Monthly Archives: February 2010

Poets Helped Shape Modern Olympics

Sports Saturday I am adding a new feature to Better Living through Beowulf, which I am calling Sports Saturday.  If you wish to see all of the website’s posts on sports and literature, click on “sports” in the tag cloud. Once again the mesmerizing spectacle of the Olympics has descended upon us as we watch […]

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Should Death Be Proud or Not?

John Donne               Last December, in writing on Margaret Edson’s play W;t, I noted that I didn’t think John Donne’s famous sonnet “Death Be Not Proud” would be very useful in helping someone handle death.  (The dying Donne scholar in W;t doesn’t turn to it.)  Since then, a friend pointed out that John Gunther’s 1949 book […]

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So We Should Read Standing Up?

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about already, recent studies have bad news for book readers. Apparently excessive sitting puts us “at increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and an early death.” Here’s an article on the subject. Book lovers would agree that there are few pleasures in […]

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Dragons in the Senate

 In yesterday’s post, I talked about how current gridlock in the U. S. Senate reminds me of the intractable problems that confront King Hrothgar in Beowulf.  Grendel, I said, is the spirit of fratricidal rage that sets colleagues against each other and brings activity in the great hall of Heorot to a halt.  Upon further reflection, […]

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King Hrothgar Stymied by Congress

McConnell, a modern-day Unferth?             What are we to make of the gridlock in the United States Senate these days and the refusal of Republicans and Democrats to cooperate to address the nation’s ills?  (In my partisan view, columnist Thomas Friedman is right when he accuses Republicans of never having been more irresponsible, but feel free to […]

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Huck Finn vs. CBS in the 1960’s

Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain         This past Friday was the 125 anniversary of Huckleberry Finn, a book that packed a wallop when it came out in 1885 and has continued to be controversial ever since.  Last May I wrote a series of posts on Huckleberry Finn, including on its importance to me as a child […]

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Beowulf into the Sports Blogosphere

The Super Bowl has come and gone and, although my team lost, I appreciate the fact that the American city most in need of a boost received one. Before the football season entirely fades from memory, I want to share the story of my incursion into the sports blogosphere and how I carried the torch […]

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Without Literature, We’d Die Like Mad Dogs

Kurt Vonnegut I have heard people sing the praises of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle for years so I used the occasion of one of our snow days to read it. Vonnegut once had a cult following and perhaps does so still.  I’d love to hear an update from a Vonnegut fan. While I wasn’t blown […]

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Ignoring Books–Another Way to Burn Them

Read, reflect, act.  That is my vision for how we should respond to literature.  Therefore I was pleased to see a version of this advice appearing in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  I’m reading Bradbury’s dystopia because I will be leading a discussion of it tom0rrow as part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big […]

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Sarah Palin and All the King’s Men

The political world seems to be agog over Sarah Palin these days, with Joel Klein of Time and  David Broder of The Washington Post, two columnists I respect, telling us to take her very seriously.  This has got me thinking of fictional populists, especially Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men (1946), one of […]

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The Light that Came from Lucille Clifton

I have just heard about the death of poet Lucille Clifton and I still can’t wrap by head around the news. Even as I write this sentence, the opening paragraph of a story by James Baldwin (whom Lucille knew well) comes to me: I read about it in the paper, in the subway, on my […]

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The Kafkaesque World of Cancer

Tony Perkins in Welles’ The Trial               I ran into my friend Alan in the gym on Monday.  As I have reported in a number of past posts, Alan has been battling tumors in both lungs that continue to baffle doctors.  At least one doctor predicted that he would be dead a […]

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Earth, Love, Birches, and Ice Storms

I promised this post on Robert Frost’s “Birches” in the event that we have an ice storm.  I don’t know yet whether we will have one, but we had frozen rain for much of the night, and as I write this (Wednesday morning) we are being attacked by a blizzard.  So if I don’t arrange […]

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Gripped by a Mind of Winter

Snow is pounding us for the third time in two weeks and classes once again have been canceled.  Significantly enough, I have been forced once again to postpone Midsummer Night’s Dream.  “Where are the songs of spring?  Ay, where are they?” queries Keats (although he’s asking from the vantage point of autumn, not that of […]

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Snow Days Open Up Cracks in Time

An unusually heavy snowstorm has locked us into our homes these past few days, cancelling my Monday classes and locking down the county. Years ago, in an essay I’d love to find again, an author wrote about the “found time” of a snow day.   She noted that, because we normally believe we must make every […]

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Win or Lose, Turn to Beowulf

Drew Brees, Super Bowl MVP     A few years back, if I remember the article correctly, I came across two interesting statistics about life in America on Super Bowl Sunday.  During the game the country’s crime drops to the lowest level of the year. Following the game, however, acts of spousal violence hit their highest levels of […]

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Bread (Pretzels) and (Super Bowl) Circuses

      Bread and circuses.  That was the accusation of the Roman satirist Juvenal, directed against those politicians who used free bread and gladiatorial contests to divert the populace’s mind from their political responsibilities. Today our diversions continue to occur in coliseums and arenas.  I plead guilty to having been so diverted.  These past […]

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Quarterback Poems for Inspiration

When I was a child, my father used to read us poems from a wonderful poetry anthology called Some Haystacks Don’t Even Have Any Needle, edited by Stephen Dunning. Two of the poems were about quarterbacks, which seems appropriate for this Super Bowl week given that the top two quarterbacks in football will be playing. […]

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Beowulf and Rifts within the NFL

Roger Goodell, a Beowulf or a Hrothgar?       While football joy currently reigns supreme in Miami, dark clouds loom on the horizon (to use a hackneyed metaphor).  Even as more people than ever are watching football, the owners are unhappy with the current players’ contract and want them to take an 18 percent salary cut, along […]

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Coach James Caldwell, English Major

Colts Coach James Caldwell  It appears that football will continue to occupy this website until the actual playing of the Super Bowl ends our annual week of collective hysteria and allows us to move on to other subjects. (Of course, as a Colts fan I am more hysterical this year than others.) Today I’m going […]

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Colts Football Doggerel Annotated

Pierre Garcon after the Colts’ conference title win I promised an annotation for my weekend piece of doggerel in praise of the Indianapolis Colts so here it is. And while I’m focusing on such poetry, let me mention a similar endeavor that my cousin Dan Bates undertook in praise of the Boston Red Sox of […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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