Author Archives: Robin Bates

We Shall Not Look Upon His Like Again

Obama’s speech passing the baton to Hillary Clinton last night brings to mind a passage from “Hamlet.”

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Like Kane, Trump Lacks Substance

Why is “Citizen Kane” Donald Trump’s favorite film? Perhaps because he likes the way that the film glamorizes a narcissist like himself. We need to be careful about falling into this fascination, however. Such people make neither good journalists nor good presidents.

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Donald Trump as Citizen Kane

Donald Trump’s favorite film is “Citizen Kane.” Is he drawing on Kane’s campaign for governor in his demonization of Hillary Clinton?

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Stephen Gosson: Unhinged by Lit

Stephen Gosson, a 17th century Puritan and failed playwright, unloads virtually every poet revered in the 17th century. Though we dismiss his words today, they anticipated contemporary attacks on literature/

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Emily Dickinson’s “Smart Misery” of Doubt

Emily Dickinson struggled with religious doubt all of her life. Because she desperately wanted to belief, some of her poems show her faith being tested.

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The Mental Benefits of Forest Walking

Recent brain research notes that walking amongst trees is a powerful antidote to depression. Wordsworth knew this long ago.

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The Road Goes Ever On and On

Tolkien’s “The Road Goes Ever On and On” is a good poem for travelers returning home.

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Not Your Father’s Apple Cider

A visit to my cousins’ hard apple cider processing plant showed me that making the beverage has changed markedly since the days of John Keats and Robert Frost.

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The Tern from Turner, Maine

A fun poem about a liberated tern from Turner, Maine.

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Mustering Courage To Become Jane Eyre

I’m convinced that “Jane Eyre” helped give my great-grandmother the courage to leave her home and launch herself into the world as a governess.

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Stillness, One of the Doors of the Temple

The Biblical story where Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha can be read as an injunction to eschew busyness and focus on God. This Mary Oliver poem captures the spirit of such a lesson.

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My Great Grandmother Read for Courage

Reading over the memoirs of my great grandmother, I have been impressed by how reading literature helped her get through the hard times. The authors included Tennyson, George Eliot, Susan Warner, and Charlotte Yonge.

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Helms’s Attack on Marvell’s “Coy Mistress”

Tales of unexpected attacks against great literature: in 1966 Jesse Helms, later a rightwing North Carolina senator, attacked Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” for providing male students a chance to talk about erotic matter in front of female students.

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Tales of the Wayside Inn

A visit to the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts made me aware of Longfellow’s collection “Tales from the Wayside Inn.” Like Longfellow’s storytellers, I had a good time there.

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Toni Morrison’s Caution about Black Anger

The killer of the Dallas policemen is not unlike Guitar in Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon.” Through Guitar, Morrison shows how black anger is corrupted by violence. She also shows, through the novel’s protagonist (Milkman), how black resolve is stronger than anger and can soar above the earth.

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Homer’s Warning about Revenge Killings

What will it take to bring peace between police and black communities? Homer has a vision of such a truce at the end of “The Odyssey” but it may not be realistic.

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The Simple Creed: Man’s Duty to Man

This poem about the Good Samaritan by Australian working class author Henry Lawson depicts the Samaritan as a figure from the outback.

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Marriage & Tennis, One and the Same

Maxine Kumin’s poem “Prolhalamion” is at once a celebration of marriage and tennis. I share it today to honor Roger Federer, who continues to dazzle long past the expiration date for tennis players.

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Trollope’s Melmotte Anticipates Trump

Anthony Trollope foreshadowed Donald Trump in the figure of Augustus Melmotte in “The Way We Live Now” (1875).

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Be Skeptical of Shakespeare’s Skeptics

Recent evidence further confirms what most Shakespeare scholars believe: that Shakespeare wrote the plays ascribed to him. The Bard’s social anxieties, however, may have communicated themselves to the skeptics, who play out their own anxieties as they attempt to tear him down.

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Shakespeare Was Malvolio

Recent research shows how much of a social climber Shakespeare was. The knowledge gives us new insight into characters like Malvolio and Othello.

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July 4th: Boundless Chrysanthemums

Two poems about fireworks for Fourth of July.

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Break Your Fast with Joy

This Rumi poem celebrates the end of Ramadan, which occurs Wednesday. Drawing on stories that are familiar to Jews and Christians, he talks about the light that has broken in.

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Poetry Turns Prisoner’s Life Around

Reginald Dwayne Betts’s life was turned around when he encounter an anthology of African American poetry in prison. Today he is a graduate of Yale Law School and an accomplished poet in his own right. I share a poem written about Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot by Cleveland police.

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Workers of the World, Read! (Then Unite)

A “Washington Post” article argues that the arts are key in counteracting economic injustice. While this is true, the arts must be accompanied by smart politics to achieve this end.

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Envy, the Sin That Blinds

In this week’s poker essay by novelist Rachel Kranz, envy is described as the one deadly sin that gives no pleasure at all.

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Kipling Perfectly Describes Brexiteers

A “Guardian” article applies Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Dead Statesman” to those irresponsible politicians who brought about Brexit. The poem applies equally well to Donald Trump.

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With Brexit, UK Betrayed Spirit of Chaucer

Brexit violates everything that Geoffrey Chaucer, Britain’s quintessential poet, stood for.

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Footprints on the Sands of Time

Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life” quotes from today’s Gospel reading–“let the dead bury their own dead”–in ways that help illuminate Jesus’s message.

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America’s Dream: We Contain Multitudes

My Trinidadian daughter-in-law today becomes an American citizen. I welcome her with an excerpt from Whitman’s “Song of Myself” that contains multitudes.

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Bringing an End to Bernie’s Romance

The Democratic Party has been striving to let Bernie Sanders down slowly, even as it separates him from his dream. It is like the way upper crust society in Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence” separates the protagonist for the scandalous woman he has fallen in love with.

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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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