Distinctions in the Depiction of the Beloved in Lord Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” and Pablo Neruda’s “Almost Out of the Sky”
(Answer to the First Question)
Literature in its various forms portrays the relations of power amongst and between individuals in society. Such a conception of literature perceives it either as a direct or indirect chronicle of hegemonic beliefs and practices in society. One of the manifestations of these power relations in literature is apparent in the relations established between the speaker and the object of his discussion in poetic texts. The speaker provides the perspective for understanding any literary text. In other words, the speaker determines the portrayal of the poem’s subject. In the case of Lord Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” and Pablo Neruda’s “Almost Out of the Sky,” both texts portray the prevalent power relations between the members of the sexes as these texts provide an ambiguous description of the object of the poems, that being the speaker’s beloved.
Separated by more that two centuries, Byron and Neruda’s poems tackle the universal theme of love with a specific emphasis on the emotions elicited by the experience of heterosexual love. It is important to note from the onset that the form of love described in both poems take the form of heterosexual love as can be seen in the male voice and perspective adopted by the speakers in both texts. In addition, indications of both texts’ discussion of heterosexual love are also apparent as both poems provide a male’s perspective, indicated in the speaker’s choice of words, regarding the actions and characteristics of a female subject. In the case of Byron’s text, an example of this can be seen in the initial stanza of his poem, which states, “She walks in beauty, like the night/ Of cloudless climes and starry skies; / And all that’s best of dark and bright/ Meet in her aspect and her eyes:/ Thus mellow’d to that tender light/ Which heaven to gaudy day denies” (114). As can be seen from the passage, the end rhymes of each line are composed of masculine terms. In the case of Neruda’s poem, on the other hand, the male perspective adopted by the speaker is apparent in the masculine figures of speech within the poem. An example of this can be seen in the following passage, “Forge of blue metals, nights of still combats, / my heart revolves like a crazy wheel” (Neruda 39). The speaker’s description of his emotions in this manner connotes a masculine perspective as he associates his feelings with the creation of metal instruments.
The subject of both texts implicitly provides the power relations between men and women during the period of their production. In the case of Byron’s poem, although his description of the subject’s beauty goes beyond the description of her physical traits, as it also emphasizes her mental and spiritual beauty, the idealization of the female subject’s beauty corresponds with the male Romantic’s idealization of the female image. This idealization forces the female to adopt a specific demeanor in order to be highly regarded in the 19th century. Consider for example the speaker’s association of the different facets of the female’s beauty to her innocence. He states, “Where thoughts serenely sweet express/ How pure, how dear their dwelling-place. / And on that cheek, and o’er that brow, / So soft, so calm, yet eloquent, / The smiles that win, the tints that glow, / But tell of days in goodness spent, / A mind at peace with all below, / A heart whose love is innocent!” (Byron 114-115). Such an association of the female’s beauty with her innocence portrays a subject who merely possesses trivial knowledge as her beauty is considered as a manifestation of her innocence towards the evils of the world. As opposed to the trivialization of the female’s beauty in Byron’s text, Neruda’s text on the other hand, portrays the power of the female subject in a heterosexual relationship. This is evident as the poem traces a male speaker’s aguish in his inability to capture the entirety of the female subject. In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker claims, “[Y]ou, cloudless girl, question of smoke, corn tassel./ You were what the wind was making with illuminated leaves./ Behind the nocturnal mountains, white lily of conflagration,/ ah, I can say nothing! You were made of everything.” (Neruda 39). From this passage, one may infer that the speaker is providing the reader with his anguish for his inability to know the entirety of the object of his love. Manifestations of the speaker’s anguish can be seen in the initial stanzas of the poem as he compares the sorrow caused by her departure with the demise of stars and the after-effects of a storm. He states, “Rumbling, storm, cyclone of fury, / you cross above my heart without stopping. / Wind from the tombs carries off, wrecks, scatters your sleepy root” (Neruda 39). Although the poem narrates the effects of the female’s departure to the speaker of the text, it is important to note that she remains unnamed. In addition, the whole poem does not provide a single hint of her identity and hence she remains as an ambiguous subject. By retaining this ambiguity, the speaker maintains his dominance over the female figure as his existence is the only aspect ensured by the poem.
Within this context, both Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty” and Neruda’s “Almost Out of the Sky” portray the relations of power between and amongst the members of the sexes as the speaker of both texts objectify the female subject of their sentiments. The distinction between both poems merely lies in the amount of power given to the female subject in Neruda’s text, as can be seen in her capability to inflict sorrow on the speaker of the text, as opposed to the pure objectification of the female subject in Byron’s poem. This distinction itself is indicative of the development of women’s stereotypes in society from the 19th to the 20th century.
The Function of Trauma in Art Spieglman’s Maus
(Answer to the Second Question)
In his comic book memoir Maus, Art Spieglman uses his uneasy relationship with his father to portray the traumatic effects of the Holocaust not only to those who directly experienced it but also to those who have an immediate relationship to its survivors. The title of the text indicates the source of this trauma that being the Germans’ derogatory views regarding the Jews. The Jews thereby represent mice whose lives have been partially determined by their trauma towards cats, which are represented by German’s in Spieglman’s memoir. The use of these figures in the representation of both the Jews and the Germans aims to show that both the cause and effect of the Holocaust may be attributed to the simplification of both individuals and issues to stereotypes and trivial events. The simplification of individuals into stereotypes can be seen in the representation of Germans and Jews as cats and mice. On the other hand, the simplification of the Holocaust into a trivial event can be seen in the representation of the issue as one that initially involves these stereotypes. By constructing Maus in line with his father’s memory of the events privy to and prior to it, Spieglman not only chastised current depictions and discussions of the Holocaust as he also portrayed the difficulties experience by Jewish-Americans in their attempts to create a unified account of their past.
Composed of several volumes, the initial volume of Maus focuses on Vladek’s account of the events in conjunction to its effects on Spielberg’s identity. It traces the suicide of Anjie’s mother, his father’s reaction to his mother’s death, and the effects of these events to Anjie himself. Within the text, the reader discovers that the uneasy relationship between father and son is not only traceable to the physical damages caused by the Holocaust to his father as it is also directly influence by the emotional damages caused by the event to his father.
One of these emotional damages can be seen as Spieglman notes how his father initially refused to remember that he destroyed his wife’s diaries. When Anjie asked his father about the Polish notebooks in the house during his childhood, his father claims, “What you saw she wrote after: her whole story from the start… You’ll not find it. Because I remind to myself what happened… These notebooks and other really nice things of mother…one time I had a very bad day… and all of these things I destroyed” (Spiegelman 84-158). To add to the emotional injury caused by the destruction of his mother’s diary, his father further states, “I looked in, but I don’t remember… Only I know what she said, ‘I wish my son, when he grows up, he will be interested in this” (Spiegelman 159).The destruction of his mother’s diary portrays the emotional damage caused by the Holocaust not only to the Jews who were directly affected by it but also to their descendants. As was mentioned above, his father’s refusal to remember that he destroyed the diary is one of the manifestations of the emotional damage caused by the event. Such is the case since by refusing to acknowledge his family’s inability to be freed from the memory of the Holocaust, as can be seen in his wife’s suicide after their liberation, his father chose to destroy his wife’s diaries, which effectively leads to the destruction of the proof of her existence. The effect of his father’s action to his relationship with his father is specifically evident in the text as Spiegelman ends the comic by indirectly calling his father a murdered. The label that he associated with his father portrays his emotional inability to associate himself with his past, the reason for which may be traced to the destruction of the memory of his mother, which is comparable to the destruction of the Jewish material, by the Germans that prevents the Jews from fully knowing their past.
Spiegelman’s Maus thereby uses his uneasy relationship with his father to communicate the emotional and physical damage his father suffered in the Holocaust as he utilizes this relationship as the foundation for explaining the loss experienced by the Jews in the event. By doing this, he not emphasized the negative repercussions of the simplification of the Holocaust but also culture’s inability to recognize its full repercussions to the descendants of those who were the targets by the event.
Byron, George Gordon. “She Walks in Beauty.” English Romantic Poetry: An Anthology. Ed. Stanley Appelbaum. London: Dover Publications, 1996. 114-115. Print.
Neruda, Pablo. “Almost Out of the Sky.” Twenty Love Poems and Song of Despair. Trans. William Merwin. London: Penguin Classics, 2004. 39. Print.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus, A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History. New York: Pantheon, 1986. Print.