Coming to Pieces Like Snow

The golden girl with a golden dream

Longs for a time where love reigns supreme.

Her hopes are dashed; the milk’s been spilt,

The daisies and poppies slump over and wilt.

Her fingers clutching tightly to the sand in her palm

It’s slipping, it’s falling; it’s hard to stay calm.

Time’s run its course and left her in fragments

Revealing the odious stench of her heart’s own stagnance.

Toxic and green, her voice fills the void.

But nobody’s there; her dream is destroyed.

Brilliance fades to a glittering glow;

She’s finally coming to pieces like snow.

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The first line of the poem is taken from the fourth chapter of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece: The Great Gatsby when Jordan tells Nick about the tumultuous day before Daisy and Tom’s wedding. Apparently Daisy receives a letter and proceeds to get roaring drunk in a feeble attempt to mask her pain. The letter (who we can assume is from Gatsby) comes a little too late and sends Daisy into a tailspin before her extravagant nuptials to old-money playboy, Tom Buchanan.

“She [Daisy] began to cry—she cried and cried. I [Jordan] rushed out and found her mother’s maid, and we locked the door and got her into a cold bath. She wouldn’t let go of the letter. She took it into the tub with her and squeezed it up into a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap-dish when she saw that is was coming to pieces like snow” (Fitzgerald 76).

This poem is inspired by Fitzgerald’s Daisy. She is a complex little thing who has me sympathizing with her one minute and despising her the next. I think we all have a bit of Daisy in us (some sparkle brighter than others, truly revealing that not all that glitters is gold). Perhaps that is why she is so easy to love and, at the same time, so easy to hate.

3 Big Questions about Machiavelli’s The Prince

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This past week, I was doing a little light reading on the beach while on vacation. What’s lighter and fluffier than Niccolò Machiavelli’s political, philosophical page-turner, The Prince? Ok, so it’s not much of a beach read, but the teacher in me thoroughly enjoyed the lessons in humanities and theories of dictatorships. It is quite clear that he had an affinity for Cesare Borgia. Cesare embodies the virtu and prowess that Machiavelli praises in his treatise on ruling principalities. Not a chapter goes by without a mention of this infatuation and idolization of the late, great Cesare Borgia. Machiavelli’s man-crush aside, as I read through this short book about how to become a maniacal, deposit ruler (who is not hated but feared…I’m getting ahead of myself already), three questions kept surfacing in my mind:

1. Does the end always justify the means?

2. Is it better to be loved or feared? (see? I already answer it!)

3. Who holds the fate of the world: fortune, God, or both? And how does one gain favor?

Question 1: When total domination is at stake, does the end always justify the means? For the average person, the end does not always justify the means. Most people who live by this maxim end up pumping iron and learning new languages in prison. Just because you conned all those people out of their money via Ponzi scheme, doesn’t mean the long arm of the law won’t find you and lock you up courtesy of the hardworking taxpayers. But, things in Renaissance Italy were a little different than today’s view of morality and justice. So, again I will pose the question that was stewing in my mind this week as a I read The Prince: does the end always justify the mean? Machiavelli would shout a big “HELL, YES!” Here’s one of the many reasons why it’s ok to throw the rulebook out the window: “men are wicked and not prepared to keep their word to you, [clearly] you have no need to keep your word to them.” Basically, it’s ok to lie to liars. But, hold the phone! He also says in the same chapter a mere two paragraphs later, “a prince must be careful that no word escape his mouth that is not filled with the five qualities…mercy, loyalty, humaneness, integrity, and scrupulousness.” Hmmm, interesting, what about all that lying to liars business? Bipolar-much? Thus is the nature of this handbook on world domination.

Question 2: Ok, so I already hinted at where this is going, but if you’re reading this blog, you have probably read The Prince and know the answer to this question as outlined by chapter 17: as a ruler, is it better to be loved or feared? In this case, you probably cannot have your cake and eat it too. In Machiavelli’s perfect world, to be loved and feared at the same time would be the bee’s knees, but since Fortune is so capricious and God is so indifferent, you can’t have both. Sorry. Therefore, Machiavelli would suggest that being loved is not of importance to a prince or leader or ruler (what have you), but it is more important not to be hated. You might think that not being hated is reciprocal of being loved; however, it is not always the case. Really, Machiavelli is more concerned with the appearance of being loved. It’s all so political. It’s all a front. And really its all about control. As Machiavelli explains in chapter 18: “Everyone sees what you seem to be, but few experience what you really are” (my translation puts it: “but few feel what you are”). Princes should play “good cop” once they have gained their position (the gloves come off and hitting below the belt and other idioms about playing dirty are all acceptable while trying to obtain the title). He says in chapter 19, “Princes must delegate difficult tasks to others and keep popular ones for themselves.” Spoken like a true adviser to politicians. It is better to be “not-hated” and feared at the same time. He finishes his chapter on mercy versus cruelty with this poignant opinion: “Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I conclude that since men love at their own will and fear at the will of the prince, a wise prince [like the dreamy Cesare Borgia with a heart dotted on the i] must build a foundation on what is his own, and not on what belongs to others. At the same time, he must do all in his power to escape being hated, as I have already said [you stupid reader…don’t you get it yet? I already explained this!] At least that’s how I read it…he’s seems a little annoyed and exasperated that he has to repeat himself. I might be reading into it.

Question 3: This one’s a doozie! First, we need to define Fortune. For Machiavelli, Fortune is a fickle woman who needs to be beaten into submission. In chapter 25, nearly the end of his text, Machiavelli advises: “it is better to be impetuous than cautious, because Fortune is a woman, and if you wish to dominate her [and the rest of the world…think Pinkie and the Brain…sorry, I had to lighten the mood…it’s about to get real heavy; back to the quote] you must beat and batter her.” Wait?! What?! Beat and batter her…sounds about right for someone who idolizes the Borgia family. Machiavelli goes on to describe how one “dominates” Fortune: “It is clear that she will let herself be won by men who are impetuous rather than by those who step cautiously. Therefore, like a woman, she is partial to young men, because they are less cautious, wilder, and command her with great audacity.” Can you tell Machiavelli spent a lot of his time in the company of prostitutes? “Oh yes, I love being told what to do,” says the woman being paid to satisfy a man, “please beat and batter me until I capitulate and acquiesce to your demands. Gosh, I love a man who leaps before looking.” Sorry, my inner feminist just emerged…she hasn’t surfaced since college. But, while I’m on the subject, what’s the deal with men’s view of Fortune. Hamlet called her a whore…or rather, the more poetic term, “strumpet.” Either way, it seems that Nicco and Will got the short end of the stick one too many times and have immortalized Fortune as a fickle, in-need-of-a-good-beating, fawning harlot.

Where’s God in all this? Basically, according to Machiavelli, God did his thing with the Israelites back in the Old Testament times, and now he’s on sabbatical. We must take hold of our destiny/beat Fortune into submission, “for God does not want to do everything, lest he take from us our free will and that part of the glory that belongs to us.” Right! Because that’s what the omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient Creator of the entire cosmos wants…for us to get our “five minutes of fame”; that’s what it’s all about — our glory. Right! This is what happens when your BFF is Cesare Borgia.

On that note, I will conclude by assuring you that I do not hate Machiavelli or his theories. I do, however, see some flaws in his presentation to the Medici family via Lorenzo de’ Medici. Perhaps, as some have suggested, this pamphlet is all satirical. In which case, well played, Niccolò! The joke is totally on Stalin who used this as a “how-to” book; well, then maybe the joke is actually on us…

In all, The Prince was an interesting read and even more interesting to write about. What are your thoughts on Machiavelli and The Prince?

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Welcome to my happy place…a short analysis of a few seemingly simple lines from Dante’s INFERNO

Ok, so here’s another teaching post. The thing I love about studying and teaching English is the ability to look deep within the text and connect the smallest detail to a paramount theme that is shared throughout the history of humanity. Usually this comes out as the archetypal struggle of good versus evil. My honors sophomores are reading and analyzing Dante’s Inferno. Nothing like a light reading to end the year with, right?! Seriously though, I love reading and analyzing this book so much! Here is something I wrote today to show my students that we can take a few lines and write pages of analysis. The assignment they are doing does not require them to go so far; rather, they do a precursor-type assignment that reflects something I do with my AP seniors — the beloved, er, rather, dreaded lit device journal (screams of terror can be heard in the background — kidding!).  I won’t bore you with the details of the assignment, but I will bore you with my analysis from a few lines from Canto III (really it’s a word and two lines, good ol’ enjambement):

“Blind,/ like one whom sleep comes over in a swoon,/ I stumbled into darkness and went down” (Dante 3. 132-134).

At the end of Canto III in The Inferno, Dante faints just before he is ferried over to the various circles of hell. At this point in the narrative, Dante experiences extreme fear and pity for those who have fallen into sin and must be eternally punished in hell. Allegorically, Dante’s hell exemplifies humanity’s willingness to forego God’s grace and, in turn, embrace their depraved nature of sin. Dante comes to a crossroads quite literally and figuratively at the Acheron River; there he must employ Charon to ferry him over to the official circles of hell, where as they descend, the suffering and punishment increases to match the severity of the sin — a concept Dante refers to as “Divine justice.” Herein lies a spiritual dilemma: in order to accept the grace of God and become sanctified, according to Dante (and the Bible), man must hate sin and no longer be sympathetic to it, or he will continue to go down the path of the “dark wood,” which is laced with beasts of malice, fraud, violence, and avarice among other atrocities. Dante, at the sight of Charon and the great chasm of hell, faints, which shows his weakness and sympathy for sin and those suffering from its effects. This swooning also shows fear. As the Bible explains perfect love (Christ) casts out all fear. Dante, at this point in his journey, is still grappling with his fear and lack of Christ’s love in his (Dante’s) life.
It is quite fitting that Dante compares this swooning at the end of Canto III to that of a blind man overcome with sleep who then stumbles into darkness and descends. This simile expresses more than Dante’s prowess and ability as a writer (we will see just how highly he thinks of himself when we meet the classic writers and great thinkers of yore in Canto IV). Entering hell is unlike anything that we can experience on earth, so Dante is almost forced into using similes to express his terror as he descends into the inferno. Therefore, entering hell or crossing Acheron must be relegated to a comparison of what is known and relatable to the readers. It is like being blind. It is like falling into a deep sleep. It is like fainting. It is like stumbling into darkness and falling down.The simile of the blind man connects to the deeper message and theme of The Inferno and the underlying effects of sin — namely that it (sin) blinds us from the truth. Therefore, Dante must become blind in order to enter the horrors of hell, but the fact that he swoons at the sight of Charon and the bowels of hell informs the reader that he physically and spiritually needs to be “toughened up.” It is with a blind spirit and with blinded eyes that he must begin his descent into complete darkness. It is also important to note his specific diction in that he “stumbles into darkness.” It is almost as if he is shifting the blame of this occurrence — that this was not by choice but rather an accident or rather a byproduct or a direct result of this sudden blindness. With closed eyes and eventually a closed heart, he ventures into the dark abyss.

yesterday was blue, like smoke

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Yesterday was blue, like smoke.
We walked through the cloud
Of the unknown, the unseen:
Matters of hope and hopelessness,
Joy and sorrow, laughter and tears;
In order to find our true purpose.
From there, we awoke
To the dawning of the sublime;
Where stars shine like beacons,
Glittering the path where we break the yoke
To our past, to our struggle, to our unending night.
We are beckoned to the blaze, to stoke
The flame of red and orange and blue.
And the smoke fills this place and our lungs
With hope. Now we long for the day
When we will say: Today is this,
And tomorrow will be that.
This is what is true, this is what is spoke.

 


Background: The line “[y]esterday was blue, like smoke”comes from the absurd yet existential play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. This line is found at the end of Act 2 when Guildenstern and Rosencrantz discuss the change in season from summer to autumn. Rosencrantz remains on the surface with this conversation by only concerning himself with the fears of being cold in the fall and winter; whereas, Guildenstern immediately jumps to a deeper level by discussing the “browness at the edges of the day” and how “[b]rown is creeping up on [them]” as if he is completely aware that they are nearing the finality of their existence in the play (their proverbial winter). Meanwhile in the same scene, Hamlet converses with the soldier from Norway as the three schoolmates make their way to see the King of England with an official letter from the Danish King (which originally calls for the death of Hamlet; however, along their journey, Hamlet rewrites the letter to the King of England, which then calls for the immediate death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern).

Throughout the play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern vainly attempt to cope with the predetermined fate (via Shakespeare’s Hamlet) of their impending death. To universalize this notion, we can consider ourselves as characters in the play of life, and like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, we are all aware of the inevitability of our own demise. Yet, we soldier on through life and act as if it (death, our necessary end) weren’t completely true or applicable to us. We attempt to find meaning in this beautiful and tragic play of life.