Author Archives: Robin Bates

The Crushing Pain of a Heart Episode

Giles Corey from “The Crucible” came to mind when I started experiencing what felt like a heart attack. I’ve been admitted to Washington Hospital Center, but they now think it’s something less drastic (!).

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Handmaid’s Emmy, A Sign of Its Urgency

The Emmys signaled that “Handmaid’s Tale” is as relevant as ever as America’s misogyny deepens. So is Euripides’s “The Bacchae.”

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No Miss Havisham for Hillary

In her account of the 2016 election aftermath, Hillary Clinton resolved not to become a Miss Havisham. This is testimony to her depth of soul.

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Rosh Hashanah: How To Make It New

Spiritual Sunday – Rosh Hashanah Rosh Hashanah begins on Tuesday, giving me an excuse to share this stimulating poem by Rachel Barenblat, keeper of the wonderfully named Velveteen Rabbi blog. The Jewish New Year, as you probably know, celebrates the day of creation, and people take the opportunity to examine their lives over the past year and repent. […]

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Murakami Explains Lure of Fascism

Murakami’s “Wild Sheep Chase” helps explain why young men are drawn to fascism, as we saw in Charlottesville.

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What Our Favorite Books Reveal about Us

I am having my students compose personal reading histories. Freud provides a useful framework for exploring anxieties and wishes.

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Anger in Ancient Greek Works

A new book looks at how the ancient Greeks approached the issue of anger in works such as “Iliad,” “Ajax,” and “Hecuba.

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Worshipping Our Lord, the Dollar

Trump is a believer in prosperity theology, which made the news after a Houston pastor initially refused to do more than pray for flood victims. Tolstoy in “Resurrection” has choice words for such men.

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Irma as Milton’s & Dante’s Infernos

If one thinks of a hurricane “eye” as an anus, then the winds from hell take on a different resonance–especially when seen through Milton’s and Dante’s eyes.

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Prayer for My Granddaughters

As Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida after having devastated several islands, I find myself delivering up Yeats’s “Prayer for My Daughter.”

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Reasons to Read

Will Schwalbe, author of “Books for Living,” has a great list of reasons to read.

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DACA Kids, Back to the Shadows?

“Invisible Man,” with its protagonist moving in and out of shadows, is all too relevant as the Trump administration threatens to deport the DACA kids.

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Kingsolver Explains Climate Denial

Rush Limbaugh has been calling Hurricanes Harvey and Irma liberal conspiracies. In “Flight Behavior,” Barbara Kingsolver shows the dangerous impact of such pronouncements.

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What Tennis Meant to Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy picked up tennis late in life, even though at one point seeing it as symbolic of bourgeois decadence. A look at the novel “Resurrection” explains why he changed.

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“Find Work,” an Answer to Every Grief?

Rhina P. Espaillat captures the ambivalent nature of work in the poem posted for Labor Day. It can be ennobling but too much emphasis on it can rob us of our humanity.

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A Blessing We Cannot Begin To Fathom

Jan Richardson reminds readers not to offer facile rationalizations to those who have lost loved ones. She also reassures that the heart a “stubborn and persistent pulse.”

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Great Lit Changes Expectations Horizons

Hans Robert Jauss’s believes that great literature changes horizons of expectation whereas lesser lit simply confirms them. If “Madame Bovary” was brought to trial, Jauss says, it is because it charted a new course in literary history that people didn’t understand.

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Still Falls the Rain

As Hurricane Harvey pounds the Gulf Coast, Edith Sitwell’s poem “Still Falls the Rain” comes to mind. Sitwell was writing about the World War II London blitzkrieg, but the poem still applies.

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Clean Rooms, Despair of the Mind

Mary Oliver’s “University Hospital, Boston” captures my experience of having a friend in a hospital. Oliver understands the various ironies involved.

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Rachel Kranz, R. I. P.

When my best friend Rachel Kranz died yesterday. I turned to Shelley’s “Adonais” for comfort.

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Memorizing Poetry Is Good for You

Memorizing poetry is a powerful way to understand it. Unfortunately, the practice of doing so has fallen out of favor in schools.

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A Cradle Yet Shall Save the Earth

Mark Twain has fun in “Huckleberry Finn” with today’s New Testament reading, which is about Moses being discovered in “the bushrushers.” Victor Hugo also has a charming poem about the incident.

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Do You Believe in the Great White Race?

There’s a marked contrast between the nobility people claim for the Confederate statues and the young men swarming around them. Langston Hughes understood the contrast in his darkly humorous “Ku Klux.”

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Seeing the Beauty in an Invalid

As I sat by the hospital bed of a dear friend holding her hand, the well-known opening lines from Auden’s “Lullaby” came to mind:

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What Kind of Con Man Do You Want?

Gogol’s “Dead Souls” shows us two conmen, one who is a lot like our president, the other like various politicians (including Ryan, McConnell and Hillary Clinton). The boisterous and ineffective conman comes off better that the carefully calculating one.

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The Eclipse Brought 2 Poems to Mind

While watch the solar eclipse, I conflated two poetic passages, one from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” the other from “The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence.”

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Eclipses in Fiction

Two memorable times that fiction appears in fiction are in Mark Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and Hergé’s Tintin adventure “Prisoners of the Sun.”

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Trump’s Pastor Endorses Worldly Power

By suggesting to Trump that he bomb North Korea, Trump’s pastor sounds disturbingly like Satan tempting Jesus in the desert, as described by Milton.

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Gogol’s Guide to Traveling

Friday I’m driving back to Maryland from Tennessee today and so have chosen a passage on traveling from Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls, which I’m listening to at the moment. I myself won’t have the same experience as Gogol’s traveler since I can’t lean back and fall asleep. Nevertheless, the passages reminds me of traveling by […]

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Tolstoy on Resisting a Narcissist

If Trump is like Napoleon in Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” can he be defeated by popular resistance, as he is in Tolstoy’s novel?

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Obama Was Invisible to White America

A Salon article explores how some of white supremacism’s rise can be traced to rage over having had a black president. Quoting Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” it makes the case that the right couldn’t really see Obama.

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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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