Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Analyzing Texts - Continued

Dear All,

I would like to invite you all to share your thoughts on one (or more) of the three texts listed below.
Please write down your own comments FIRST and THEN read what others have written about the same text. This will help you
1) post your own unique approach to the text and
2) learn more about the text in question by also looking at it through someone else's eyes.
Please feel free to comment on what other people have posted to get a real discussion going.

Our goal: to approach the three texts from different directions and angles. Since we are all unique, we necessarily have a unique way of interacting with a text. In fact, each of us has MANY unique ways of interacting with the SAME text - since each time we interact with the text, the context is different, the situation is different, our mood is different and therefore the connections we make and the associations we bring to the text are different each time as well.

By thinking about the same text in different contexts - and by reading how other people understand the same text - we  gain a deeper understanding of the text because we will gradually become able to look at it  - more or less simultaneously - from different directions and through different  people's eyes.

What T.S. Eliot said in "Little Gidding" holds definitely true for the understanding of texts - and works of art as well as reality in general: only after we have walked around something and looked at it from all sides, can we begin to grasp it's meaning:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

Here the three texts I would like us to explore:

Deepak Chopra, "Speech for Cinema for Peace"
This is the full version of the text.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī, "Only Breath" (translated by Coleman Barks)

Margaret Atwood, "Habitation"
Please note that this version contains one additional line that is omitted in most anthologies!

I think all three texts are wonderful texts and definitely worth some deeper exploration.




  1. This is what I wrote for my in-class essay on Rumi's poem:

    Rumi’s “Only Breath” speaks about identity and understanding how one fits into this world. By calling out religious and cultural labels, and abolishing them make Rumi’s viewpoint made clear. By analyzing “Only Breath”, it can be seen that Rumi’s main message is about connecting to ones self, not in religion, but in spirit.

    The first stanza uses labels quite boldly, directly naming religions, and at the end stating “Not any religion”. As the poem continues to the next stanza, or two lines, we see the word “I” used, which puts the reader in a more personal role as we can now identify the speaker. Here we can see a transition from religion to nature. Words such as ocean, ground and elements create imagery and contrast to the first stanza because these words create a calming effect. Again, the stanza ends with “I do not exist…” which is similar to the first stanza’s ending. Although the words are not phrased the identically, repetition is being used to enforce the idea of not being named or labeled. “My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless” rhymes and creates a feeling of being in a riddle, which I believe is what Rumi’s goal is. He wants us to think about who we are and what defines us. I believe the line “… have seen the two worlds as one” is in reference to body and soul, which was seen earlier in the poem. The word choice “Neither body or soul” could imply not body, not soul, but both. Collectively, these two powerful embodiments make up and know everything, “First, last, inner, outer…” The last line in the poem uses alliteration with “breath breathing human being.” I feel as though Rumi ended on this note because the reader can finalize that this poem is not only about the speaker, but the reader as well.

    The structure used relates well to the poem. It is simple, clean cut, and lines are paired in twos. If each of the seven stanzas is summed up, it would go : Religious, geographical (east, west), natural ( ground, elements), time (“not this world or the next”, and “Adam and Eve”), indefinable, and the last two summerize the result of analyzing the first five. This is a very interesting and impactful structure. It builds curiosity by starting with a familiar concept then progressing to more unknown territory, getting bigger and bigger and ending in revelation.

    Through analyzing “Only Breath”’s language and structure, the main message and theme Rumi portrays is self-awareness. By boldly stating that he is not religious, that he cannot be culturally labeled and that he will not accept other’s rules as his own, he is able to see what he truly is. By saying he “belongs to the beloved”, he is surrendering to a higher power, which could be viewed as himself. He himself holds the body and soul, and by abolishing how others define him, he is able to “see the two worlds as one”.

    “Only Breath” uses elements of repetition, structural simplicity, and progressive order in stanzas to illustrate Rumi’s main message of self-awareness and connecting to one’s own spirit, or “breath”. By taking down cultural, religious and all other labels we are able to see that we are “only breath”.

  2. Habitation
    Margaret Atwood’s poem “Habitation,” is short but a rather concise portrayal of a relationship between a husband and a wife. The words are put together in a way to paint a picture in our minds, of a couple that has been together to see both the bright days and the dark. Together, through their many shared experiences, they have learned the true meaning of love as they continue to build and nurture their relationship.
    To begin with, the language used in the poem helps us to visualize and understand the meaning a little better. There are no periods used, because this marriage does not have an end, it only has chapters through which the companions journey together. Metaphors are used as marriage is described as “the edge of the forest, the edge of the desert,” meaning its opportunities are endless. There are times that a couples problems can seem so big and so hard to deal with, and here the author describes this by allowing us to imagine a large forest perhaps as a maze that seems impossible to get out of. However, the peacefulness of the forest and the desert show us that even when it feels like things aren’t going to work and you feel as if you’re “on the edge” of holding it together, one look behind you at everything you have gone through together and shared together is what makes you hold on. In other words, just as a storm can create turmoil in a forest, it also has its days of calm and peace; and just as one can stand at the edge of a forest and see nothing but a maze of trees, it’s the moments of peace that one has also felt there that allows them to look back at their relationship and see that same “forest” of problems as experiences which have played a crucial role on the building and nurturing of their relationship. The forest and the desert in this case represent the obstacles, the journey, the memories and everything that has added up to make their relationship what it is, just as the trees, the creatures, the soil, the plants and the climate all play a part in making the forest what it is. To add to this, the “unpainted stairs” give us a feeling of hope and wonder. How so? By showing us that just as the stairs are still waiting to be painted, the future of the couple is still unwritten. It’s them and only them that can choose what happens, but they know that what they have is something worth fighting for.
    The syntax is organized in a way that makes the reader really grasp the important meanings, for example, “it is before that and colder,” and “we are learning to make a fire “ are left to have a line on their own. Both sentences are the realizations of the couple as to what their relationship means. “We are learning to make a fire” is symbolic of the couple working to foster their relationship just as one puts in the effort to build a fire. “It is before that and colder,” on the other hand shows the realization of the couple that their marriage has seen rough times in which nothing can be more harsh or cold than the words that they exchange in anger. The vocab is not complex, but simple, which shows us that marriage and a relationship are two concepts that shouldn’t be difficult, or even that hard to figure out; it should come naturally. We however, tend to make even the simplest of things complicated which could be the irony in the poem. In addition, even though the imagery used in the poem is not the most beautiful, for example, “colder,” “survived,” “unpainted.” The words put together paint a picture that is deceiving, because you would initially infer that there is nothing pleasant about a marriage, and its happiness and charm wear off quick as it becomes more of something you get through while enduring pain like “surviving” after battling a disease. However, this negativity is what allows you to look past all that, just how in a relationship you find beauty in even the imperfections of the one you love.

  3. The theme and/or main message in the poem came across to me as basically being, when your committed enough in a relationship to get married, there has to be something there that will hold you together in even the toughest of times. Sometimes that mountain of a problem you seem to be dealing with is just a grain of sand when you look back at it, because when you figure out that love is all that matters after all, it makes everything else in comparison seem so insignificant. In other words, a marriage is not supposed to be “perfect,” but together two people can grow and build something that cannot easily be broken. Just how “learning to make a fire” may be difficult and cause some frustration and anger, the warmth you will eventually get from that very fire out weighs the difficulty in making it in the first place, and its warmth is what allows a couple to cherish their relationship.
    The argumentation that this poem creates is basically: “is all the hurt and the trouble really worth it in a marriage that seems to be breaking?” and it creates an answer itself, the way that it is written. The author makes the setting a dark night, talking about cold, a forest and making a fire, but underneath that, she creates a sense of hope. Rather than portraying all the perfections of a marriage and the happiness and good times, the poem is structured in a way that the unpleasant situations are made to seem as important as the foundations of a house. You have to be able to withstand the tough times just as a house needs to withstand weather, in order to truly enjoy the good times. You cannot base a relationship on just the good times, because if you can’t handle the person at their worst you really don’t deserve them at their best.
    In conclusion, Margaret Atwood’s poem “Habitation,” in a few words delivers a strong message. In marriage, as it should be in other aspects of life, you should not let go of something that means so very much to you, so easily. Hold on to the bright days and allow them to lead you through the darkness, because love only grows with time, and time is something you must first invest in this wonderful thing called marriage.

  4. Rumi poem:
    We are humans, and will always be human, and so we have the ability to relate to others who are of our species. A man in the future may have different priorities from a man born during the time of Jesus, but both are nonetheless of mankind. Therefore, the human nature within both men will be the same, regardless of the time gap between them. The man of the past and the man of the future will find beauty in the same things, whether it be a painting, a song, or a poem. Thus, a beautiful poem will transcend the boundaries of time as men from all ages will find it beautiful. This is the case with the poem “Only Breath,” written by Rumi. It may have been published in the thirteenth century, but it still seems majestic and wonderful to reader of the present generation.
    The main theme of the poem is spiritual awakening, understanding that everything is one. Rumi was born in a time when poets were celebrated, and many of these poems spoke of our relationship with God, as is the case with this poem. Rumi states near the end of the poem that he belongs to “the beloved.” The beloved he speaks of is God. He treats the creator as a lover, and peaks of his God as being a personal God. He further elaborates and says that he has, “Seen the two worlds as one.” The two worlds he speaks of are the ‘seen’ world and the ‘unseen’ world. The seen world is reality. It is what he views around him, while the unseen world is the spiritual realm where God exists and is visible everywhere. He says that he has seen these two worlds as one, meaning he sees the spiritual realm merged with the physical realm. In extension, he means to say he sees God everywhere he gazes, whether it be looking upon a rock or gazing at the sky. Moreover, he believes that the human belongs to God only, as evidenced by saying he belongs to “the beloved.” Early in the poem, he says he is not affiliated with any religion or cultural system. Admitting this would have been giving himself to something else, allowing something like religion to have control over him, and so he denies any affiliation to anyone other than God.
    The structure is original, even though this poem was likely written in Persian or Arabic. The first two lines do not contain a subject. It is up to the reader to decide what is, “Not Christian or Jew or Muslim.” In the third line, Rumi does clarifying that he is talking of himself; however, in the last line, he describes himself as a “breathing human being.” All readers can affiliate with being human, so it makes the reader feel he was speaking on behalf of all humans. Furthermore, he skips from line to line even though the sentence hasn’t finished. He ended the second sentence in the third line, though he had started from the second line. This adds a sort of open-endedness to his verses.
    Language structure: -imagery while discussing Adam and Eve origin story
    -Vocabulary is simple though he discusses global ideologies (different religion)
    -short poem but a lot of meaning
    -no repetition except for the word not
    -use of word not signifies his humbleness. He thinks of himself as insignificant, being nothing.
    -States verses like they’re facts
    Consequently, poems such as this can be read by al people from various backgrounds and be understood. Rumi included he names of major religions present at the time in his poem and concluded by saying he belonged to his “beloved,” that same beloved who men of all religions belong to. It was an ode to a lover who he sees everywhere, and since that lover will never die, this poem is not lessened over time as all people, past and present, will be able to relate to it.

  5. Deepak Chopra: Speech of Cinema for Peace

    In his speech for Cinema for Peace, Deepak Chopra utilizes theme, structure, and language to artfully express the plight of society and his hope for the future. Chopra speaks to the world, but maybe only his audience wants to listen, about the tragedy of today’s society and his recipe for a potential new beginning.
    The main theme or message of this speech is centered around art and hope. Chopra believes that our society has essentially become a reality TV show where everyone is slightly detached from the rest of the world. He references the ancient teachings of India and their thought that people only suffer when they are not aware of reality. He actually describes most of the world with this statement, as many people are engrossed by the internet and TV, unable to connect to others. People do not realize the terrible aspects of the lives of many people on the planet; they are only aware of their situation. Although Chopra speaks of this detachment, he also speaks of a hope that art, literature, poetry, and others can recreate a consciousness and really make the world see this message. In telling the artists and lovers to pull the rest of the world from the brink of despair he shows that he believes in the possibility of redemption.
    The structure of this piece effectively conveys the main message. Chopra begins by talking about the atrocities of the world: murder, nuclear weapons, the greenhouse effect, and how the media and news has increased the portrayal of this. In the middle of the speech he begins to sound more hopeful, talking about art and how it can bring us back to reality. By the end he states outright that artists, poets, and philosophers can change this situation. His progression from bad to good seems to show his belief that this horrible world we live in has some hope. Initially he tells the hard truth, making his audience aware of the situation. Then he leads them down a path of hope, lightening the mood and bringing them together to make this happen. Chopra also uses historical references like the ancient teachings of India, Buddha, as well as the history or racism and murder. His application of history shows again the two aspects he talks about throughout the piece. Historically there have been very bad things that happen but philosophers and others have realized the path that needs to be taken and have shown others the way.
    The language of this piece makes this speech very effective. Chopra often repeats small phrases to show the commonalities between what he is talking about. For instance, he says, “…society loses art, and it loses poetry, and it loses literature”. This and in other places within the text shows the chain effect of one thing to another. In another example he shows the connection between news networks, media, the entertainment industry, and the educational system and how they all have a very large effect on the overall thought process of the world. Near the end of the speech he begins to use the word “create” often, first with the word “perhaps” but then without. This repetition of “create” brings about feelings of motivation to do something about the situation. Artists, poets, and others create a consciousness for peace and we can work together to save the world. Throughout the entire speech Chopra uses descriptive, but simple, language, in the sense that it sounds eloquent but at the same time is accessible to all people, educated or not.
    In his speech for Cinema for Peace, Deepak Chopra essentially speaks a call to arms in an attempt to show people how art can bring back peace, compassion, and an awareness of reality to the world. Utilizing the message of hope through art, a structure that at first showed the bad aspects of the world and then the good that can come out of it, and using language that shows the connections between things and people allows his to get his point across and show how individuals can work together to save the world from darkness.

  6. Becca Tsai (wan-Tien)
    Only breath by Coleman Barks in Essential Rumi

    As I was reading the poem, “Only Breath” by Coleman Barks, I realized that my mood was calm and neutral. Barks have a unique way of exploring his writing because “breath” is written in first person. The overall theme of the poem is for the poet to constantly emphasize that although there may be many different aspects in life that separates everyone. There is always one part of every human being that is the same, breathing. The structure of the poem is separated by ideas of which there are two lines per stanza. The language used in the poem is to help facilitate the idea of neutrality.

    First stanza is a comparison of religion between the belief of god and the idea that there is no supreme creator of the religion. Although the poem displays that there are multiple religions, “it” is not part of any or cultural system. This stanza holds the idea of belief. The second and third stanza compares the physical origin and existence in the world. Stating that “I’m” not natural and “I’m” also not composed of elements. Creating the idea that “I” don’t exists. The last stanza was my favorite part in regards to how Barks uses one strain of words to bring the message to a height. I personally felt a raised emotion when reading the last stanza (“first, last, outer, inner, only that breath breathing human being.”). *Notice the words breath, breathing and being all start with the letter B creates the ambiance for the reader. This idea is strengthen from the line of words used right before the introduction of the whole meaning of the poem.

    This poem is quite interesting because repetitive words such as “Not and I” are used to emphasize the point that “it” has no sides. Breath is neutral. After taking a close look, I found that at the start of ever sentence the words I/my and Not/neither is used.

  7. Habitation by Margaret Atwood

    In the poem "Habitation" by Margaret Atwood, the speaker of the poem gives her personal view on marriage. With her use of language and imagery, she gives the idea that marriage is very strong, although difficult at times. Although it is a short poem, the theme, even through adversity marriage is a very strong bond, is a reoccurring one.

    The poem begins with the speaker telling the reader that "Marriage is not/a house or even a tent." (1-2) which portrays that the idea of marriage isn't necessarily represented by the idea of a home or shelter. The speaker, instead, gives the metaphor that marriage is cold: "It is before that, and colder" (3). The literal meaning could be taken as if the speaker's marriage is spent mostly outdoors, the cold represents the difficulty of marriage. She ends the third line with a semicolon to give the reader her description of what a 'cold marriage' is.

    The third stanza begins with the speaker describing the 'cold marriage' she spoke of earlier. her repeated usage of the words "edge" in the lines "The edge of the forest, the edge/ of the desert" (4-5) give some sort of a symbol for marriage always being close to, but not at, the end. The locations of these edges are very important as well because they are not very 'habitual' ares even the the title of the poem is "Habitation". Those areas "desert" & "forest" are two places where humans are almost never found to be living. The last half of the third stanza confirms the speaker's description of the unwelcoming habitat as she describes her and her husband's activity as squatting "outside, eating popcorn". The speaker begins to sound like someone who doesn't who marriage doesn't appeal to, but reassures the reader the strength of marriage in the last 4 lines of the poem.

    In the second last stanza, the speaker reassures the reader that her marriage has been difficult. "Where painfully and with wonder at having survived even this far" (9-11). Her use of contradiction in this stanza shows a clear transition in the poem. Throughout the entire poem, the speaker has been using negative words to describe marriage, but in the first line of this stanza she uses painful as a description but then looks at her marriage with wonder. This use of the word wonder transitions the poem from being cynical about marriage to being amazed at all the speaker and her partner have been through. The poem ends with the line "we are learning to make fire" (12), which is a symbol for the strength of the speaker's marriage. The word fire helps represent the strength of their marriage, but also supports the conclusion that the speaker and her partner are able to withstand anything.

    Margaret Atwood uses this poem as a way to convey her views on marriage. She uses hardships as an example of the strength of marriage. She does this through her strong use of structure and language, from using metaphors and symbols to represent greater meanings for words.