30 April 2013

Thoreau's Snake Metaphor

“I saw a striped snake turn into the water, and he lay on the bottom, apparently without inconvenience, as long as I staid there, or more than a quarter of an hour; perhaps because he had not yet fairly come out of the torpid state. It appeared to me that for a like reason men remain in their present low and primitive condition; but if they should feel the influence of the spring of springs arousing them, they would of necessity rise to a higher and more ethereal life.” (Henry David Thoreau, “Economy,” Norton Anthology of American Literature, p. 1002)

In “Economy,” Thoreau not only discusses the practical aspects of a man’s life, but also his spiritual state. In the passage above, he uses the metaphor of the striped snake to warn of man’s current degradation, while simultaneously offering hope for a future spiritual awakening. It is interesting to note that the animal he chooses is a snake, hinting at the form adopted by Satan when he tricked Eve in the Book of Genesis. In the Bible, the snake represented man’s greatest downfall: the quest for knowledge that led, ultimately, to the creation of modern civilization (and the capitalism and materialism that goes along with it). In Thoreau’s metaphor, the snake seems to represent man’s state since his exile from the Garden of Eden — asleep, languid, and not aware of the potential to find inspiration and simplicity in Nature.

Thoreau ironically refers to this state as “low” and “primitive,” even though it is a result of man’s modern society and the labor economy of America at the time of Thoreau’s writing. Although many would consider this society to be civilized and advanced, Thoreau views it as backward: man should only work for himself, not for others, and he should spend the time that he is not working in pursuit of independent thought and spiritual betterment, not in squandering one’s money on the latest fashions or luxuries.

A man who has not transcended the materiality of the world is thus considered to be “torpid” — that is, sluggish and bogged down in conventions. The solution, Thoreau posits, is for such men to experience the “spring of springs.” Here, he calls attention to the season often thought of as a time of awakening, both in terms of the flowers that bloom during the spring months and in a literary sense (e.g., Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales begins in the spring, a time of rebirth and a time to go on spiritual journeys). Moreover, the spring represents emersing oneself in Nature — or, at least, in the solitude and contemplation that transcendentalists found in natural settings.

Although Thoreau advocates going one’s own way, he draws on these traditional notions of spring as a time of vitality. When man leaves behind his materialism, he awakens to this higher world of self-realization, critical thought, and spiritual goodness shared by all humans at their core. Although Thoreau’s tone can sometimes be abrasive and jarring, it is sometimes also beautiful, with vivid imagery and hints at the lessons than man can learn if only he can shake off his complacency and view the world from a different perspective, like a snake shedding its old skin for something new.

18 April 2013

Study Break

So this week I've been doing some last minute studying for the GRE English Literature subject test that I'm set to take on Saturday. But in between, I've been listening to a new Florence and the Machine song from the soundtrack to the upcoming film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. And I've been watching the trailer. I'm interested in how many people are looking forward to the movie and how many aren't.I think it has a ton of potential, as long as one can accept that it's going to deviate from the book, which I can. I don't want to say too much before actually seeing the film, but I'll share my thoughts afterward.


11 April 2013

So I Missed Sibling Day Yesterday...

...but I still wanted to celebrate and thank God for my brother, so I'm posting this even though I'm a day late.

Although I tried looking through my Facebook for a photo of the two of us together, I couldn't find one, because he avoids appearing in pictures unless forced into a full-family snapshot. Even without a picture of us, though, I can call to mind some of the times we've spent together: playing with action figures, me watching him shoot things in early Rainbow Six computer games, listening to him talk in his sleep when we shared bunk beds, having board game nights in our basement, crying in his room when each of my relationships went sour, doing Insanity workouts......

I know that there were times I wasn't there when I should have been, and times I pestered him when he would have rather been left alone. And sometimes he's aloof and sometimes he's kind of mean and sometimes it seems like I'm the younger one and he's the older child--but no matter what, we'll always be siblings and I'll always love him with all my heart.

10 April 2013

On the View of Le Havre

The river, with its brushstroke foam
and deeper blues that hint
at tentacular monstrosity,
flagellates the golds and greens
of sailboat hulls that line
the port like crayons spilled
and put back in the wrong order

in front of the ships there ekes
blotted shapes (maybe canoes?)
and behind the soaring golden
Musee de Beaux-Arts
a gray obscured sky breathes
onto a faint outline of a city
seen from a wall of the inner harbor

for all the intricacies we cannot glimpse
in this impressionistic gaze
we substitute imagination.

View of Le Havre by Claude Monet

09 April 2013

Spring Swing

The longer one goes without writing, the harder it is to resume the practice as before. But now that I've started off spring with exercise and some time enjoying the gorgeous weather, I thought I'd revamp my blog (a little bit) and try to start posting at least semi-regularly again. Everyone has their own transition into spring, and I thought I'd share with you the song that is accompanying mine. It's an old favorite from the Hair revival that played on Broadway about two years ago, and it gets me smiling every time. If you've got some other inspiring tunes, please share them!

08 April 2013

Reconstruction Site

I am working on giving this blog an overhaul and then getting back into blogging regularly. Stay tuned.