Squeeze It.

There is an inexplicable, intermittent squeezing within me, almost as if I’m being wrung dry; it occurs at a point beyond my sternum but seemingly right beneath the surface of my chest.  It’s a heart with a lost beat, a soul with no whisper, a mind lost in a vacuum of silence.  Of course, I don’t surprise myself when I describe my feelings as if they were magnified to a stage beyond the actuality of circumstances; nothing inspires a writer as much as talking about himself, after all.

Sometimes my thoughts drift to times past, and the bite of it all digests rather poorly, and so, I dig.  I humbly inter my heart’s murmurs and sighs in a grave of silence, but I dutifully pay my respects every so often.  How we treat the dearly deceased – we are caught between remembering them and allowing them to be at peace where they are.  Never quite sure of how to approach the topic, perhaps we skirt around the topic until we are struck by nostalgia, cheeks smarting from tears and from shame at forgetting.  So we continue to tread the tightrope of both stifling and indulging in the poignant moments of our lives, the vignettes that provide the yawning spectrum of emotion within the roll of super 8mm we’re forced to sit and watch.

There’s a calling of sorts to keep a stiff upper lip when these moments occur; after all, what does it matter in the grand scheme of things? There are surely many more experiences to be had, and this next travail is but a trifle in light of the coming sorrows of this life.  Yet why should we compare woes to tragedies?  Is it not enough to take each circumstance at face value, to give it its due share of mourning, and hope to grow and move past it? Must we now trivialize our shared experiences in expectation of greater miseries to come?

Whether or not this is the reality of the world we’ve constructed, I’ll have no part in it.  I know what brings me joy.  Better yet, I know who brings me joy.  In Christ, I’ve found my entire portion and my entire love…so why is it that I feel, from time to time, a longing after something else? There is a yearning in my heart for other things on random occasions, and echoes of uncanny voices calling out for the desired unknown. And yet, the Lord is gracious enough to remind me of my flesh’s weakness in these moments, and He provides me with songs of worship through which I am able to turn my eyes once again to all that I am secure in.  It is exhausting, but though the flesh is weak, the spirit is willing – praise the Lord!  As I pray to extract myself from such wanderings, may the Lord continue to be gracious in enabling me to pursue His will.  And so, even as I shout in the well of my soul for the Lord to remove the veil from me, I do well to just as passionately be silent before Him and soak in the sweetness of His presence. The burden has been lifted.

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Crunchatize Me.

*Note: This was taken from my old blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” which has since been deleted.

I just ate not one, but two of the best bowls of cereal I’ve ever had.  And you know why they were so milk-slurping, sigh-of-relief loosing good?  Nostalgia.

Back when I was a wee little lad who dumped bowls of cereal into the toilet when I either didn’t like the cereal or didn’t want to finish it, cereal was always a bit of a hit or miss.  I knew what Rice Krispies Treats were like, but I was in for the most unpleasant surprise of my life when I decided to opt for the Rice Krispies cereal.  Expecting bits of puffed rice swathed in the most delectable of marshmallow cremes, I was met with individual, non-glazed, bits of rice that strayed so far from sweet that they were almost counted savory.  It was a mortifying experience after I ate my first spoonful, only to realize I had an entire box of this nightmare-inducing breakfast option left.  Ever since that first experience of Rice Krispies, the appetite for the cereal has eluded me.

Living in my household, any food that was colored (read: anything that was American) was denied me due to the artificial food colorings in the food.  This being the case, rare was the occasion when the Captain would visit my pantry.  It was always a party when the Captain was around.  Before a healthy infatuation with the physique of Captain America à la Chris Evans, it was Cap’n Crunch who stole my heart. Whether it was the sweet taste of Original Crunch, or the festively-colored Oops! All Berries, the Cap’n greeted my palate with a pleasant crunch (although I personally favored my cereal a bit soggier than crunchy, but not to the point of dissolving) and a bright blend of berries and buttery breakfast fare.

Today’s bowl of cereal brought all of that childhood cheer back into my life.  Rarely one to eat breakfast nowadays,  I remembered the joy and anticipation that came with hearing Cap’n Crunch tinkle into a glass bowl, gallon of milk ready on the side.  Something about the chill of the milk in tandem with the crunch and flavor of the cereal produced a shiver of recognition back to a time when life was simpler; Saturday morning cartoons were still a thing, and breakfast was a daily routine, since thirteen, a chubby fellow on the scene (sorry Biggie).  Anyhow, as I tipped the bowl into my mouth to finish off the colorfully specked remains of udder water, I happily reminisced on youth, and how nice it is that we’ve never quite left it behind us, even when we think we have.

The Grapefruit.

*Note: This was taken from my old blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” which has since been deleted.

So, today after a warm family meal – we had hot pot – my parents and I decided to partake in some citrus fruits for dessert.  We split a pomelo betwixt the three of us, and we proceeded to sample what intricate flavors it would present us with.  At first, expectations of “sour,” “bitter,” “grapefruity,” swirled around in my mind, but once my taste buds oriented themselves, I was met pleasantly with “sweet,” “orangey,” and “mildly bitter.” After we murmured with citrus-filled mouths about how it was much better than expected, we moved swiftly to devour the lot of it.  However, there was another, LARGER, grapefruit that lay in store, and apparently it was retrieved from the harvests of…somewhere around home church.  To the eye, it looked appealing, but on the inside, we had yet to find out.  My mom commented every now and then about how it looked nice and that it must be pretty good given its size and how it looks.  My dad retorted with looks mean nothing in the universe of fruits (okay, perhaps that had a little more panache than the actual statement, but it’s fairly close).  I watched as the mild taste of soap lingered on my tongue from the first fruit, like a numb bitterness that is tucked away in the back of the mind; it was like the white noise of the taste bud realm.  My parents eventually began talking about how horrible the fruit was, and my dad remarked that it tasted of gasoline, but he continued to finish the piece despite my mom’s frantic exclamations persuading otherwise.  I decided to join in on the fun, and I was met with something that threw my taste buds awry.  The first taste of the fruit seemed almost savory, and then the bitterness began to kick in exponentially, ultimately landing me somewhere between jet fuel and dank memes.  We all ended up laughing about how terrible the fruit was, and it proved to be an interestingly positive way to end such a negative corporeal occurrence.

In some way, that grapefruit might be me. Kidding, this was just an attempt to slowly inch my way back to writing more consistently; those types of absurd reflections on parallels shall come eventually! It’s nice being back, and it’s nice not having finals 🙂

Knowing God.

*Note: This was taken from my old blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” which has since been deleted.

Coming fresh off of winter retreat @ CAIW, I think it’d be nice to write down a few thoughts before the post-retreat excitement settles.  This retreat, perhaps more than any other, left me with a sense of it being a very necessary retreat.  The theme of the retreat was “Knowing God,” and the theme verse was Hebrews 8:10-11, which says: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.”  I guess all I really want to do at this point is list a few points that I really enjoyed, and maybe ramble on a bit more after having done so…

  1. The death we died upon Adam eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a spiritual death; as such, that death that occurred once sin entered man denied us the ability to have fellowship with God, as we would no longer be beings of spirit as He is; however, He provided His Son that our dead spirits would be made alive again.  I guess this point was refreshing because I feel like it appropriately clarified the death mentioned in Genesis while creating a new way for me to view the Gospel story, including the aspect of spirit into the narrative.
  2. Be an Ananias if you can.  Ananias was praying, and received direction to go seek out Saul, who was praying on his own. The Lord gave specific instructions to Ananias about where to find Saul and what He was going to do through Saul’s life. However, the important thing is that Ananias was waiting for the Lord in prayer, which led to him getting this charge from the Lord.  He was also able to talk to the Lord and voice his concern about following the Lord’s command, which is something that is worth striving for – reaching a point where we can voice our concerns to God, but still be open to His leading.
  3. Philippians 3:7-8, 10 is an internal response to what happened in Acts 9 to Paul.  Paul had many things going his way in regards to his education and his position within society, and yet, at the moment of his conversion, he saw that knowing Christ was worth so much more than knowing about Christ.  He no longer persecuted the believers, but endured persecution alongside them; once pride of his position, he called himself less than the least.  This was the fruit of knowing the value of Christ.
  4. With regards to knowing the Holy Spirit, the example in Exodus 16:1-4 shows that Egypt is perhaps how we were before we were saved, and the flesh desire is for captivity while the spirit leads to freedom.  Being free is really difficult (they didn’t have water or food, it was hot, etc.), and the wilderness is when the Israelites learned to be free.  With Cain and Abel, we see that the desire to serve the Lord may come from the flesh, but the flesh is wrong; nevertheless, we see how the flesh’s first instinct is to kill the Spirit (Cain kills Abel). Learning to live by the spirit is learning to not desire the immediate confirmation of what we’re doing – it involves quieting ourselves and making space for the Lord.
  5. The central matter of the Lord’s Table is that Christ died for us.  Therefore, don’t treat the Lord’s Table lightly – Matthew 26:26-30 gives back up for this practice.  The reason for us bringing our own portion to the Lord’s table is that we are all part of one loaf; God has no need for any of our portions, but just as we wouldn’t come empty-handed to a dinner hosted by President Obama, so too should we treat – to an obviously greater degree – the Lord’s Table; it is the idea of the Lord not needing anything from us, but us bringing the gesture of bringing what we have to Him.
  6. Consecration comes from love.  Joshua 24 shows essentially the entire process of consecration; we need to be reminded of what the Lord has saved us from to produce the response of love for the Lord and a desire to be consecrated to Him.  Consecration is both a one-time declaration, as in Joshua 24:15 (“…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”), but it is also an ongoing process of making that love-inspired choice to be consecrated to the Lord.
  7. Pressing on in our faith, as spoke of in Philippians 3:12-14, involves both looking inward, seeing our sin and shame, but also looking upwards at a loving Father; we press on knowing that there’s a goal and that there’s a prize: knowing Him.  We want to know Him because He loved us so much, and our pressing on is conforming to God’s design for us – it is not so much an active effort on our part as it is a participation in Christ being the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Really hoping 2016 brings about a fresh urgency in my faith, and a greater expectation of the reality of Christ’s return!

Apprehension.

Will my love meet me there

On the top of the mountains, beneath

the sky of his grace?

Will he receive

my worship and provide a quiet place?

How will he know what words to say

how will he capture my heart each day?

Will I be enthralled for moments

fleeting,

only a soul-moving thrill

I’m seeking?

O Lord, have mercy on

my self-wise thoughts.

You are my glory, you are my stay

I am but night that you’ve turned into day.

May I mind you more than I mine myself

for diamonds, where none are

found. In you I hope, and to you I look –

there is a sound.

And so I strain my ears,

Listening.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

The Little Boy.

*Note: This was taken from my old blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” which has since been deleted.

The man walked along the partially wet sidewalk, sheltered from the drizzling rain by the canopy just above the liquor store.  He stared down at the ground, mind blank and yet processing. He mulled over the death, sifting through his personal reaction to it all.  The rain beckoned for a safe haven, and so into the liquor store he went.  Half mentally present, he proffered a half smile and a swallowed hello before proceeding to look at the various elixirs that stood before him, an ever-present army of vigilant soldiers waiting to be ordered, braving the jarring cold.  “Not strong enough” was the verdict on these soldiers, and so he drifted quietly to the counter, measuring his every step in silence before marking the options that were shelved behind the store clerk.  Between his old friend Morgan and the clear gin, he settled decidedly on the Johnnie Walker, hoping it wouldn’t take long for him to feel and forget in its warmth.  He asked the clerk for the Black Label, and he reached into his back pocket for his wallet to reimburse the apothecary.  Upon holding the neck of the bottle, he turned to leave and stepped into a memory.  He had been playing with his father’s mug, not realizing that there was still coffee in it, and the lukewarm liquid came spilling out over the brim, onto the freshly ironed white shirt that had been prepared for work.  His father turned the corner just as it happened, and he remembered seeing his father processing the scene.  He began to try and use tissues to wipe up the coffee, but it wasn’t working; the shirt was just brown.  His father picked him up and smiled at him, telling him that this was why we didn’t play with Daddy’s cups, and then he took the shirt to the bathroom and tried to get the stain out as soon as he could.  The stained shirt sat soaking in bleach as his father went to iron a sky blue shirt in its stead.  His father hurriedly put on the blue shirt and said goodbye to him and his mother, leaving for the day to go to work.  All that he remembered next was his father coming home, staring a thousand miles beyond everything that he looked at, and crumpling into the dining room chair, elbows on the table, hands in his hair.  His mother saw this and went to comfort him, saying that it was going to be okay and that he would get back on his feet.  His father had nothing to say, and he went to the glass cabinet and took out the big glass bottle with the caramel-brown water inside, and he poured it into a little cup.  He drank, poured again. Drank, poured again. Drank, poured again. Drank.  His father was never the same after that day, and when he didn’t come home one night, the little boy cried.  He cried knowing that it was his fault Daddy didn’t love him.  He cried because he didn’t know what he was doing that made Daddy so upset.  He cried because he never before had to hope Daddy would come home.  The little boy cried then, and as the man stepped back out into the rain, the little boy cried now.

All I See.

*Note: This was taken from my old blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” which has since been deleted.

I once heard a story about a fall from glory

a prince become slave whose end was kinda gory.

Young genius shown at the age of twelve

and into his dad’s work did he choose to delve.

All by himself with the teachers of the temple

showing them miracles and the God they resembled.

He was the best man at a later wedding

Turning water into wine and guest’s lips he was wetting.

But this great man encountered teachers who had floundered

each speaking against him, man it was a downer.

So downward he descended into this realm of mortal beings

Speaking of the great things that he himself was seeing.

Soon twelve friends appeared at his side asking

for more of his glory, for in it they were basking.

They were not full in wisdom but had hearts to follow

Little did they know he was a man full of sorrow.

In that final hour, he took his last breath full of power

and with his sacrifice did upon humans shower

blessings incomprehensible and somewhat invisible

rising three days later, he proved to be invincible.

A gospel to spread, he now sought out his friends

who each had a strong message to send

in the form of letters and addresses

telling of God’s Son and how He blesses.

Their message reaches out now to modern ears

blessed are they who receive what they hear.

I see a world plunging deep into darkness

devoid of true life and full of dread starkness.

With reason they combat the invisible truth

with all the fibers of their arrogant youth.

But that which is seen is made from that which is not

so put away all the battles you have fought.

Redemption at hand yet it is casually dismissed

the world wreaking havoc with religion as a cyst.

But to follow the Son is not even close to religion;

it’s the cause of a spiritual decision.

Labeled blind for trying to seek out the righteous,

I pray for the world should it try to incite us.

Blind? Nay, merely looking with split vision

as I admire the works of God and His solitary mission:

He came not to judge but seek and save those who were lost

yet it is hard to do when they don’t believe in the cost.

The price of your life is worth more than you think

from the shirt on your body to the rock on your ring.

Your life was paid for in full by pure, untainted blood

a love everlasting and mercy that does flood.

Dismount from your throne of “knowledge” and look God in the face

for it is then when you will know the truth of your deservéd place.

Many Views of a Metro Station

*Note: This was taken from my old blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” and it was written for my English 104A class.

 

Many Views of a Metro Station

            During his time in France, Ezra Pound witnessed a singularly normal event while standing at La Concorde train station; he saw the faces of people passing by in a crowd waiting to board the arriving train. Yet, this placed an image within him, and he translated that image onto paper, penning the poem “In a Station of the Metro.” At first glance, the poem seems simple due to its meager verbiage and seemingly excessive gaps, but Pound may, perhaps, have actually been using the imagery of the poem to ponder the aspect of individualism in modernity. Having led a life that had traversed the depths of human esteem and attained the heights of literary distinction, Ezra Pound was no stranger to the image of the individual within the context of society. The poem renders a subtly stirring image of the impact of the individual to the reader. The image of the individual and the emphasis on the individual is intensely present throughout the poem in the words that Pound chooses, the various images that arise from those words, and the gaps that relate the images together. From these literary devices that Pound employs in the poem, he provides a brief stay against the confusion of losing the individual among the masses.

While poetry is generally dependent on the words chosen to fully give the poem meaning, Pound’s approach to poetry, with influence from the Japanese haiku, allows the reader very little to work with in order to truly present an unmarred and objective image. His imagism removes the dependence on adjectives to contain the original portrait of the picture that he saw, effectively removing any background associations the reader might have with those adjectives. Having understood this, it necessitates the close examination of each word that he chooses. The first noun that occurs in the poem is “apparition.” One found in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is, “[t]he action of appearing or becoming visible,” and this is the first image that Pound would have us see depicting what he saw in the train station. The appearance of the faces is what Pound is directing our focus to, and the fact that it is the first noun in the poem affirms this. However, a more obscure definition of the word found in the OED is, “[a] deceptive appearance counterfeiting reality; an illusion, a sham.” This definition adds a deeper facet to the portrayal that Pound provides; it speaks to the deceptiveness of the appearance – how the appearance of these faces might make it seem like they are standing out of the crowd, but questioning the reality of this individualism. In regards to individualism, it is worth noting the word “crowd” at the end of the line. It is the poetic foil to the individual “faces” that he speaks of because the crowd is the aggregate society in which faces hold no defined identity. Again, the definition of “crowd,” which reads, “[t]he people who throng the streets and populous centres; the masses; the multitude,” reinforces the notion of individualism in the setting of the lone individual, the flaneur, trying to determine his place among the many.

In the second line, the poem evolves into a nature poem as he chooses to begin the line with “petals.” There is no color, count, or quality of the petals provided; we are merely given the word. However, the freedom the reader has to determine what the petals look like and in varying degrees of abundance reflects the control the individual has on how he makes himself known. Just as the petals will be what they will be in the reader’s mind from past encounters with petals, the individual desires to find who he is and discover his own identity by way of experience. Pound only uses two adjectives in the poem, “wet” and “black.” The two words modify “bough” and are entirely simplistic in their descriptions as well. They represent exactly what they are, and again, leave little room for interpretation from the audience. These static adjectives are used to describe the static conditions that the petals find themselves in, and they lend an air of coldness to the poem due to the darker connotations of both words. “Wet” and “dark” can both be associated with a rainstorm, and the choice of adjectives here only serves to strengthen Pound’s poetic intent as opposed to weakening or obscuring the main picture. These adjectives refer to “bough,” which actually empowers the notion of individualism. Although “petals” itself is plural, which seems to run askance of the individualist theme, the notion of individualism is reinforced, in a similar way to the “faces,” by contrasting the last word of the line, which is “bough.” The bough is one of the main branches of a tree, and it is bound to have varying clusters of petals all along it. So, in a sense, the word “bough” enhances the individual clusters of “petals,” and therefore, the petals become nature’s metaphor for the individual among the collective mass.

These images that are produced of the “one in the many” and the “petals on a wet, black bough” are all images that Ezra Pound intended for the audience to contemplate. Having written this poem right around the advent of the silent film in popular culture, Pound’s poetry, when read, has the effect that a silent film would have. The “apparition” of the faces is a typical scene from a film, and it employs the knowledge and understanding of human perception to subtly have the audience focus on those individual faces as he mentions their appearance. However, the blur that is the moving train eventually comes to a standstill; he ends the first line with “crowd” to produce the image of the train slowing, which is when the instinctual tendency to isolate faces becomes surmounted by the sheer number of faces. In the modernist setting, the scenes of the crowd and the individual are still present in the films currently produced. There is a tacit focus on how the individual easily can be lost in the sea of faces, and in order to preserve his identity, the individual must be constantly moving, searching for his own identity to hold onto.

When it comes to the images purveyed in the second line, a similar message behind the images is seen. The silhouette of “petals on a wet, black bough” is especially reminiscent of cherry blossoms, and that connection is supported by Pound’s proclivity for the Japanese culture in more than a few aspects of his poetry. The symbolism of the cherry blossom in Japanese culture is one that represents the transient, ephemeral brilliance of life, and Pound places this unique characteristic in a damp, dark setting. The petals themselves, when in bloom are brilliant, just as the individual, when fully aware of who he is, is luminous; however, that radiance is short-lived, as the bough, which can be taken for the aspect of “the rest,” is wet and black, producing an image of futility and despair. When the bough is wet, regardless of the lighting, it is impossible to use it as firewood – the passion or fire simply cannot be ignited, both literally and figuratively in the poem. In the dark, it is difficult to fully ascertain the majesty of a cherry blossom, or any other flower for that matter, and it is Pound’s reinforcement of the notion that the individual is always at the risk of having his identity swallowed up by bland, dim qualities of his environment as a willing or unwilling participant of the masses.

Finally, the odd gaps between phrases of the poem are a way of having the sight of the poem itself be telling of what Pound was attempting to convey. In the combination of form and function, structural image of the poem and mental image of the poem, Pound places spaces in between certain phrases throughout the poem. He puts spaces between all of the nouns in the first line, and between phrases that can stand alone as pictures in the second line. The reason he places these gaps in between the nouns of the first line is to demonstrate distinction and opposition between all of them. “The apparition,” as mentioned before, is only the illusion or deception of being an individual; the “faces” phrase labels a group of individuals that stands out, but are constantly under the pressure of being “in the crowd” and losing their identity. The first phrase is a reflection upon the potential conditions of the second phrase in relation to the third, and testing whether it is a true appearance of individualism, or just individuals deceiving themselves into believing that they have managed to escape the many.

The next set of gaps is more interesting in that not all of the phrases contain nouns. However, the device that is at work in the second line is the physical separation of images; Ezra Pound uses words that are poignant enough to generate separate images, and he goes to separate them physically within the poem to create a greater contrast effect. Upon the sole word “petals,” a multitude of vivid images may flash through the reader’s mind; at once, Pound removes the assumed, flowery images with a completely incomplete scene of “wet” and “dark.” The image that occurs mentally at this junction of the poem is perhaps one of a storm or after a storm. Finally, he ends with the bough, the natural representation and remind that there are others on the bough, begging the question of what sets one set of petals apart from any other set. Again, the gaps set the phrases at harsher contrast than if they were spaced regularly; the pleasant ambience of the petal image in contrast with the gloom and uncertainty concluded by the ongoing question of whether or not the latter image will drown out the former.

Ezra Pound’s poetry is simply one of the most efficient uses of the language available in literature. While utilizing the imagism that he was so fond of, he also manages to imbue a completely different kind of image into his poetry. Whether intentional or not, Pound knew better than most where the power of words lay, and he exhibits the multifaceted nature of the language in this poem. A poem written about something seen in a metro station has the nuanced influence of being a message in support of individualism and the individual’s plight against the crowd. This very influence is a testament to the diverse and profound ability of the individual.

And They Drank Opaline.

*Note: This was taken from my previous blog, “Poet in a World of Prose,” and I wrote it in my English 104B class.

And They Drank Opaline

            The “hour to take absinthe,” as Guy de Maupassant once penned, is upon us. Without alcohol, modern literature has found that love ceases to manifest itself. It is as if Isla Vista’s party culture is a microcosm of decades of modern literature, from the flaneur walking the streets of I.V. during the day and night, trying to find his own identity within a sea of overly zealous alcoholics, to the UCSB Confessions Facebook page that occasionally details the underpinnings of an I.V. romance – centralized around a hearty night of drinking, of course. While the rest of society scowls at its own reflection, modern literature forges ahead to supply the truth with liquor-loosened lips of love’s fatal condition in modernity. And yet, it is not that love has ceased to exist; rather, it is the contemporary ennui that inhibits the expression of even the deepest, most passionate of emotions. And so, we drink. We drink to life, to health, to love, and to prosperity – with alcohol, all these things become possible again as our blasé attitude is lifted in favor of a more raucous and, though chemically induced, more genuine lifestyle. Alcohol and romance, though a previously unacknowledged tandem, now run parallel with one another due to the modernist attitude of apathy, and this is seen in modern literature, film, and music.

From the 1900s to present, the theme of alcoholism and love has seeped into modern literature, which in turn imprinted itself upon the undeveloped consciousness of modern society. Some of T.S. Eliot’s poetry would contain lines where love is intertwined with alcohol; other works, however, place special emphasis on this developing relationship between the two entities. An example of such a work that subtly, yet powerfully voices this emerging truth in romantic interactions is Ulysses, by James Joyce. Before analyzing the scene where Bloom has a sip of wine and remembers the first time he and Molly made love, it is noteworthy to examine Joyce’s own alcoholic tendencies. Joyce himself was a hearty partaker of drink, and would sometimes require the assistance of his friends to help him home after a night of heavy drinking. It is little wonder that someone who indulged occasionally in absinthe would include alcohol in a discreetly salient message on the modernist standard of romance and alcohol. With this knowledge, it makes it much easier for the audience to comprehend the magnitude of importance of the scene in Episode Eight of Ulysses where Leopold Bloom is enjoying a glass of wine with his gorgonzola cheese sandwich, reminiscing on his romance with Molly. This moment, on the surface level, already depicts the modernist relationship between alcohol and love. A sip of wine that directly reminds Leopold Bloom of making love to his wife is a clear depiction of the influence that alcohol has on romance. While the essence of the entire book is to encourage the mindset of pursuing the “ineluctable modality of the visible” that Stephen Dedalus muses upon, the purpose of Joyce writing the memory of when Molly and Bloom made love is to show that we are never truly free of backstories or pre-existing judgments. This notion deepens the extent of the symbolism in the scene because although that wine could have reminded Bloom of a myriad other moments in his life, the one that comes to the forefront of his consciousness is one of romance, again emphasizing the tie between the two concepts in modern literature.

While the passage seems to relate a tender memory in the story, it is quite possibly poking fun at the idea of succumbing to thoughts of romance; the majority of Bloom’s memory seems more focused on receiving the food from her mouth rather than the standard feelings of “love” that modern society would presume to have in mind. It is almost humorous to note that he says, “Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed.” The whole situation bears a faint trace of the ridiculous, as it takes the warmth he gets from the wine and juxtaposes itself onto a fond recollection of when he made love to Molly. Again, the ennui that has enveloped the character of the flaneur practically necessitates alcohol in order to have any kind of show of emotion. Prior to this taste of wine, Bloom comes across as a very reserved character in the story; he contributes to the propagation of advertisements in society as a means of earning his daily bread. In a purely modernist setting, the pressure to attain to the collective level of ennui effectively stifles deep emotions like love from expressing themselves – unless alcohol is involved. And once that alcohol is imbibed, the romance is still not exactly the kind of romance that the pre-modernist writers described to their audiences. From this passage, it is difficult to discern whether Bloom’s stomach or his heart is more satisfied in the romantic exchange – a further blurring of lines between the blasé attitude and the passion of love’s first blossoming.

From Molly’s perspective at the end of Ulysses, the more romantic part of the encounter is on display, but it is also interesting that this shared experience is left out on Bloom’s part; the ennui that Bloom himself subscribes to even inhibited him from sharing fully the details of the experience. Molly’s entire soliloquy, a disaster for staunch grammarians, ends with this: “and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” Here, the love itself is intoxicating to Molly, clearly scrambling her thoughts towards the end as the ecstasy of the moment makes itself evident in her stream of consciousness. This is one of the rare moments in modernist literature where the intoxication and the love come from love and not alcohol; however, the fact that Bloom leaves this part out entirely despite the loosening of alcohol only serves to illustrate the depth to which he clings to the blasé attitude. Alcohol may serve to ignite love, but the depth to which it releases the restraints on emotions is still clearly dictated by the modernist ennui.

In film, ennui is portrayed for audiences in the interactions between characters, oftentimes in romances, comedies, or a mix of both. One particular film that retains the integrity of being a work of art while still offering itself as a medium of entertainment is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The premise of the movie is that, after a more or less failed romance, Clementine and Joel have each other erased from their respective memories, but end up falling in love with each other once again. While the movie itself focuses on the romantic struggles of the two main characters, Clementine and Joel, focusing on every instance of alcohol in the movie reveals how much of that romance is founded upon spirits – and not religious ones at that. In the romantic relationships between various characters in the movie, alcohol plays a role in nearly every scene. Even early on in the film, when Joel sees Clementine, they are in a breakfast diner, and he sees her pouring alcohol into her morning coffee. After filling the mug, Clementine makes eye contact with Joel and raises her cup to acknowledge him, prompting Joel to say, “Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?” In an utterly modernist setting – a breakfast diner – frequented by the flaneur, romance is sparked – over the brim of a cup of alcohol-spiked coffee. The viewer gets a slight suspicion that Clementine is interested in Joel, and having Joel say that line only serves to fan the potential flame. This love is kept smoldering in the next scene of the movie, where alcohol makes a prominent appearance.

In the attached screenshot of the movie, Clementine just finished saying, “Drink up, young man. It’ll make the whole seduction part less repugnant,” to Joel, who looks slightly mortified by her forwardness. Then, within the second, she laughs and claims that she is only kidding. It is this scene that epitomizes what modern literature is attempting to draw society’s attention to: the fact that our blasé attitude condemns any expression of emotion save through the pretense of inebriation. And often, it is not a pretense outwardly, but an act we put on inwardly to deceive ourselves into stepping out of the cool aloofness and actually expressing ourselves. Though they go on a date before this part of the movie, no actual mention of having romantic feelings towards the other person was witnessed; however, once alcohol is introduced, the true underlying motives come forth, as Clementine gives the half-joking, but half-sincere admission of being attracted to Joel. Just as how Joyce writes the scene in Ulysses where they are making love as both a duality of comedy and romance, so too is this same idea portrayed in a movie decades after in a cinematic rendering of a modernist idea.

Contemporary music also plays a hand in enforcing this concept of ennui-driven alcoholism that precedes a display of romantic interest. As reading takes less of a role in modern society, with about twenty-five percent of Americans reading no books within a year, music plays a larger role as a medium of poetry or literature. While there are certainly audiophiles who listen solely based on aspects of music, such as rhythm and melody, the majority of listeners enjoy music because they can relate to or understand the topic at hand. One particular artist gaining renown within the acoustic music audience is Ed Sheeran, who is an English singer-songwriter. He has two songs in particular that relate to the modernist model of alcohol and romance going together as experiences: “Give Me Love” and “The A Team.” The content of “Give Me Love” is roughly the typical pain-of-the-chase romantic song, and it is very passionately sung; however, the lyrics are what make the song an interesting choice for the topic at hand. In one of the stanzas, Sheeran sings, “And that I’ll fight my corner/Maybe tonight I’ll call ya/After my blood turns into alcohol/No, I just wanna hold ya.” The uncertainty surrounding the next course of action in the song at this point is cured by alcohol, leading him to come to the conclusion of a very sensual desire. There is a sense that he is too worried about breaking form with what modernist apathy constrains him to feel, and that only after he has entirely wiped himself out by tipping the bottle is he able to express what he truly seeks. He sings, “And that I’ll fight my corner,” referring to him holding fast to his position and not letting it bother him, but he gradually consents more and more as the stanza progresses, eventually allowing his emotions to master him. The fact that this song has been viewed and/or listened to close to eighty million times on his YouTube channel alone – not to mention the other postings of the same song by other users – reflects how closely modern society sympathizes with his plight and, indeed, the solution he takes to resolve it.

In his song, “The A Team,” he talks about a cocaine-addicted prostitute and her woes of life and “love.” While it is not exactly the same as alcohol, the same relationship between intoxication and love is present in the lyrics. The latter part of the chorus says, “And in a pipe she flies to the Motherland/Or sells love to another man/It’s too cold outside/For angels to fly.” The song puts the character’s use of cocaine in the same stanza as her selling “love” to clients, taking a further, grimmer step into the modernist ennui of society. Not only does the intoxication lead to “love,” but the “love” is even cheapened by its availability given the right price. The blasé attitude towards all emotions has pushed contemporary society to the fundamental destruction of any importance that love once had. The drug usage is a metaphor for the numbing of feeling, and in that numbness, “love” is drawn forth and doled out without a second’s consideration. While modernism as a literary movement is followed by postmodernism, the lingering themes of the modernist ennui are still present – magnified even – in the forum of contemporary music.

To drink is to love; this is now a factual consequence of our collective blasé culture. Two lines of “Absinthia Taetra,” by Ernest Dowson, read: “He drank opaline. The man had known the obscure night of the soul, and lay even now in the valley of humiliation; and the tiger menace of the things to be was red in the skies. But for a little while he had forgotten.” Dowson’s poem describes the effects of absinthe, a drink that appears in numerous modernist works, and one that many modernist writers indulged in. The key part of the poem is “But for a little while he had forgotten.” That forgetting is nearly the same as the way that alcohol helps us forget our act of being blasé and iterate the emotions that we feel inside. While modernist literature certainly has more to offer in other regards, the connection between alcohol and love that it highlights is undeniable. As mentioned earlier, modernist literature, in this sense, is encapsulating Isla Vista life. They drink for love; whereas this paper examines this phenomena and labels it the modernist relationship between alcohol and love as a consequence of ennui, they merely call this contemporary reality “beer goggles.” Isla Vista has certainly known darkness of the soul, with the college-age flaneur wandering its streets; it must also know the depths of humiliation, for alcohol makes beasts of us all. But, for a little while, I.V., like the rest of modern society soon to follow, has forgotten. To forget is not such a bad thing, however; perhaps it is time that the drama of love and romance retires. Let love come as it may – modernity raises its glass in anticipation of a rollicking good time.

Epitaph.

*Note: This was written on my old blog, Poet in a World of Prose, which has since been deleted.

What’s love to you, kid?

The young man hesitated, unsure of what to say to someone who was possibly the girl’s father.  His mouth was left half-open before he closed it and swallowed, preparing himself to answer.

Love is when you care about someone so much that they’re all you can think about every moment of the day.  For me, it was spending time watching sunsets with her.  I asked her why she stayed out to see the sun go down, and she would only ever say that it was because there was nothing for her to do at home.  Love is when you devote yourself to learning all about the person you love, when you are willing to suffer what they suffer so that they’re not alone.  It’s considering that at the end of the day, the life you live has been affected so deeply by that person that to lose that person would be to lose a part of yourself.  The Good Book says that love is patient, and that love is kind, sir.  I cared about your daughter more than you could understand.  She knew the parts of me that I wouldn’t dare to tell anyone else, and she shared the deepest parts of her life with me, until her life experiences were almost mine.   I think that’s what love is, sir.

The man looked hard into the young man’s watery eyes, holding him there in his gaze for a while.  Then, he spoke.

You’re right about love being all of that, for a young man.  That’s how I remembered it too, when I was chasing after her mother.  But there’s a part of love that you haven’t quite experienced, and I don’t blame you.  Love never ends.  That’s in the Good Book too.  When you were describing all of that, yes, it’s true that love is devoting yourself to learning all about that person; yes, it’s being willing to suffer what they suffer; yes, it’s about having them become a part of yourself.  But that’s not all.  When her mother died, there was never a day that would go by when I would tell people that I cared about her, because that care never ended.  So when you say that you cared about her, that she knew you and that she shared with you, you really do put her in this dirt we’re standing over; don’t you talk about all those things as if they were in the past, but speak of them as the truths that they are, in the present.  Every day after her mother passed, I would come visit her and talk to her as well.  When you love someone, she doesn’t need to be there for you to experience things about her.  When you love someone, the world is constantly reminding you of her and how she is.  I still love my daughter, kid.  She’s not gone because so many things remind me of her.  I’ve just retired, which is why you found me here so late, but I still woke up for the sunrise to spend it with her.  Call me crazy, but I saw her smile as that sun peeked over the mountains there.   But, that’s enough of that.  Point is, if you love someone, even the separation of death won’t stop you from loving that person.  Keep loving her, kid; she’s never been gone anyway.

With that, the man turned to walk away.  The young man watched him go, tears falling from his eyes like rain.

Oh, wait.  She left you something, underneath the pillow she slept on at the hospital; the nurse gave it to me when I visited the hospital late at night after she passed.  I never thought that I would meet the young man she wrote it for, but you’ve got to be the one.

The young man trembled as he opened the letter, and the man, with his hands in his blue jeans walked off, whistling.

I love you.  

I know you normally don’t start a letter off like that, but I just wanted you to know that that’s the first thing I thought when writing this letter.  I think that, as much as it hurts me, I don’t have much time left here.  The doctors and nurses have been wonderful to me, so pay them a visit and thank them for me after I’m gone.  

By now, I hope that I haven’t been wrong in thinking that both of us love each other.  It’s funny, I kind of knew that you always liked me by the way that you would always watch sunsets with me, no matter what.  I guess it was my way of testing how loyal you were.  But, you never missed a sunset with me, and I’m assuming you won’t even miss my own personal sunset.  I was never really interested in the romantic parts of life; I just watched sunsets because I thought they looked pretty.  But eventually, it was more than the sun setting that I looked forward to.  I loved the way that you would walk me home slowly after it got dark, the way that we could talk about anything at all that was on our minds, the way that you looked into my eyes and made me feel like I alone captured your attention.  The other girls at school always really liked you because you were so nice to everyone, so respectful…and so handsome.  It’s weird, but I feel like growing up together never created an obstacle between us.  It sounds so silly, but it’s like we were just made to love each other.  I wish I didn’t have this disease; I can only imagine how hard Daddy’s been working to pay for all of this.  But, I know that you and I will be with each other forever.  Daddy used to always say something like “Love never ends,” ever since Mommy passed away, and I believe him.  I know that eventually you’ll go off and marry a beautiful girl who adores you and would treat you as you deserve to be treated, that you’ll have a loving home and a wonderful future; I hope that you won’t forget me in the process.  I know it’s unfair of me to do this, to ask that you let me occupy your heart when I’m about to leave this place, but I hope that in that big heart of yours, you can make space.  Anyways, thank you for visiting after school every single day and bringing me wildflowers that you pick up along the road.  They always make my day, even when I’m feeling horrible.  I hope that this letter gets into your hands; I’ve told the nurse to tell Daddy who to give this to, but he might not know it’s you because he’s never met you before, and I’ve never talked about you with him.  I started this letter with my love, and I’ll end it with my love, so that you know that my love continues on from beginning until whatever end may come.  Take care of yourself, and keep on loving the people around you with as much love as you poured into me.

I love you.