Thomas Hardy, “And There Was a Great Calm”

I was asked to add my own final reading, so here it is.

Bear With Me While I Make A Taylor Swift Reference

I’ve been thinking about what war and pandemic mean together as I’m working on my Porter essay, as well as thinking on my own personal experience with the pandemic. For me, much of 2020 is set to the soundtrack of Taylor Swift’s album, folklore. If you aren’t familiar with the album, I want to encourage you to listen to her song, epiphany. It explores the parallels between war and illness, and reminds me of our own conversations.

Keep your helmet, keep your life, son
Just a flesh wound, here’s your rifle
Crawling up the beaches now
“Sir, I think he’s bleeding out”
And some things you just can’t speak about

With you I serve, with you I fall down, down
Watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out

Something med school did not cover
Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother
Holds your hand through plastic now
“Doc, I think she’s crashing out”
And some things you just can’t speak about

Only twenty minutes to sleep
But you dream of some epiphany
Just one single glimpse of relief
To make some sense of what you’ve seen

With you I serve, with you I fall down, down (Down)
Watch you breathe in, watch you breathing out, out
With you I serve (With you I serve), with you I fall down (Down), down (Down)
Watch you breathe in (Watch you breathe in), watch you breathing out (Out), out (Out)

Only twenty minutes to sleep
But you dream of some epiphany
Just one single glimpse of relief
To make some sense of what you’ve seen

It also reminds me of the conversations we didn’t quite have. For those of you in the 12:30 section, I want you to recall Carleigh’s reaction when Professor Scanlon brought up March of 2020. And how Professor Scanlon apologized to her for even bringing it up. “Some things you just can’t speak about.” I find that at the end of this class, this song adds something valuable to my own modern interpretation of events not yet that outdated. Honestly, I could parse the ways this song relates to our class conversations for hours, but I’ll spare you that.

And now, because I’ve already namedropped Carleigh once in this post, I’m going to do it again. Sorry, Carleigh. She also mentioned in our final class today how her view of truth in literature has shifted, and how several of the works in this class have asked us whether objective truth is really more important than personal truth. To that end, I’d like to share with you part of the introduction to this album –

“A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact. Myths, ghost stories, and fables. Fairytales and parables. Gossip and legend. Someone’s secrets written in the sky for all to behold.”

I don’t think it matters to me what was “true.” Pale Horse, Pale Rider is a work of fiction, but I think it is far more honest to Porter’s experience than if some omnipresent observer handed us a list of events in her life from before her experience with the flu through her recovery. Why should truth in that form be any more true than what Porter knows of her life?

Anyways, this post is my way of fighting off the urge to write about Taylor Swift in my Porter essay. Thanks for reading!

Thoughts on “Dulce et Decorum Est”

Since I missed the class discussion on Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” I wanted to share a couple of my thoughts on this incredible piece. This poem is one of the main works people think of when World War One literature is brought up because it draws the audience into the experience of war. The fast pace has always struck me because it is remarkably disorienting and anxiety-inducing. Alliteration like “Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,” and consonance with the repetition of “ing” throughout the poem, but particularly with “guttering, choking, drowning” almost takes the audience’s breath away as the soldiers are struggling to breathe. The idea of a lack of breath continues as even his dreams about the horror is “smothering.” Owen engages all of the senses to depict the horrific experience of being on the front, but to fully appreciate them I think the poem needs to be read more than once. The first time everyone reads the poem, they of course focus on the striking words “Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!” but on this reading of the poem I found myself noticing more of the ways he focuses on loss of senses, such as “deaf even to the hoots/Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.” As the poem nears the end, the pace slows a little and the most notable aspect becomes the bitter tone in the final stanza. The speaker addresses the audience directly; he does not blame some higher power or government for what happened, but rather each and every person who allows the war to happen. “If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace/…My friend, you would not tell with such high zest” is slower than the early stanzas and vividly creates a harsh tone meant to cause guilt and point out the injustice which occurred. Beyond the stylistic excellence Owen displays, his powerful word choice is to me what really makes this poem a masterpiece. Any poet could have used alliteration or written with a fast pace, but the word choice sets individual poets apart. Language like “An ecstasy of fumbling,” “like a devil’s sick of sin,” “under a green sea,” and the entirety of the last three lines are what makes this poem relentlessly stick with me every time I read it. Poetry, especially when written by brilliant minds like Wilfred Owen, seems to me to be an even more effective way to describe the war experience than novels because people did not get the chance to read a plot synopsis on the back, read an introduction, or have an exposition to war. From nurses to ambulance drivers to soldiers to those on the homefront, everyone was thrown into something they were not prepared for. Have you guys been more moved by the poetry or the novels we read? (I know it’s hard to pick they are both impactful in their own ways, just curious if anyone does have a preference!)