate New York, like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle” capture the strong, independent spirit of the settlers -- men and women who intend to build a new life in a vast wilderness. 


But the first American writer who began to think and write like an American and not just a European or Englishman who happened to be living in North America was Ralph Waldo Emerson.  In fact, he is a kind of spiritual father to American artistic thought.  What does it mean to be an American?  What is America?  It is more than just a place.  It is an idea – a new idea, several ideas:


1) America is based on the dignity of every citizen – all men/women are Created equal, endowed by their Creator, with certain innate rights:  among these are life, liberty and the right to pursue happiness.  God gives these rights, not governments.  Governments can be run by corrupt men who can take away these rights on a whim.  But if God gives the rights they cannot be taken away.  So the American government is created by the people and for the people – a people-s government – to protect these rights.  Thus, at the heart of American literature is a basic belief that each individual is of worth and value – one person, one vote, doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor.


2) America is a beacon to the world – a light on a hill – an experiment of blending together peoples from every ethnic group and tribe and belief and religion, bound together by freedom.  But with freedom comes responsibility, and America, as you may know is the most generous country in the world – Americans give millions and millions of dollars every year to help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, medicine, education – around the world.  Why?  This goes back to the foundational belief that God has blessed America because America honors God, thus there is a responsibility in this freedom to share the blessings with others less fortunate.  In the literature you will find this sense of moral leadership – America owes others our support.


3) America as a land of vast resources and people has the responsibility not to exploit those resources but to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to mankind – thus we will begin to see an emergence of nature writing that becomes the first ecology or conservation writing, in Henry David Thoreau’s work.


These ideas – importance of the individual, the experiment of democracy and freedom, and our role in nature – come together in Emerson.  He grew up in Boston, attended Harvard College, was ordained a Christian minister at Boston’s Old North Church, made famous in a poem about Paul Revere, an American patriot.  But Emerson was at heart a teacher, so his writing instructive – he writes to teach us, not necessarily entertain us.


His 1836 essay entitled “Nature” shows the influence of Wordsworth – nature is the book God has written for us to read, if we will but open our eyes.  Look at the patterns of the seasons, the cycles of birds and animals, the complexity of the heavens, and so on. . . nature, as the Romantics would say, not only reflects the beauty of the Creator, but is the Creator, the Dao, the Brahman, the essence of life.


In 1837 Emerson writes “The American Scholar.”  He challenges American intellectuals not to imitate their British and European fathers, but to create a strong, new, hard-working, vigorous literature that captures the spirit of the new American ideals.  The language should be the vernacular, every day language of the common working people – not the elevated British English of the past.


Emerson’s artistic statement is summed up in his 1846 essay, called “The Poet.”  Poetry,” Emerson says enriches our lives and makes us wealthy as a nation.  Just as Homer and Shakespeare brought rich ideas to their time, so should American writers.  The language should be an American language, the subjects American – we will see Emerson’s dream realized in the poetry of Walt Whitman whose famous Leaves of Grass is the answer to Emerson’s challenge.

 Walt Whitman 

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant, vast surrounding,
It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself.
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. 

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them.
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul. 

Song of Myself

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their
parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

Emerson’s most famous student also became his friend, then like a son – that would be Henry David Thoreau – who lived about ten minutes walk from Emerson in Concord, Massachusetts. 

Thoreau graduated from Harvard, but did not want to go to work in his father’s pencil factory.  Thoreau wanted to think and read and write and walk in the woods and study the birds and swim in the pond near Concord – don’t we all?  So he asked his friend RWE if he could build a little cabin beside Emerson’s pond, named Walden Pond.  So Thoreau finds some old bricks and cuts some wood and begins work in 1844.  When his cabin is built, he begins a life of leisure – maybe the life of a poet – for two years. 


He writes what will become an important book – Walden, subtitled, My Life in the Woods.

Let’s look at Walden, both the place and the work:


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.




Most men lead lives of quite desperation – they are not happy.  Thoreau makes us examine who we are.  We asks us to consider what gives meaning and purpose to our lives?  He wants us to look honestly at what we value – is it wealth, fame, world success, owning things, a car, a big house, a computer and MP3 player and digital camera – all that to be happy.  Young people cannot get married until they are established in their careers and have bought a house and have money and savings and . . . is this the only life that will make us happy.


Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. Walden


For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the labour of my hands, and I found, that by working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living.


I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Civil Disobedience


Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.


Thoreau says we neglect our inner riches – ideas, poetry, nature, which is free, the symphony of the birds, the majestic artwork of a sunset, the silence of the deep forest. . . instead we turn cities into prisons of bad air and noise and crime and hurrying. . .


After Emerson and Thoreau, we begin to see other writers – Nathaniel HawthorneThe Scarlet Letter that explores early America’s religious background --


Emily Dickinson – the mother of American Poetry


I'm Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there's a pair of us?

Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!


How dreary – to be – Somebody!

How public – like a Frog –  

To tell one's name – the livelong June –  

To an admiring Bog!


Herman Melville – Moby Dick, the hunt for the great white whale – maybe the first great American novel.


Edgar Allan Poe wrote the first stories of crime and detection, wrote psychological and supernatural stories of great poetic beauty, wrote poetry that was terrible, although “The Raven” is a popular poem among school children.


Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'


14. Russian Realism


Russian literature has contributed many literary classics, especially in poetry and fiction during the 19th century.  During the two great periods -- the Imperial and post-Revolutionary periods – Russian literature was marked by:


1) an intense concern with philosophical problems,

2) a self-awareness about its relation to the cultures of the West,

3) a strong tendency to experiment with traditional forms.


We can divide the literature into four periods—


1) Old Russian, (from the 10th to 17th Centuries;

2) Imperial, (1800-1920)

3) post-Revolutionary,  (1920-1990)

4) and post-Soviet.


The reforms of Peter I, the Great, who reigned 1682–1725, rapidly Westernized the country and created a sharp a divide with the past.


The Russian Revolution and Bolshevik coup of 1917 created another major change, eventually turning “official” Russian literature into political propaganda for the new communist state.


Finally, Mikhail Gorbachev's ascent to power in 1985 and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 marked another dramatic break. What is important in this pattern is that the breaks were sudden rather than gradual and that they were the product of political forces external to literary history itself.

Old Russian also known as The Kievan period  --so called because Kiev was the seat of the grand princes-- extends from the Christianization of Russia in 988 to the conquest of Russia by the Mongols in the 13th century. Russia received Christianity from Byzantium rather than from Rome, a fact important for the development of Russian culture.

Whereas Catholic Poland was closely linked to cultural developments in western Europe, Orthodox Russia was isolated from the West for long periods and, at times, regarded its culture as foreign. Turkish influence also meant that the language of the church could be the vernacular, common language rather than, as in the West, Latin -- this was another factor that worked against Western culture.

The Ostromir Gospel of 1056–57 is the oldest dated Russian manuscript. Versions of the four Gospels of Jesus, monastery rulebooks, teachings, and prayers reflect the religious interests of the educated Russians.  Translations of secular works also circulated, including Flavius Josephus' The Jewish War, which influenced Russian military tales, histories and some folk tales.


From a literary point of view, the best work of Old Russian literature is the Slovo o polku Igoreve  or The Song of Igor's Campaign, a sort of epic poem, in rhythmic prose, dealing with Prince Igor's raid against a people of the steppes in Central Russia, his capture, and his escape. Composed between 1185 and 1187, the Igor Tale, as it is generally known, was not discovered until 1795.


The 17th century began with a period of political chaos – the time when China’s Qing Dynasty began. The ruling Muscovite dynasty came to an end in 1598. Before Michael Romanov was at last proclaimed tsar in 1613, Russia was torn by struggles for power, peasant rebellions, and foreign invasions. This time of troubles became the topic of a number of historical or memoirs and historical works.


Throughout the 18th century Russian writers imitated and experimented with a wide variety of European genres, thus adapting them to the Russian tradition.  A strong lyrical, religious and nature poetry was popular, and folk stories like “Poor Liza” 1792, a tale of lovers separated because they belong to different social classes. 


The Russian 19th century is one of the most fruitful periods in world literature. (1) Literature enjoyed greater honor in Russia than in the West, and its achievements were sometimes thought  --as Dostoyevsky once declared-- to be the justification for the Russian people's very existence. Literary critics were typically the leaders of Russian intellectual life and political thought. (2) Literature and criticism were expected to fulfill functions, such as philosophical, moral, and religious analysis. Thus Dostoyevsky's works are central to the histories of all these areas of Russian thought. One can see why the highest achievement of Russian literature was probably the philosophical novel. (3) In the 19th (still more, the 20th) century, politics and literature were intimately connected, and a writer or critic was often called upon to be a political prophet.


Alexander Pushkin, 1799-1837, occupies a unique place in Russian literature. It is not just that Russians view him as their greatest poet; he is also virtually the symbol of Russian culture. His life, as well as his work, has acquired mythic status. To criticize Pushkin, or even one of his characters—as, for example, Tatyana, the heroine of his novel Yevgeny Onegin (written 1823–31; Eugene Onegin)—has been taken as blasphemy.


The story of Onegin, is of a man with no core or purpose to his life—and Tatyana, who Puskin creates as a real, flesh and blood female character in a sea of rich and pampered bourgeoisie , somehow manages to rise above even when she accepts the superficial world about her. The work's serial publication over several years enabled both its own creation and changes in the author's perspective to become themes of the poem itself.


Even if one sets this mythic image aside, Pushkin is truly one of the world's most accomplished poets; his verse, however, which relies on the author's perfect control of form, tone, and language, does not read well in translation. Deeply playful and experimental, Pushkin adopted a vast array of conflicting masks and personae. He writes now seriously, now with irony, and now with irony at his own irony, on moral and philosophical themes.


Despite Pushkin’s literary success he became caught up in a spiral of destructive passions. His wife and mother of his four children, was beautiful -- but a flirt. Besides being the emperor’s special interest, she became the object of admiration of Baron D’Anthès, the adopted godson of Baron Heckeren. On November 4, 1836, Pushkin received an anonymous “diploma,” designating him a member of the “Order of Cuckolds.” In response, Pushkin challenged D’Anthès to a duel, which was avoided by skillful manipulation on the part of Heckeren. On his friend’s advice, D’Anthès married someone else and tried unsuccessfully to make peace with Pushkin. Matters came to a head with a duel on February 8, 1837, in which D’Anthès suffered a superficial rib injury while Pushkin was mortally wounded. Howling in agony, Pushkin turned to his wife to forgive her of any guilt for his death. He died on February 10.


Next to Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, who represents Romanticism is probably Russia's most frequently anthologized poet. In 1840 his A Hero of Our Time, created in form something between a novel and a complexly framed cycle of stories about a single hero.  Here is the open of the novel:


I WAS travelling post from Tiflis.


   All the luggage I had in my cart consisted of one small portmanteau half filled with travelling-notes on Georgia; of these the greater part has been lost, fortunately for you; but the port-manteau itself and the rest of its contents have remained intact, fortunately for me.


   As I entered the Koishaur Valley the sun was disappearing behind the snow-clad ridge of the mountains. In order to accomplish the ascent of Mount Koishaur by nightfall, my driver, an Ossete, urged on the horses indefatigably, singing zealously the while at the top of his voice.


   What a glorious place that valley is! On every hand are inaccessible mountains, steep, yellow slopes scored by water-channels, and reddish rocks draped with green ivy and crowned with clusters of plane-trees. Yonder, at an immense height, is the golden fringe of the snow. Down below rolls the River Aragva, which, after bursting noisily forth from the dark and misty depths of the gorge, with an unnamed stream clasped in its embrace, stretches out like a thread of silver, its waters glistening like a snake with flashing scales.


   Arrived at the foot of Mount Koishaur, we stopped at a dukhán. About a score of Georgians and mountaineers were gathered there in a noisy crowd, and, close by, a caravan of camels had halted for the night. I was obliged to hire oxen to drag my cart up that accursed mountain, as it was now autumn and the roads were slippery with ice. Besides, the mountain is about two versts in length.


   There was no help for it, so I hired six oxen and a few Ossetes. [A member of a people of mixed Iranian and Caucasian origin inhabiting Ossetia.] One of the latter shouldered my portmanteau, and the rest, shouting almost with one voice, proceeded to help the oxen.


   Following mine there came another cart, which I was surprised to see four oxen pulling with the greatest ease, notwithstanding that it was loaded to the top. Behind it walked the owner, smoking a little, silver-mounted Kabardian pipe. He was wearing a shaggy Circassian cap and an officer's overcoat without epaulettes, and he seemed to be about fifty years of age. The swarthiness of his complexion showed that his face had long been acquainted with Transcaucasian suns, and the premature greyness of his moustache was out of keeping with his firm gait and robust appearance. I went up to him and saluted. He silently returned my greeting and emitted an immense cloud of smoke.


   "We are fellow-travellers, it appears."


   Again he bowed silently.


   "I suppose you are going to Stavropol?"


   "Yes, sir, exactly -- with Government things."


   "Can you tell me how it is that that heavily-laden cart of yours is being drawn without any difficulty by four oxen, whilst six cattle are scarcely able to move mine, empty though it is, and with all those Ossetes helping?"


   He smiled slyly and threw me a meaning glance.


   "You have not been in the Caucasus long, I should say?"


   "About a year," I answered.


   He smiled a second time.




   "Just so, sir," he answered. "They're terrible beasts, these Asiatics! You think that all that shouting means that they are helping the oxen? Why, the devil alone can make out what it is they do shout. The oxen understand, though; and if you were to yoke as many as twenty they still wouldn't budge so long as the Ossetes shouted in that way of theirs. . . . Awful scoundrels! But what can you make of them? They love extorting money from people who happen to be travelling through here. The rogues have been spoiled! You wait and see: they will get a tip out of you as well as their hire. I know them of old, they can't get round me!"


As you see, it’s a muscular prose about men and the virtues of strength and resourcefulness and survival..  


But let’s go to the 5 towering figures of 19th Century Russian literature:


1) Nikolai Gogol

2) Ivan Turgenev

3) Fydor Dostoyevsky

4) Anton Chekov

5) Leo Tolstoy


About Gogol, 1809-1852, you need remember only two words : Dead Souls, his very funny 1842 novel about a con man who has a plan to get rich by stealing “legally” from the government.  Gogol is known as the founder of critical realism in Russian literature.  Gogol meant for Deal Souls to be the first part of a trilogy patterned on Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Tragically, he fell into a deep depression, burned the manuscript for the second part of the work, and starved himself to death. "I am destined by the mysterious powers to walk hand in hand with my strange heroes," wrote Gogol once, "viewing life in all its immensity as it rushes past me, viewing it through laughter seen by the world and tears unseen and unknown by it."



Dead Souls is rich with sound, rhythm, imagery in a way you see normally in poetry.  The word “soul” or dusha, in Russian, has several meanings.  It refers to the spiritual qualities we talk about when we refer to the immortal essence of human beings that lives on after the body dies.  But it is also another word for serfs – the slaves or peasant workers owned by landowners.  You might say, “he has 100 souls.”  That meant someone was fairly well off because they had 100 peasant workers.  Many family estates in Russian during the Imperial period – when Russian was ruled by kings, known as the Czar – had many more than 100.


The main character, Mr. Chichikov is a charming guy who has figured out how to beat the government.  Every ten years the government takes a census to tax the landowners.  But if a serf dies during the 10 years, the landowner must wait until the next census to remove the dead soul from the tax rolls – that means he could still have to pay taxes on someone for five or seven or nine years.  So Chichikov travels around and buys these “dead souls” for very little money – thus saving the landowner taxes.  His plan is to then borrow money from the government because he must be a very wealthy man – owning hundreds of peasants – even though we know they are all dead.  Nobody would know this except Chichikov and the owners who sell the dead souls.


As I said, he’s a likeable fellow who meets people who distrust him or even dislike him, and he must win them over.  So what we see is greed at work – landowners who are greedy, petty officials who are greedy, and Chichikov, who stands to make a lot of money.  This won’t be the first Russian story that depicts the native intelligence of the average Russian who can out-smart the lazy and corrupt government officials who never leave their offices – they have lost touch with ordinary life outside the cities.


An interesting side-note:  In 1918 Lu Xun published his famous story "K'uangjen jih-chi" -- Diary of a Madman-- which took its title deliberately from a story by Gogol. It appeared in Hsin ch'ingnien, the popular journal that initiated the intellectual revolution


Ivan Turgenev ,1818-1883, poet, dramatist and novelist is best known for Fathers and Sons, an allegorical meditation on the conflict of generations.  The first Russian writer to be widely celebrated in the West, Turgenev managed to be hated by Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky for his Westernism, liberalism, aesthetic elegance, and tendency to nostalgia and self-pity. He first gained fame with his subtle descriptions of peasant life in 1852, A Sportsman's Sketches, which contributed to the climate leading to the abolition of serfdom.


Chekov may be the world’s greatest short story writer, along with the French writer Guy de Maupassant and the American O. Henry.

Chekhov created short gems of narration and interesting, complex characters, stressing the moral necessity of ordinary virtues such as daily kindness, cleanliness, politeness, work, sobriety, paying one's debts, and avoiding self-pity.  In his hundreds of stories and novellas, which he wrote while practicing medicine, Dr. Chekhov adopts something of a clinical approach to ordinary life. Careful  observation and broad sympathy for diverse points of view shape his fiction. In his stories, an overt plot subtly hints at other hidden stories, and so it is necessary to re-read his fictions to appreciate his artistry.  He also wrote several important plays – The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull, to name two.


Now we come to the two greatest:  Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, two towering figures and perhaps the greatest novelists who ever lived.

Dostoyevsky’s psychological penetration into the darkest recesses of the human heart, together with his unsurpassed moments of insight and illumination, had an immense influence on 20th-century fiction.

Dostoyevsky is usually regarded as one of the finest novelists who ever lived. Literary modernism, existentialism, and various schools of psychology, theology, and literary criticism have been profoundly shaped by his ideas. His works are often called prophetic because he so accurately predicted how Russia's revolutionaries would behave if they came to power. In his time he was also renowned for his activity as a journalist.

Dostoyevsky is best known for his novella Notes from the Underground and for four long novels, Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Possessed and The Brothers Karamazov. Each of these works is famous for its psychological understanding, and, indeed, Dostoyevsky is commonly regarded as one of the greatest psychologists in the history of literature. He specialized in the analysis of pathological states of mind that lead to insanity, murder, and suicide and in the exploration of the emotions of humiliation, self-destruction, tyrannical domination, and murderous rage. These major works are also renowned as great “novels of ideas” that treat timeless and timely issues in philosophy and politics. Psychology and philosophy are closely linked in Dostoyevsky's portrayals of intellectuals, who “feel ideas” in the depths of their souls. Finally, these novels broke new ground with their experiments in literary form.

Some have wondered how autobiographical Dostoyevsky’s work is:  he was born in 1821 and died in 1881 – 60 years.  In 1849, when he was 28, he was arrested for anti-government activities and was sent before a firing squad.  At the last moment his life was spared, but he was sent to Siberia where he would work at hard labor in chains for four years.  Like other writers in prison with spare time, he began to write.  He married, traveled to Europe, struggled as a writer and did not achieve success until the last years of his life.

Crime and Punishment, 1866, describes a young intellectual, Raskolnikov, who is willing to gamble on ideas. He decides to solve all his problems at a stroke by murdering an old pawnbroker woman. Contradictory motives and theories all draw him to the crime. Utilitarian morality suggests that killing her is a positive good because her money could be used to help many others. On the other hand, Raskolnikov reasons that belief in good and evil is itself sheer prejudice, a mere relic of religion, and that, morally speaking, there is no such thing as crime. Nevertheless, Raskolnikov, despite his denial of morality, sympathizes with the unfortunate and so wants to kill the pawnbroker just because she is an oppressor of the weak. His most famous theory justifying murder divides the world into extraordinary people, such as Caesar and Napoleon, and ordinary people, who simply serve to continue the species. Extraordinary people, he theorizes, must have “the right to transgress,” or progress would be impossible. Nothing could be further from Dostoyevsky's own morality – which was based on the infinite worth of each human soul.  But Dostoyevsky viewed as the real content of the intelligentsia's belief in its superior wisdom as prophetic of the Soviet tyrants to come like Stalin.


After committing the crime, Raskolnikov unaccountably finds himself gripped by terror and a horrible sense of isolation. The detective Porfiry Petrovich, who guesses Raskolnikov's guilt but cannot prove it, plays psychological games with him until the murderer at last confesses. Meanwhile, Raskolnikov tries to discover the real motive for his crime but never arrives at a single answer.


Dostoevsky's last work in 1880 tells the story of the four Karamazov brothers--each with his own distinct personality and desires. Driven by intense, uncontrollable emotions of rage and revenge, they all become involved in the brutal murder of their despicable father. Exploring the secret depths of humanity's struggles and sins, Dostoevsky unfolds a grand epic which attempts to venture into mankind's darkest heart, and grasp the true meaning of existence.


Leo Tolstoy, 1828-1910, is best known for his two longest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, which are commonly regarded as among the finest novels ever written. Among Tolstoy's shorter works, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is usually classed among the best examples of the novella. Especially during his last three decades Tolstoy also achieved world renown as a moral and religious teacher. His doctrine of nonresistance to evil had an important influence on Gandhi. His fiction grew out of his diaries, which began when he served during the Crimean War.


War and Peace, 1869, contains three kinds of material— 1) a historical account of the Napoleonic wars, 2) the biographies of fictional characters, and 3) a set of essays about the philosophy of history.


The work's historical portions narrate the campaign of 1805 leading to Napoleon's victory at the Battle of Austerlitz, a period of peace, and Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812.  Tolstoy portrays Napoleon as an ineffective, egomaniacal buffoon, Tsar Alexander I as  obsessed with how historians will describe him, and the Russian general Mikhail Kutuzov  as a patient old man who understands the limitations of human will and planning. Particularly noteworthy are the novel's battle scenes, which show combat as sheer chaos.


Tolstoy idea was that everyday activities make a life good or bad, so the book's truly wise characters are not its intellectuals but a simple, decent soldier, Nikolay, and a generous good woman, Marya. Their marriage symbolizes the novel's central values.


Tolstoy's other masterpiece, Anna Karenina,1873, told a tragic story of a married, passionate woman, who follows her lover, but finally at a station throws herself in front of an incoming train. The novel opens with the famous sentence: "Happy families are all alike, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."


Anna Karenina interweaves the stories of three families, the Oblonskys, the Karenins, and the Levins.  Throughout the novel, Tolstoy indicates that the romantic idea of love, which most people identify with love itself, is entirely incompatible with the superior kind of love, the intimate love of good families. As the novel progresses, Anna, who suffers pangs of conscience for abandoning her husband and child, develops a habit of lying to herself until she reaches a state of near madness and total separation from reality. The realization that she may have been thinking about life incorrectly comes to her only when she is lying on the train track, and it is too late to save herself.


After finishing Anna Karenina Tolstoy renounced all his earlier works. "I wrote everything into Anna Karenina," he later confessed, "and nothing was left over."  In 1857 the great French writer Gustav Flaubert has published a similar book – Madame Bovary, about a woman’s infidelities.


For the last decades of his life Tolstoy wrote primarily religious works that promoted the simple gospel message of Christianity – to love God and to love one’s neighbor.  Though successful as a writer, he chose to live simply and work his farm with his peasants.


I would like to mention the great Russian poet Anna Akmatova, 1889-1966, who lived through the horrors of the 20th Century and wrote profound poetry about her experiences.  Critical of the Soviet system, her work was officially banned from 1925-1940.

Her son, Lev, was arrested in 1949 and held in jail until 1956. To try to win his release, Akhmatova wrote poems in praise of Stalin and the government, but it was of no use. Later she requested that these poems not appear in her collected works. She began writing and publishing again in 1958, but with heavy censorship. Young poets like Joseph Brodsky flocked to her. To them, she represented a link with the pre-Revolutionary past which had been destroyed by the Communists.


Though Akhmatova was frequently confronted with official government opposition to her work during her lifetime, she was deeply loved and praised by the Russian people, in part because she did not abandon her country during difficult political times.


Along the hard crust of deep snows,

To the secret, white house of yours,

So gentle and quiet – we both

Are walking, in silence half-lost.


And sweeter than all songs, sung ever,

Are this dream, becoming the truth,

Entwined twigs’ nodding with favor,

The light ring of your silver spurs... 


Boris Pasternak


A Russian poet whose only novel DOKTOR ZHIVAGO brought him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, Pasternak had to decline the honor because the Soviet government protested the book’s lack of “idealogical” values – in other words, a love story between a doctor who wrote love poetry and the doctor’s love for his wife and his mistress did not represent Soviet principles.. The novel was banned in the Soviet Union and Pasternak was expelled from the Union of Soviet Writers. After Doctor Zhivago reached the West, it was soon translated into 18 languages and made into a successful film. Pasternak’s reputation was restored after his death in 1987, which made possible the publication of his major work in Russian.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn

As with Boris Pasternak, the Soviet government denounced Alexander Solzhenitsyn's 1970 Nobel Prize as a politically hostile act. "If Solzhenitsyn continues to reside in the country after receiving the Nobel Prize, it will strengthen his position, and allow him to propaganda his views more actively," wrote the KGB chief Yuri Andropov in a secret memorandum.

At the age of 42, Solzhenitsyn had written a great deal secretly, but published nothing. After Nikita Khrushchev had publicly condemned the "cult of personality" ? an attack on Stalin's heritage ? the political censorship loosened its tight grip for a period. Solzhenitsyn's first book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, appeared in 1960 in the leading Soviet literary journal Novyi Mir. It marked the beginning of Soviet prison-camp literature. Solzhenitsyn used third-person direct speech, examining the Soviet life through the eyes of a simple Everyman. Written in clear and honest style, it described the horrors of just one day in a labor camp. The book gained fame both in the USSR and the West.

In 1974 the author was exiled from the Soviet Union. He lived first in Switzerland and moved then in 1976 to the United States, where he continued to write a series called The Red Wheel, an epic history of the events, that led to the Russian Revolution. August 1914 (1971), constructed in fragmented style, focused on the defeat of the Russian Second Army in East Prussia. Solzhenitsyn used in this work documents, proverbs, songs, newspapers, and imitation film scripts. With these technical devices Solzhenityn managed to create a broad social picture of this crucial moment of history.

Solzhenitsyn then began to publish his major works that exposed the morally corrupt, hollow interior of the Soviet system that profited a small group of party officials but impoverished most of the people. He was proven correct when the Soviet empire and much of the Eastern bloc counties collapsed in the early 1990s.

Sholom Aleichem is the pen name for Solomon Rabinowitz. He was born in the Ukraine, Russia in 1859, he died in New York in 1916. Sholom Aleichem's most popular work turned into "Fiddler on the Roof." He created the Tevye stories and many other memorable characters.

He wrote in Yiddish. Yiddish is a fusion language, having a common heritage with English of Middle High German of about 1100 years ago. Jews developed Yiddish for the past 1000 years into a highly descriptive language. Up to the Holocaust, 80% of world Jewry spoke and thought in Yiddish.

Based on stories by the Yiddish writer, Sholom Aleichem  entitled “Tevye’s Daughters,” and set in pre-revolutionary Russia, in a shtetl, Fiddler on the Roof tells the story of Tevye, a milkman who struggles to raise his daughters in a world that is quickly changing around his traditional Jewish community.

16. French Symbolism

The French language was one of the five major Romance languages to develop from Latin as a result of the Roman occupation of western Europe.


Since the Middle Ages, France has enjoyed an exceptional position in European intellectual life. Though its literary culture has no single figure whose influence can be compared to that of Italy's Dante or England's Shakespeare, successive periods have seen its writers and their language exercise an influence far beyond its borders. In medieval times, because of the far-reaching and complex system of feudal allegiances (not least the links of France and England), the networks of the monastic orders, the universality of Latin, and the similarities of the languages derived from Latin, there was a continual process of exchange, in form and content, among the literatures of western Europe. The evolution of the nation-states and the rise in prestige of vernacular languages gradually eroded the unifying force of these relationships. From the early modern period onward, France developed its own distinctive and many-stranded cultural tradition, which, while never losing sight of the riches of the medieval base and the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition, has come chiefly to be thought of as Mediterranean in its allegiance, rooted in the imitation of Classical models as these were mediated through the great writers and thinkers of Renaissance Italy.


As the novel overtook poetry and drama to become the dominant literary form in the 19th century, French writers explored the possibilities of the genre and, in some cases, reinvented it. The novel cycles of Honoré de Balzac and Émile Zola developed a new mode of social realism to celebrate and challenge the processes at work in a nation that was being transformed by industrial and economic revolution. In the work of other writers, such as Stendhal, Gustave Flaubert, and Marcel Proust, each following his own distinctive path, a different kind of realism emerged, focused on a preoccupation with the analysis of individual action, motivation, and desire as well as a fascination with form. Between them, the 19th-century French novelists traced the fate of the individualistic sensibilities born of aristocratic and high bourgeois culture as they engaged with the collectivizing forms of a nation moving toward mass culture and the threshold of democracy.


But an even greater impact on world literature came from a French poetic movement known as the Symbolist poetic movement.  It spread to painting and the theater, and influenced Russian, European, and American literature of the 20th century.  Among its major figures are Charles Baudelaire, Stephane Mallarme, Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud.


Symbolist artists sought to express the immediate sensations of human experience and the inner life, through the subtle and suggestive use of highly metaphorical language, in the form of symbols. The underlying philosophy of the symbolists was a conviction that the changing objective world is not true reality, but a reflection of the invisible Absolute. The movement was a revolt against the realistic and naturalistic styles of the day, which were designed to capture the brief and changing present. The symbolists believed that the inner eternal reality could only be suggested: "to name is to destroy, to suggest is to create" (Mallarmé). The resulting poetry of this philosophy was intense and complex, full of condensed syntax and symbolic imagery. Their poetry also emphasized the importance of the sound of the verse, creating music through words.


Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867


Baudelaire’s first book, The Flowers of Evil, was considered immoral – too blunt in his use of language – and he was brought to public trial in 1857 along with Gustav Flaubert whose classic novel Madame Bovary, though a literary masterpiece, was also too  scandalous in its sympathy for an adulterous wife.


Flowers of Evil is loosely structured to present a “self” – the poet -- who struggles to rise above the material world. The struggle is presented in a series of experiences that start within the poet himself, then move out into the city environment of contemporary Paris, and gradually uncover the black depths of decay within the men and women who inhabit this modern landscape of masses and markets. In the last analysis, at the end of this symbolic, poetic journey, death stands revealed as the final, unknown journey everyone must take.




Grands bois, vous m'effrayez comme des cathédrales;

Vous hurlez comme l'orgue; et dans nos coeurs maudits,

Chambres d'éternel deuil ou vibrent de vieux râles,

Répondent les échos de vos De profundis.


Forest, I fear you! In my ruined heart

your roaring wakens the same agony

as in cathedrals when the organ moans

and from the depths I hear that I am damned.

Ocean, I hate you! For I recognize

the sobs and insults of my own despair,

the bitter laughter of a beaten man

repeated in the sea's huge gaiety.


Night! You'd please me even more without these stars

which speak a language I know all too well-

I long for darkness, silence, nothing there. . .


Yet even shadows have their shapes which live

where I imagine them to be, the hordes of vanished souls

whose eyes acknowledge mine.


The Albatross

Often, to pass the time on board, the crew
will catch an albatross, one of those big birds
which nonchalantly chaperone a ship
across the biter fathoms of the sea.

Tied to the deck, this sovereign of space,
as if embarrassed by its clumsiness,
pitiably lets its great white wings
drag at its sides like a pair of unshipped oars.

How weak and awkward, even comical
this traveler but lately so adroit-
one deckhand sticks a pipe stem in its beak,
another mock the cripple that once flew!

The Poet is like this monarch of the clouds
riding the storm above the marksman's range;
exiled on the ground, hooted and jeered,
he cannot walk because of his great wings

Stephane Mallarme, 1842, 1898, a school teacher and scholar, influenced by Baudelaire.

According to Mallarmé's theories, the point of a poem was the beauty of the language. "You don't make a poem with ideas, but with words." 


Sea Breeze

The flesh is sad, Alas! and I’ve read all the books.

Let’s go! Far off. Let’s go! I sense

That the birds, intoxicated, fly

Deep into unknown spume and sky!

Nothing – not even old gardens mirrored by eyes –

Can restrain this heart that drenches itself in the sea

O nights, or the abandoned light of my lamp,

On the void of paper, that whiteness defends,

No, not even the young woman feeding her child.

I shall go! Steamer, straining at your ropes

Lift your anchor towards an exotic rawness!

A Boredom, made desolate by cruel hope

Still believes in the last goodbye of handkerchiefs!

And perhaps the masts, inviting lightning,

Are those the gale bends over shipwrecks,

Lost, without masts, without masts, no fertile islands...

But, oh my heart, listen to the sailors’ chant!


Paul Verlaine 1844-1896


Verlaine met 17 year old poet Arthur Rimbaud. He left his wife and lived with Rimbaud, with whom he made a trip to Belgium and England in 1872, and during this trip he wrote his Romances sans paroles(1874), which is based on his life with Rimbaud; poems that were among the earliest attempts to make poetry a purely musical art. Some of Verlaine's poems, which were set to music by the leading French composers of his time, were contained in this volume. Although Verlaine did not use free verse, his skillful treatment of the various traditional verse forms, his use of rhymes, and his ever-changing rhythms created a fluid music unequaled in lyric poetry..


In 1873, Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the wrist and was arrested and condemned to two years' imprisonment. While in jail, he became a devout Catholic and wrote many of his best poems. He was freed in 1875, spent a few years teaching in England and in France, and during this period tried his hand at agriculture.  Toward the end of his life Verlaine became a legendary figure, and by 1885 he was a poetical hero. His popularity was due to as much to his Romantic attitude as to his actual way of life, which was that of a free artist, devoted to his life-long true love – his art. 


"Like city's rain, my heart . . ."

The rain falls gently on the town.
Arthur Rimbaud

Like city's rain, my heart
Rains teardrops too. What now,
This languorous ache, this smart
That pierces, wounds my heart?

Gentle, the sound of rain
Pattering roof and ground!
Ah, for the heart in pain,
Sweet is the sound of rain!

Tears rain-but who knows why?-
And fill my heartsick heart.
No faithless lover's lie? . . .
It mourns, and who knows why?

And nothing pains me so--
With neither love nor hate--
A simply not to know
Why my heart suffers so

It Rains In My Heart…

(Romances Sans Paroles: Arriettes Oubliées I)

 It rains softly on the town.’   Rimbaud

It rains in my heart

as it rains on the town,

what is this art

that soaks to my heart? 

Oh sweet sound of the rain

on the earth and the roofs!

For a heart dulled again,

oh the song of the rain! 

It rains for no reason

in this heart without heart.

What? And no treason?

A grief without reason? 

It’s pain’s darkest state

not to know why,

my heart feels such weight

without love, without hate.


          (Poèmes Saturniens: Mélancholia II)


Memory, memory, what do you want of me? Autumn

makes the thrush fly through colourless air,

and the sun casts a monotonous glare

on the yellowing woods where the north winds hum.


We were alone, and walking in dream,

she and I, hair and thoughts wind-blown.

Suddenly, turning her troubling gaze on me,

‘Your loveliest day?’ her voice of living gold,


her voice, with its fresh angelic tone, vibrant and sweet.

I gave her my answer, a smile so discreet,

and kissed her white hand with devotion.


Ah! The first flowers, what a fragrance they have!

And how charming the murmured emotion

of that first ‘yes’ from lips that we love!



(Romances Sans Paroles: Aquarelles)


Here are the fruits, the flowers, the leaves, the wands,

here’s my heart that only beats for your sighs.

Don’t shatter them with your snow-white hands,

let my poor gifts be pleasing to your eyes.


I reach you, still covered with the dew, you see,

that the dawn wind froze here on my face.

Let my weariness lie down at your feet,

and dream of the dear moments that grant release.


Let my head loll on your young breast

ringing with your last kisses, yes

allow this passing of the great tempest,

and let me sleep a little while you rest.



(Poèmes Saturniens: Mélancholia IV)


Ah! Fond speech! And the first mistresses!

The hair’s gold, the eyes’ blue, the flower of the flesh,

and, then, in the scent of the dear body’s mesh

the shy spontaneity of caresses!


How far away is all of that lightness

and all that innocence! Ah, backwards yet

to the Spring of regret, the black winters have fled,

my disgusts, my boredoms, and my distress.


So I’m alone now, here, sad and alone,

sad and desperate, chilled like the old,

poor as an orphan with no elder sister.


O for a woman in love, tender and mild,

sweet, pensive, dark, and always astonished,

who now and then kisses your brow like a child.


The Moon, White…

       (La Bonne Chanson: VI)


The moon, white,

shines in the trees:

from each bright

branch a voice flees

under the leaves that move,


O well-beloved.


The pools reflect

a mirror’s depth,

the silhouette

of willows’ wet

black where the wind weeps…


let us dream, time sleeps.


It seems a vast, soothing,

tender balm

is falling

from heaven’s calm

empurpled by a star…


it’s the exquisite hour.


Arthur Rimbaud, 1854-1891


Not only a poet, but an adventurer, who became disillusioned by art and stopped writing verse at the age of 21. Rimbaud's poetry, partially written in free verse during a five-year period, is characterized by dramatic and imaginative vision. "I say that one must be a visionary - that one must make oneself a VISIONARY."


You’ve already heard part of the story about Verlaine and Rimbaud.  Verlaine was an alcoholic who left his family - his young wife, Mathilde was expecting a baby - and fled with the teenaged Rimbaud to London in 1872 to live an Artist’s life. Most of the time they lived in poverty and abused drink and drugs. Their relationship ended after a year in Brussels, when Rimbaud tried to break off the relationship. Verlaine, drunk and upset, shot Rimbaud in the wrist with a 7mm pistol after a quarrel. Verlaine was tried for attempted murder.


In 1875-76 Rimbaud learned several languages: English, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Arabic and Greek, and started his life of wandering. He worked a teacher in Germany, unloaded cargo in Marseilles, France, enlisted in the Netherlands army but deserted in Sumatra. In 1876 Rimbaud robbed a cabman in Vienna. In the last ten years of his life, Rimbaud worked in the import-export field for series of French employers dealing everything from porcelain to weaponry - possibly he was a slave dealer.


Rimbaud arrived in 1880 in Aden after short sojourns in Java and Cyprus. Rimbaud made business travels in modern-day Yemen, Ethiopia, and Egypt, and walked occasionally hundreds of miles at the head of trading caravans through dangerous lands. He was the first European to penetrate into the country of Ogadain. His expertise and learning of the language, religion, and culture of local peoples was acknowledged when the French Geographical Society deemed his commercial and geographical report on East Africa worthy of publication.


In 1886 Verlaine published Rimbaud's book of poems, Illuminations. It revealed Rimbaud's longing for spiritual values and reestablished his reputation as a major poet.


In February 1891 Rimbaud felt pain in his left knee, and went to Marseilles to see a doctor. The leg had to be amputated because of enormous, cancerous swelling. Rimbaud died six months later.





No one's serious at seventeen.

--On beautiful nights when beer and lemonade

And loud, blinding cafés are the last thing you need

--You stroll beneath green lindens on the promenade.


Lindens smell fine on fine June nights!

Sometimes the air is so sweet that you close your eyes;

The wind brings sounds--the town is near--

And carries scents of vineyards and beer. . .




--Over there, framed by a branch

You can see a little patch of dark blue

Stung by a sinister star that fades

With faint quiverings, so small and white. . .


June nights! Seventeen!--Drink it in.

Sap is champagne, it goes to your head. . .

The mind wanders, you feel a kiss

On your lips, quivering like a living thing. . .




The wild heart Crusoes through a thousand novels

--And when a young girl walks alluringly

Through a streetlamp's pale light, beneath the ominous shadow

Of her father's starched collar. . .


Because as she passes by, boot heels tapping,

She turns on a dime, eyes wide,

Finding you too sweet to resist. . .

--And cavatinas [a short song] die on your lips.




You're in love. Off the market till August.

You're in love.--Your sonnets make Her laugh.

Your friends are gone, you're bad news.

--Then, one night, your beloved, writes. . .!


That night. . .you return to the blinding cafés;

You order beer or lemonade. . .

--No one's serious at seventeen

When lindens line the promenade.



29 September 1870


Total Eclipse, a 1995 film, tells of the turbulent relationship between the poets  Verlaine and Rimbaud. Their “friendship” began in 1870 after a newly married Verlaine found Rimbaud living on the streets of Paris and invited the sixteen-year-old to live in his home.


Verlaine was fascinated by Rimbaud's wild and imaginative poetry and lively personality and the two quickly became more than “friends.” The film shows such violent outbursts as when Verlaine set his wife's hair on fire, when Rimbaud stabbed Verlaine in an argument, and Verlaine’s later shooting of Rimbaud in the wrist. Some of the dialogue is adapted from Rimbaud's own writings: after stabbing Verlaine, Rimbaud says, "the only thing unbearable is that nothing is unbearable."


It was not a good film, centered more on its nudity and sexual content, but it does tell the sad tale of two of the greatest French poets and proves that sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.  Rimbaud’s work influenced jazz music, the 1950s “Beat” generation writers and many modern rock bands and musicians, such as Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.