Monthly Archives: December 2015

Each Sunrise Sees a New Year Born

Helen Hunt jackson looks with suspicion at New Year’s Day resolutions but then offers us a different way to see life transitions.

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Conservative Extremists as King Lear

In another significant post that appeared this past year, I compared GOP extremists to King Lear–more interested in self-indulgent behavior than in responsible governance. The result is a divided country at war with itself.

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Donne’s Warning about Climate Change

Looking back over the past year, I repost an essay on John Donne’s “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” and climate change denial. Given that 2015 has been the warmest year on record and that “the weather outside is frightful,” Donne’s comments about “moving of th’ earth” are only too relevant.

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“Emma” as Aid to Alzheimer’s Caregivers

A luminescent “New York Times” article explains how a woman used Emma to help her deal with her mother’s Alzheimer’s. Literature at such times does some very heavy lifting.

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Dostoevsky Explains Trump’s Appeal

Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor helps explain Donald Trump’s popularity: people want certainty more than they want freedom of thought.

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The Constellated Sounds of Bells

First Sunday after Christmas Sewanee, Tennessee, where I spend each Christmas, is a great place for bells and chimes. There is the 56-bell carillon in All Saints’ Chapel—once one of the largest in the world although probably no more—and the single Otey Parish bell. There are also the bells in Breslin Tower, which strike the […]

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A Season for Miraculous Breakthroughs

In this Scott Bates poem about Operation Breakthrough, the 1988 American-Soviet rescue operation that liberated three ice-bound gray whales, the possibility for international cooperation to save the planet is imagined. Were he still alive today, my father would be excited by the 2015 Paris climate accord.

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Our Christmas Owes Much to Walter Scott

While Charles Dickens can be credited with resurrecting Christmas, Sir Walter Scott paved the way in “Marmion” with his depiction of Christmas and pre-Christmas banquets.

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Beauty Amidst the Refugee Heartbreak

Adam Zagajewski’s beautiful poem “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” is particularly relevant at the moment with the tragedy of the Syrian refugees.

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When the Police Target Black Women

If 2014 saw police victimization of black men, 2015 revealed some police victimization of black women. Alice Walker’s “Color Purple” warned us about this decades ago.

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Trump as Yeats’s Rough Beast

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accuses Donald Trump of being the actual terrorist and compares him to Yeats’s “rough beast” in “The Second Coming.”

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The Stable Is Our Heart

Madeleine L’Engle alludes to “The Second Coming” in this Advent poem, which promises stability in the face of fear and lust for power.

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The Utterly Amazing William Blake

William Blake spoke to protesters in the 1960s but that is far from his only audience. A recent “New York Review of Books” articles surveys his greatness.

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Star Wars & Thousand-Faced Heroes

A poem by Katy Giebenhain about “Star Wars” shows the flaws of its Joseph Campbell roots. She notes that “the hero doesn’t get/through anything alone.”

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The Odyssey Speaks to Today’s Refugees

“The Odyssey” looked different to a literature teacher after he taught it to a class of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. Homer’s poem challenges us to open our own hearts to those fleeing persecution and war.

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Gaskell Novel Explains Trump’s Appeal

The anger of John Barton in Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1848 novel “Mary Barton” resembles the anger of many Trump supporters.

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Is Freedom More Powerful than Fear?

Obama in his Oval Office speech on terrorism said that “freedom is more powerful than fear.” Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor would beg to differ.

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Climate Hope Shines in Dark Times

Madeleine L’Engle’s 1971 Advent poem anticipates the gloom we feel today about climate change. Yesterday’s international accord, however–miraculously signed by 195 countries–gives us some glimmer of Christmas hope.

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Two Exam Poems To Lift Your Spirits

For students encounter end-of-semester pressure, here are two comic poems about exams. Laughter is an important resource for you at the moment.

Posted in Bevington (Helen), Browning (Elizabeth Barrett), Keats (John), Shelley (Percy), Townshend (F. H.), Wordsworth (William), Yeats (William Butler) | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Wild Turkey Sighting in Tennessee

After unexpectedly encountering a flock of wild turkeys, I had to share these three wild turkey poems.

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Lit Is Aristotelian Road to Happiness

Psychologists say that a strong sense of narrative identity can lead to the profound sense of happiness described by Aristotle. Literature helps us make sure we have available to us the best narratives.

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Criminal Case: Turkish Prez & Gollum

A character analysis of Gollum could determine whether a Turkish doctor goes to jail. This after he tweeted images of the Turkish president that resembled the film’s depiction of Gollum.

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Atwood’s Dystopias & the Gun Business

Margaret Atwood’s recent dystopian fictions capture how capitalism preys upon sex and fear. We don’t have to travel into the future as the gun industry is taking full advantage of our fears in the present.

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Once in Royal David’s City…

As I attended Sewanee’s Festival of Lessons and Carols, I was taken back to when I participated in the service as a member of the children’s choir and why I fell in love with “Once in Royal David’s City.”

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Conrad: Terrorism Not as Clear as It Looks

We all think we know what went on with the killings in Charleston, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino because they fit easy narratives. Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” should make us wary about jumping to conclusions.

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Climate Inaction Will Lead to a Dystopia

If we refuse to do anything to counteract climate change, we are doing grave injustice to our children and grandchildren. Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic fantasy “Riddley Walker” captures the selfishness that we would be guilty of.

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My College Owes Its Founding to a Novel

My college, St. Mary’s College of Maryland, is celebrating its 175th birthday this year. The school owes its existence to an 1838 novel, John Pendleton Kennedy’s “Rob of the Bowl.”

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Donne’s Lovers, Spooky at a Distance

Tuesday Adam Gopnik makes some nice literary allusions in a recent New Yorker essay-review of George Musser’s Spooky at a Distance, which is about the history of quantum entanglement theory. Entanglement, also known as non-locality and described by Einstein as “spooky at a distance,” claims that two particles of a single wave function can influence each other, even […]

Posted in Donne (John), Shakespeare (William), Trollope (Anthony), Wordsworth (William) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


  • 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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