I majored in English in college, because I thought I wanted to write or whatever. Boy, did I learn a lot from all the white, dead dudes whose works stay with me until this day (well, except for post-modernist works. I still don’t know what that crap is). Here’s how I tried to relate to them to get me through 4 years of WASP-iness:
1. William Wordsworth, “Sonnet on Seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep at a Tale of Distress”
“SHE wept.–Life’s purple tide began to flow
In languid streams through every thrilling vein;
Dim were my swimming eyes–my pulse beat slow,
And my full heart was swell’d to dear delicious pain.”
I suppose this was that time in history when it was socially acceptable for women to faint from emotional exhaustion on the nearest possible chaise lounge while a white man does NOTHING but exploit her own pain to write a poem about it. I can dig that.
2. Robert Burns, “For a’ That and ‘That”
“The rank is but the guinea’s stamp”…
The honest man, though ever so poor/is king o’ men for a’ that”
Totally agree with your “dismantle the classist” system, Burns. I can just imagine myself in Restoration Scotland with my blue collar worker chums swinging sideways arm in arm, whiskey or scotch (am I talking about alcohol correctly?) spilling out of our cups while we sing this poem at the top of our lungs. A man is so much more than his money and an honest man is the true king of his land, his woman, his family.
“Hold on guys,” I say disrupting the swinging motion. “Can we say ‘a person’s a person for ‘ that and ‘that’? Just because the whole “man” thing isn’t really inclusive and I don’t know, I feel pretty equal to you guys. I’ve been working just as hard, putting in 12 hour days, tending to the kids, cleaning the house, cooking, and I’ve been pregnant like six times and that really takes a toll, and I’m just trying to do an honest day’s work. Now that we’re in the Restoration period of equality and all, can we include women in maybe one of these verses? Guys?”
3. Samuel Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
“The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
Yet he cannot choose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Mariner.”
Oh man the lengths Coleridge will go to not attend a wedding. A word of advice Samuel, just don’t go! It’s 1798. You will literally probably never hear from or see these people again. What are they gonna do, call you to ask why you weren’t there? What, you’ll get texts from the best man asking, “Bro, where the hell are you? The bride and groom are about to exchange rings!” Someone’s going to tag 8 of your mutual friends and people will be like, “Huh, weird that Samuel’s not in this picture. Was he even there?”? Just ditch!
4. Percey Shelley, “Ozymandias”
“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command.”
I think that traveller from the antique land is one of my people! Sure there’s nothing descript about him except that maybe he comes from an abandoned desert wasteland but it’s a start! REP-RE-SEN-TA-TION.
5. Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est”
“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
Yes, yes I agree, Wilfred Owen. It definitely is not sweet and right to die for your country. Or for the supposed liberation of another country. Even if that country does hate us for our freedom.
6. Robert Browning, “Porphyria’s Lover”
“That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.”
Out of all the poems I’ve had to read by white male authors, this is probably the one I relate to most. Sometimes you just want to kiss and strangle the person that you love so much, then write a poem about it because life is complicated for a white male and by no means should we judge your actions as misogynistic because you said you loved dear Porphyria and you’re like, 98% sure she didn’t feel a thing. A man’s a man for ‘at that and ‘a that!
7. Shakespeare’s The Tempest
“For this, be sure, to-night thou shalt have cramps,
Side-stitches that shall pen thy breath up; urchins”
“I must eat my dinner.
This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother,
Which thou takest from me.”
*silently cheers for Caliban through the entire play and writes all her essays analyzing Caliban’s methods for achieving liberation against the colonizer*
But yes, yes, power plays between Italian monarchs…very important to understanding sovereignty, yes, yes.
8. Anything written by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Not even going to bother with a quote.
Having grown up in California where it seems everyone is an immigrant, I was so ignorant about old money culture: visiting the Cape in the summer and grandfather clocks and trust funds. I owe all my old money education to Fitzgerald. It is because of him that when I visited the Harvard campus I went around pointing at clock towers and statues and courtyards and yelled “old money” at them.