Black Elk Speaks

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The biographical text indeed has a poetic flare (though not entirely) to it that comes across from the introduction onward, and can be seen in both Black Elk and John Neihardt’s speech and writing. For instance, Neihardt writes the following:

“Little else but weather ever happened in that country – other than the sun and moon and stars going over – and there was little for the old man to do but wait for yesterday (p.xxiii).”

 

And Black Elk’s normal manner of speech sings with the aged simplicity of wisdom and the colorful style of the long ago Indian, as seen in the following passages:

“What I know was given to me for men and it is true and it is beautiful. Soon I shall be under the grass and it will be lost (p.xxv).”

“I was born in the Moon of the Popping Trees on the Little Powder River in the Winter When the Four Crows Were Killed (p.7).” Continue reading

Henry David Thoreau: Walden

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During a writing course I attended the class was encouraged to give Henry David Thoreau a chance, and I set my mind to do so, but it did not take long to realize that may be a little more difficult than first imagined. Within the first several pages I got the impression that Thoreau was stuck on himself, captivated by his own voice, and yet, he seemingly contradicts himself more than the Emerson piece we dealt with earlier. For instance, he boasts about building his own cabin in the woods (a mere mile from his neighbors) and diligently surviving two years from the toil of his hands and the sweat of his brow, then he lambasts first the farmers for equal diligence in maintaining a plot of land for their homes, what he calls “a fool’s life” (7), then he targets the equally “foolish” strivings of most men, who, in his eyes, toil religiously with nothing to show for it. He says the “finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” (7).

Thoreau did make one statement early on that was rather profound. He said, “It is hard to have a southern overseer (referring to slave masters); worse to have a northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself.” But then, just when I wanted to give him another chance to impress me, he waxes poetic, but without common sense. He begins with the following statement: “No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof” (9). And he follows that with the adage “what’s true today may prove false tomorrow” (9), which is acceptable, but the use of “no” in the former statement stipulates an all-inclusive reality that inevitably proves the contention false, since various truths, once discovered, have been and still are handed down from generation-to-generation.

Furthermore, in an attempt to confirm his view, Thoreau seemingly digs himself a deeper ideological grave. He contends “old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new” (9), and claims, “I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from any seniors” (9). And he further states that they can never tell him anything of purpose.

I say that he who has not, does not, and cannot learn anything from others, especially elders, is a fool by all relevant standards. But I will continue through the text with the hope of finding something redemptive along the way. However, I do find that I enjoy reading Thoreau more when I cease efforts to ascertain his personal beliefs and simply enjoy his writing style and how he represents his Walden experiences. For instance, after buying a shanty for boards he recalls passing the family as they were leaving and says, “One large bundle held their all, — bed, coffee-mill, looking-glass, hens, — all but the cat, she took to the woods and became a wild cat, and, as I learned afterward, trod in a trap set for woodchucks, and so became a dead cat at last” (33). And when speaking of a neighbor visiting, Thoreau writes, “He was there to represent spectatordom, and help make this seemingly insignificant event one with the removal of the gods of Troy” (33). And I found his admiration of the cellar, the longest lasting section of the home in his eyes, better than the house above it oddly interesting. He states, “The house is still but a sort of porch at the entrance of a burrow” (34); which equally embodies the nature aspect he is expounding on.

Inevitably, I found Walden fairly enjoyable to read only after I skimmed over any of his futile attempts to be philosophical.

Writers and the Mental Health Connection

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The average American cannot reach adulthood without hearing about the tragic lives of several writers. John Berryman, Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, and Allan Ginsberg are favorites of the education system. Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and Edgar Allan Poe have a large media influence. For every famous writer who appears to have a Utopian existence there seems to be an equally talented writer who struggles with mental illness, cannot cope with life’s challenges, and meets a tragic end: often self-inflicted. The field of psychology is singularly interested in the connection between writers and mental health. A quick check at PsycINFO for academic papers related to “creative writing” or “creative writers” registered over 1100 hits: nearly half of those since 2000. The nature of many of those research papers was rather surprising. Instead of delving into areas such as childhood, alcoholism, and drugs they attempted to find a connection between the act of writing or creativity and mental health. This paper deals with the three primary connections between writers and mental health as viewed through the psychological studies: creativity and madness, mental health evaluation through a writer’s words, and the “writing cure” controversy. Continue reading

Magic and Mythology: Literary tools of Shakespeare

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Magic and a sense of the divine were often used by Shakespeare, though their use and purpose varied. An example of this variation can be seen when comparing The Winter’s Tale with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In The Winter’s Tale, the magical elements are presented more like an illusion, similar to a magician’s trick. And the incidents that are not illusionary are credited to the supernatural, primarily Apollo. Even while Leontes is half-crazed by his own suspicions he still seeks divine confirmation: “For in an act of this importance, ‘twere most piteous to be wild – I have dispatched in post to sacred Delphos, to Apollo’s temple – (2.1.181-183). And to boost the divine element there are several passages which allegedly illustrate supernatural characteristics or acts attributed to the divine. For instance, Cleomenes claims, “But of all, the burst and the ear-deaf’ning voice o’ th’ oracle, kin to Jove’s thunder, so surprised my sense, that I was nothing” – (3.1.9-10). The incidents primarily attributed to divine intervention occur after Leontes claims the oracle’s reply to be false. The death of Mamillius seems but a heartbeat after the false accusation, which is credited to Apollo by Leontes, who quickly begs forgiveness: “Apollo, pardon my great profaneness ‘gainst thine oracle” – (3.2.150). Yet, Paulina then brings word of Hermione’s alleged death as well. And, subsequently, the death of Antigonus and the boat crew are considered byproducts of the supernatural, for they are foretold by Hermione in Antigonus’ dream: “For this ungentle business put on thee by my lord, thou ne’er shalt see thy wife Paulina more” – (3.3.33-35). And in the same scene Clown tells his father how he saw both the ship “flap-dragoned” by the sea, and Antigonus killed by a bear. And yet, the most magical-like incident in the play comes by way of Paulina and Hermione’s 16-years of hide’n’seek, and getting the others to believe Hermione is a statue transforming back into the queen in the final act: “Music, awake her: approach; strike all that look upon with marvel; come; I’ll fill your grave up” – (5.3.99-101). This truly goes to show that suspending disbelief applies not only to the audience, but equally to the characters within the play.

By comparison, and unlike The Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream utilizes magic in abundance, and not like a magician’s illusion, but portrayed as actual power within the fantastic characters inhabiting the fairy realm. Thus, it is a substantial part of the theme: a parallel between the real and fantasy, and how both worlds fall into disarray when love is out of balance. However, the characters in the real realm, similar to The Winter’s Tale, portray a strong belief in the supernatural realm, though, for the most part, they cannot see it. We see an example of this when Hermia makes a promise to Lysander: “I swear to thee, by Cupid’s strongest bow” – (1.1.169). And confirmation to the reality of these characters follows later in the play. For instance, Oberon confirms the existence of Cupid within his realm when he recalls how Cupid missed a shot and the arrow hit a flower: “It fell upon a little western flower, before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound, and the maidens call it love-in-idleness” – (2.1.166-168). Puck, likewise, speaks of Cupid as a living entity within their realm: “Cupid is a knavish lad, thus to make poor females mad” – (3.2.440-441).

The fantasy realm, magical though it might be, and well able to use their powers to manipulate characters in the real realm, still find themselves plagued with problems. When Oberon and Titania show human-like emotions, both love and pride, it creates disharmony in nature: “Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain, as in revenge, have sucked up from the sea contagious fog; which, falling in the land, hath every pelting river made so proud that they have overbourne their continents” – (2.1.88-92). This event of nature out of harmony when Oberon and Titania’s love is equally in disarray parallels the upheaval caused to Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius; both through the prideful act of Egeus, and later, the magical mishap of Puck. Subsequently, when love is once more in harmony it appears to heal most ills, as if, and in this play, with the help of magic. Even Bottom, clearly the most ill-used by the fairies, from ass in action to ass in appearance, feels no animosity after being a pawn in their game. In fact, he feels blessed, as if awakening from a wondrous dream: “I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of men to say what dream it was” – (4.2.207-209). And yet, he still confirms the ass it made of him: “Man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream” – (4.2.209-210). However, dreaming is merely another plot to the play. After all, Shakespeare has Puck recite the following within the closing dialogue: “That you have but slumb’red here, while these visions did appear, and this weak and idle theme, no more yielding than a dream” – (5.1.427-430).