Thursday, February 21, 2013

Invictus: The Undying Spirit of a Poem

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be 
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance 
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance 
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears 
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years 
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, 
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate: 
I am the captain of my soul. 

For my first Advanced Literature Oral Presentation, I chose this short Victorian poem by English poet, William Ernest Henley. Between this and Kipling's If, it was a hard choice. But, the language of Invictus appealed much more to me! It has been one of the poems that have touched me endlessly and inspired me for years.

Invictus is Latin for unconquered and undefeated. And that is the spirit of the whole poem-- the idea that you control your fate more than anyone else ever will.

The power of this poem can be seen through how it inspired Nelson Mandela in his 27 years in prison , in his rise from prisoner to President, in the South Aftican rugby team’s climb from national embarrassment to champions of the Rugby World Cup and in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to unity-- that despite all odds, despite all expectations, they took control of their destinies and came out victorious.

The last line reinforces the title-- it is man who makes decisions for himself. Until I decide to give up,  I shall remain invictus & unconquered.

Before I end, let me record down the titles of a few poems/works which my classmates presented:
All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter by Tolkien
Television by Dahl
Lolita by Nabokov (I must say, this is an interesting selection by Tianyi! I've read this novel and the language is gorgeously rendered, enough to give an artistic interpretation to an otherwise revolting act.)

I love lessons like this when I get to be introduced to many new interesting literature pieces from a vast selection of varying tastes and all ends of the spectrum. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

American Dream: Golden or Not?

Well, hello, here’s to my first entry in this Lit Journal!

This week, in class, our teachers gave the groups various context questions to delve into before we embark on deconstructing Death of a Salesman. I immediately snatched up the topic on “American Dream”.

To me, the American Dream is universal and transcendent, one that every global citizen and sentient human being (a phrase Mrs Westvik mentioned several times) recognizes and pursues. During research, my group chanced upon many pieces of literature that touch on the Dream, from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. 

Interestingly enough, this lesson ties in perfectly with what I’m learning in Advanced History right now. We are currently studying American history where articles like Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech underpin the ideals at the heart of the Dream— life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness.

However, it struck me that these ideals have grew outdated over time, with authors like Horatio Alger writing stories all containing the “rags-to-riches” plot trajectory, which highlights wealth as an affirmation of the Dream. I’ve read one of Alger’s novels, Luke Larkin's Luck, and reassuringly, it still does endorse the value of hard work and diligence in one's pursuit of the Dream.

I’m eager to explore more facets and interpretations of the Dream in future lessons! To end off this first entry, here’s a quote I chanced upon during my research from Grapes of Wrath,

“The last clear definite function of man—muscles aching to work, minds aching to create beyond the single need—this is man. To build a wall, to build a house, a dam, and in the wall and house and dam to put something of Manself, and to Manself take back something of the wall, the house the dam; to take hard muscles from the lifting, to take the clear lines and form from conceiving. For man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.”

So hard work seems to be an enduring message in many books concerning the American Dream, or maybe not?