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Poetry Commentary Debate

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Voting Style: Open with Elo Restrictions Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/22/2015 Category: Arts
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,212 times Debate No: 68490
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (9)
Votes (1)




I have made this debate impossible to accept. If you manage to accept this debate without my approval, you forfeit. Please inquire in the comments or by PM if you would like to be my opponent.

This debate will involve three rounds. During each round the participant will post a poem, or a excerpt of a poem, along with commentary on the themes/history/references of the poem. The poem/excerpt should be short enough to allow enough commentary, as each participant will be judged on their commentary.

Partial points may be awarded at a voter's discretion.

Round 1 is for acceptance only.


I accept.
Debate Round No. 1


Rainy Night, by Dorothy Parker

Ghosts of all my lovely sins,
Who attend too well my pillow,
Gay the wanton rain begins;
Hide the limp and tearful willow.

Turn aside your eyes and ears,
Trail away your robes of sorrow,
You shall have my further years-
You shall walk with me tomorrow.

I am sister to the rain;
Fey and sudden and unholy,
Petulant at the windowpane,
Quickly lost, remembered slowly.

I have lived with shades, a shade;
I am hung with graveyard flowers.
Let me be tonight arrayed
In the silver of the showers.

Every fragile thing shall rust;
When another April passes
I may be a furry dust,
Sifting through the brittle grasses.

All sweet sins shall be forgot;
Who will live to tell their siring?
Hear me now, nor let me rot
Wistful still, and still aspiring.

Ghosts of dear temptations, heed;
I am frail, be you forgiving.
See you not that I have need
To be living with the living?

Sail, tonight, the Styx's breast;
Glide among the dim processions
Of the exquisite unblest,
Spirits of my shared transgressions,

Roam with young Persephone.
Plucking poppies for your slumber

With the morrow, there shall be
One more wraith among your number.

This is a poem by the famously sardonic poet and literary critic Dorothy Parker. She was a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of artistically endowed individuals famed for their wit who met daily for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel for about ten years. Ms. Parker lived a troubled life, including several suicide attempts, one following an abortion, and this poem captures the wild oscillations which often accompany suicidal ideation.

The poem begins by juxtaposing characteristics the scenery in a very dramatic way, then drifting into a sorrowful tone. The speaker addresses the ghosts of her ‘lovely sins’, but is interrupted by the sound of a rain which seems happy and carefree when contrasted with her mood, and she personifies herself as a wretched weeping willow which must seek to be hidden within the showers.

Setting the scene, Parker continues. It becomes more clear in the next verse what the ‘ghosts’ are: once happy memories which have turned bitter steeped in age and guilt. They are the personal consequences of her glittering debauchery. While the acts themselves haunt the speaker, ‘attending too well her pillow’, she asks them to trail away their ‘robes of sorrow,’ to avert their eyes, and promises to walk with them tomorrow. What memories haunt her? One possibility is an unborn child, as this poem was written during a time period in which Parker had several affairs, an abortion, and her first suicide attempt (mid-1920s). Another is her mother, who died when Parker was very young, in a household with an abusive father. A step-mother whom Parker resented also passed away when she was a teenager. Parker led a troubled and wild life, and had many things with which to be haunted. As she draws into herself, she begs them to avert their eyes and give her a moment of peace

Her next quatrain is one of my favorite lines of poetry:

I am sister to the rain;

Fey and sudden and unholy,

Petulant at the windowpane,

Quickly lost, remembered slowly.

Here Parker pulls out of her torment, focuses on the rain, and, in a manner of speaking, draws breath for the remainder of the work before diving in. But these lines serve as a clarifying transition, especially the first and last. She describes the rain as gay and wanton earlier and now compares herself to it. She has lived a life without concern for consequences. No regret is expressed here, only clarity, only self-awareness. Her petulance is powerless to change the course of her life, to chase the spirits which haunt her away. This is the suicidal ideation: the conception of worthlessness which cannot justify continued life. The final line is the contemplation of the world without the victim, someone who passes without much notice, who will only be recalled by others once in a while, with a sort of slow, somber reflection and then the startling reflection that this person is dead.

The next quatrain continues this thought, but mystifies it, turning the somber reflection into a fantasy. She sees herself as already dead, as living among other people who are also already dead. In rich imagery she portrays herself as garlanded already with flowers for her funeral in the rain which she is sister to. From then the imagery fades to rust and being blown into dust to feed fragile new life. The suicide victim justifies and glorifies the ideation, seeing their life as a thing of little value and finding some sense of beauty in inevitable self-disintegration.

In the next two stanzas Parker attempts to fight her way back to self-worth and love of life, pleading with her ghosts. She remembers the sins which spawned her regrets, and finds some value to life in them. This is the second transition, the struggle back into the light.

All sweet sins shall be forgot;

Who will live to tell their siring?

Hear me now, nor let me rot

Wistful still, and still aspiring.

But it is not a genuine love of life; it is a flight from the true ramifications anonymity. Parker panics at the prospect of her little gems, the hard-won nacre on her grains of sand, fading into nothing without her. Don’t these have value? Can’t she appreciate them, despite her guilt? She pleads with the spirits tempting her to death in the next line, calling for pity over her frailty.

In the final stanzas, Parker addresses the ghosts yet again, this time crossing the river Styx in the Greek underworld. She pictures them at peace, alluding to the dumb bliss of the spirits, and finds some sense of comradery with the ‘spirits of my shared transgressions’. She also makes a haunting reference to Persephone, the child bride of Hades and unwilling Queen of the underworld, picking poppies for their hypnagogic effects. This is all a veiled shifting of opinion and acceptance of death as a peaceful affair, a way to escape pain and loneliness, and perhaps to death by overdose. The last lines drive that note home, confirming that the speaker has decided to end their life after all:

With the morrow, there shall be
One more wraith among your number.

All in all, the poem is a bitter and yet hauntingly beautiful look at both the inner turmoil and serenity which surround suicidal ideation.



This Is Just To say, by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

I could remark upon the poetic structure I suppose, though I don't think I'm so very educated to do so. I'm not going to be able to assert that this poem has the meaning which I'm going to say it does either, but it means that much to me as I will say it means. Skep's poem was a wonder, and his analysis of it, by my reading, absolutely perfect. I'd say we'll probably just chalk this round down to him here and now, but I'll make my case still of course.

I did some reading on William Carlos Williams. It wasn't much, but I was struck by a quote of his, stating that he would never commit a premeditated bad deed, which seems to me to have sounded perfectly in harmony with this poem of his. This Is Just To Say -- what? what is it to say? It's this question which my entire analysis shall pertain to.

Really, this poem tells a story of brokenheartedness for me. Not of brokenheartedness at the loss of someone, however, but brokenheartedness in being in want for love of someone that one has, but finding only emptiness and sadness. I have eaten the plums ... those plums which you were probably saving for breakfast ... make no plans around me ... I know not my affections for you ... this is just to say ... forgive me. The poem reads to me as guilt cultivated in the place where love should be -- this thing; love. It reads as if a man who can only find connection to another in a selfish enjoyment of them, then taking an obeiscance of sorrow in respect to them, knowing only a blissful empty heaven, and a guilty burning hell, in them, as if the two should cancel each other out and be something real. The poem reads also as having Christian undertones - the icebox, perhaps; and 'forgive me'. I think that should about sum the poem up for anyone who understands it. It's a pretty thing in its brevity, too.
Debate Round No. 2


Mistah Kurtz - he dead.
A penny for the Old Guy

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death's dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind's singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death's dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat's coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer -

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man's hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death's other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

My next poem will be T. S. Eliot's The Hollow Men. This work starts out with two lines. The first, "Mistah Kurtz - he dead.", is a reference to the character Mr. Kurtz from Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness. A manipulative ivory trader, he uses European technology to set himself up as a demigod in order to manipulate African tribes. Originally going into the Congo with the idea of the "white man's burden" in the forefront of his mind, he publishes literature on the native tribes. However, Kurtz is corrupted over time, setting himself up as a tyrant, and scribbling in his pamphlets "exterminate the brutes!". He dies of wasting illness in the course of the book, his final words being "The horror, the horror." The quoted line was spoken by a servant of Kurtz upon his death the next morning. It's hard to sum up the novel, I recommend that anyone reading this debate read it, as it really is a superb work.

The second is a line used by children to request donations in order to buy fireworks and burn their effigies of Guy Fawkes on his eponymous holiday. Fawkes was an English Catholic who conspired to assassinate the English king and many important members of his government. The plot to do so by massive gunpowder explosion in Parliament was discovered, and Fawkes was arrested and confessed. He later committed suicide by jumping from his execution scaffold and breaking his neck.

This work is in freestyle verse, with eclectic rhyming schemes and very heavy use of repetition to invoke foregrounding. Those elements that are repeated and foregrounded are the symbolic massages which limn the poem's cryptic and stirring theme in tones both subtle and stark. In the first section, the speakers of the poem, the Hollow Men, lean against one another and whisper, almost as if praying. They are dismissed by "eyes" which pass to "death's other kingdom". A small interlude characterizes the Hollow Men and their Kingdom.

What are the differences between shape and form, shade and colour, gesture and motion? We are presented with stunted men in a stunted world which cannot complete itself: a greyscale world of frozen gestures and formless shapes. A field of corpse-men whispering to themselves in sibilant, futile prayers, and flinching at the thought of direct eyes without ever moving.

The next section deals with death's dream Kingdom. This is either not the land to which the "direct eyes" are going, or it is the same land seen from another perspective. The eyes, rather, touch this world indirectly, they are "sunlight on a broken column." Voices other than the harsh whispers of the Hollow Men are also mentioned, singing in the wind, but they are distant, unintelligible, and connected to another potent symbol: that of the fading star.

The Hollow Men shrink from terror at the thought of this dream kingdom, hoping to disguise themselves as scarecrows and thus avoid what they call "the final meeting" in that twilight kingdom, presumably with the eyes which they cannot meet even in dreams.

The third section starts by shifting perspective, to a Hollow Man who is actually in death's dream Kingdom. Notice the shift from "there" to "here". It is a place of terrible sterility, in the first phrase the words "dead" and "cactus" are foregrounded through repetition of form. The land is characterized as a land of stone idols, being supplicated by disembodied, dead hands and lips. Here the Hollow Men tremble with tenderness, though it is a futile sensation, directed as it is at idols in a sterile and desolate place. The dying star makes another appearance.

The fourth section begins as the Hollow Men reveal that, in this dream Kingdom, they are blind. Many dying stars watch over them, and the valley itself shares their hollowness. There are no eyes here: not the direct eyes which frighten the hollow men, or their own eyes. This is the last meeting place which they so feared, and the Men gather on the banks of a Stygian river, as if awaiting a ferryman that will never come. It is revealed that they will remain sightless and groping until the eyes reappear, as well as a perpetual star. Though they fear to meet the eyes, those eyes are, paradoxically, their only hope.

The final section begins with a children's chant, replacing the mulberry bush with a prickly pear, and mentioning five o' clock in the morning, a time of dawn and rebirth. This section then launches into a perverted liturgy, using the strongest example of repetition in the poem to foreground both an inertial world with no movement or satisfaction, and "the Shadow" which causes this state. "For Thine is the Kingdom" drives home the perversion of Christian ideology, the loss of a drive towards perfection and the consumption of the world by stagnancy. "Life is very long!" laments the speaker, longing for cessation. Finally it comes, in the famous last lines of the poem, as their world ends in a whimper.

Pertinent symbols:
The Hollow Men: These are men of the same mold as Guy Fawkes and Mr. Kurtz, who have replaced love of their fellow man and of the transcendental with earthly ideals like nation and culture. Their idols, and they themselves, are sterile, and they fear the immutability of the transcendental which they shy from. Their words are meaningless, cannot effect real change, and in death's Kingdoms they are pathetic figures desperately striving to escape their fated oblivion while shunning their only real hope. In this manner, they descend into darkness, blindness, and utter, pathetic death. In life they were violent souls, but now they are only "the hollow men, the stuffed men."

Death's dream Kingdom: This is, at once, heaven and hell. As the hollow men enter the dream Kingdom it reflects their thoughts, becomes sterile, black, filled with empty whispers and the fading twinkle of a dying ominous star. As they remain there it descends into darkness and blindness. Meanwhile, the "eyes" which directly enter death's dream Kingdom seem to follow a different path, and as the twisted world of the Hollow Men falls into shadow the eyes become more distant, first as only reflected light on a column, but eventually failing to touch their dark, blind kingdom at all.

The eyes: The eyes represent those who have had faith in their fellow human beings and in the transcendent. The Hollow Men fear their gaze, and dread meeting them. As the dream Kingdom of the Hollow Men fall away the eye's remain only as "sunlight on a broken column", and the singing voices on the wind become distant. This shows that any glory and beauty in the world of the Hollow Men is a broken reflection of the glory of the dream Kingdom in which the eyes exist.

The star: The star represents the transcendent. As the dream Kingdom falls away from the ideal and the "eyes" fail to touch it, the star fades to a twinkle and the land falls into blindness. The Hollow Men realize that the return of the "perpetual star" is their only hope, yet still they worship the antithesis of it in their perverted mass, choosing a symbol of sterility (the prickly pear) as the focus of their resurrection dance.

The Shadow: The shadow is the meaninglessness, the insurmountable inertia, which the Hollow Men have idolized in place of the transcendental. It falls between possibility and action and paralyzes their world. It is the Shadow which has cut the Hollow Men off from both the transcendental and the "eyes" which perceive it, has dragged their dream Kingdom into blindness and shadow, and at last brings the machinery of their minds to a grinding, bitter halt, extinguishing their world with a whimper.


AnDoctuir forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


I will simply post an excerpt of a work which I dearly love: Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov. In this way my opponent might have a chance to analyze another poem and even the score.

"Maud Shade was eighty when a sudden hush
Fell on her life. We saw the angry flush
And torsion of paralysis assail
Her noble cheek. We moved her to Pinesdale,
Famed for its sanitarium. There she'd sit
In the glassed sun and watch the fly that lit
Upon her dress and then upon her wrist.
Her mind kept fading in a growing mist.
She still could speak. She paused, and groped, and found
What seemed at first a serviceable sound,
But from adjacent cells impostors took
The place of words she needed, and her look
Spelt imploration as she sought in vain
To reason with the monsters in her brain."


AnDoctuir forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
9 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 9 records.
Posted by Skepsikyma 2 years ago
Yep, I read 'Spring and All' yesterday and it was lovely.
Posted by AnDoctuir 2 years ago
Do you really mean it, Skep? :3
Posted by Skepsikyma 2 years ago
Nice poem; I'm not very familiar with Williams. I think that I ought to read some more of his work...
Posted by Skepsikyma 2 years ago
Thanks, I love Dorothy Parker. Her poetry can either be hilarious, or it can make one's hair stand on end.
Posted by AnDoctuir 2 years ago
That was definitely beautiful, Skep.
Posted by AnDoctuir 2 years ago
Don't expect too much on my end, dylan. :P
Posted by dylancatlow 2 years ago
I'll be following this.
Posted by Skepsikyma 2 years ago
Sounds like a plan =)
Posted by AnDoctuir 2 years ago
I'll take this, Skep. I only have one poem at current (which I really like), but I'll read a few just to get you to open up. :3
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Ragnar 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: FF