Monthly Archives: November 2011

Read Blake, Stand Up to Your Boss

Businessman David Whyte turns to poetry to hold on to his soul in the corporate world.

Posted in Blake (William), Rilke (Rainer Maria) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fired by Happy Valley, JoPa Is No Aeneas

Just as Rasselas questions Samuel Johnson’s Happy Valley, so do Penn State students find themselves questioning their own Happy Valley after the child abuse scandal. Coach Joe Paterno admired Aeneas, and many feel abandoned like Queen Dido.

Posted in Virgil | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crowd Intoxication and the Call of the Gods

Athena visiting Odysseus at a critical point in battle represents the sort of intuitive decisions that we associate with great athletes and geniuses.

Posted in Homer | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

The Intrusion of an Overwhelming Joy

Advent is a time for waiting and listening for a message from God. Jarman describes having once experienced it and feeling driven to find it again.

Posted in Jarman (Mark) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Democrats Refuse a Deal You Can’t Refuse

The Congressional Supercommittee failed to arrive at a plan to lower the deficit because the Republicans approached negotiations offering (like Michael Corleone) “not even the fee for the gaming license, which they’d appreciate if Democrats would put up personally.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Most Delicious Feast Ever Served

For a description of a luscious Thanksgiving feast, turn to the luncheon that Eve prepares for Archangel Raphael in Book V of “Paradise Lost.”

Posted in Milton (John) | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Bartleby, A Story of (Occupy) Wall Street

Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener” has been adopted by a number of the Occupy Wall Street protesters but, according to one commentator, the story works as an ironic commentary on the movement.

Posted in Melville (Herman) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A Poetic Skylark & an Introspective Snake

Two Scott Bates animal fables cast a skeptical eye on idealists seeking a transcendent truth.

Posted in Bates (Scott) | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Among Reread Authors, Jane Austen Is #1

Readers often reread Jane Austen to reassure themselves that order can be found in a chaotic world.

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Tagged , | 1 Comment

A Paradise within Thee, Happier Far

By the end of “Paradise Lost,” John Milton has discovered a powerful response to suffering.

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If Indiana Jones Raided Iran . . .

The scene in “Raiders of the Lost Arc” where Indiana Jones defeats a sword-twirling antagonist by shooting him articulates a fantasy that most of the Republican candidates for president are indulging in as they discuss Iran’s nuclear bomb ambitions.

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Jane Austen & My Son’s Secret Wedding

A secret marriage entered into by my son Toby could have been taken straight out of Jane Austen’s “Emma.”

Posted in Austen (Jane) | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The Perfection and Poetry of Tyrants

W. H. Auden’s chilling “Epitaph on a Tyrant” matter-of-factly shows the deadly but seductive simplicity that characterizes dictators like Qaddafi and Assad.

Posted in Auden (W. H.) | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mitt Romney, an American Podsnap

Charles Dickens has a character who resembles Mitt Romney when he states that he believes in American exceptionalism while Barack Obama doesn’t: John Podsnap in “Our Mutual Friend.”

Posted in Dickens (Charles) | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Lit, an RX for Fanaticism?

Israeli author Amos Oz believes that literature can provide “a partial and limited immunity to fanaticism.”

Posted in Gogol (Nikolai), Kafka (Franz), Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Honor Your Gifts and Patiently Wait

Rather than lament the loss of the his eyesight–and therefore potentially his writing–in “On His Blindness” John Milton resolves to accept the new road laid out for him.

Posted in Milton (John) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

A “Greatest Generation” Vet Reflects

World War II vet Scott Bates remembers the war far differently from the images we have of it–not as heroic but as “people surrounded by dying men.”

Posted in Bates (Scott) | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Quick Note on Rick Perry’s “Oops”

Rick Perry’s “oops” moment in last night’s Republican debates brings to mind a passage in a Tom Stoppard play.

Posted in Stoppard (Tom) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Paterno’s Rapist Associate and Mr. Hyde

“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” warns us that we are in danger of becoming monsters ourselves if we don’t hold on to our humanity when responding to monsters like alleged child molester Jerry Sandusky, close associate of Coach Joe Paterno.

Posted in Nabokov (Vladimir) | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Love in the Time of Cauliflower

The blog “Hairpin” came up with the a series of book titles which, altered slightly, becomes delicious food puns.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Reading Too Much into a Lover’s Words

A friend scrutinizing the language used in a conversation with her not-quite-boyfriend reminded me of the hypersensitive Faulkland in Richard Sheridan’s play “The Rivals.”

Posted in Sheridan (Richard) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Spurned Lover’s Revenge Fantasy

A recent Kinsey study reporting that men prefer cuddling and women prefer sex got me thinking about John Donne’s strange “you’ll be sorry” poem “The Apparition.”

Posted in Donne (John) | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Wilt Thou Forgive My Sin of Fear?

Donne’s last question is whether God will forgive Donne’s lack of complete faith in Him.

Posted in Donne (John) | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s the Pictures that Got Small

Watching movies at home makes them something other than movies.

Posted in Fielding (Henry) | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Cardinals’ Victory Invokes Mythos of Spring

St. Louis’s improbable World Series victory corresponds to the mythos of comedy as described by Northrup Frye. Comedy’s improbably reversals symbolize the escape of life from the clutches of winter.

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Captain Ahab, a Tyrant for All Seasons

Nathaniel Philbrick describes “Moby Dick” as a “metaphysical survival manual” which helps us understand the nature of tyrants.

Posted in Melville (Herman) | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Qaddafi Died Like Macbeth, Richard III

As Shakespeare understood with Macbeth and Richard III, narcissistic dictators like Qaddafi are so obsessed with control that they think they can stage manage their own deaths.

Posted in Shakespeare (William) | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments


  • 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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