The Stoat by John MacGahern


Autobiographical to a large extent, The Stoat by John MacGahern, an Irish writer, is also a study of impulses and instincts. The story is bracketed off literarally by a display of animal insticts and aggression. This story was rewritten several times and revised more than once.

The story pivots on different themes. Apart from human relationships and the animal insticts in all living beings, the story is also about values, persoal refinement and opportunism. The first paragraph and the last paragraph are mostly about how, a rabbit is killed but not eaten by a stoat. The reference to a stoat appears three more times in the story. Thus inhuman aggression can be considered the main theme of the story.

All night the rabbit must have raced from warren to warren, he thought, the stoat on his trail. Plumper rabbits had crossed the stoat’s path but it would not be deflected ; it had marked down this one rabbit to kill”

This sentence in the second paragraph of the story repeated at the end of the story raises the story from the level of mundane allegory to that of subtle parallelism. However, there is no sin of generalisation here as there are different kinds of characters in the story. Contraty to this parallelism, it is a dying lady who stalks a robust widower.

Miss Mcabe was the real name of a lady with whom the authors father was in love. So, the author himself can be considered as the narrator of the story. The story which has been a puzzle for several critics, is different from its true life version only in its details. It being not so different from real life is one reason why the author gave up working on it any further and avoided it from his major collections.

The story has a very simple plot. A father rents a cottage where he spends a month every August. He, a widower, plans to remarry and puts up an advertisement. After testing and trying about a fifty responses, he settles for Miss McCabe, a school teacher. One day, the son brings home a rabbit which a stoat attacked and left half dead. The son had ended its life. The son cooks it and enjoys it with his father and Miss McCabe who was staying at a hotel near the beach close to them. That night, back in the hotel, the lady shows signs of heart failure. On hearing this the father decides to leave her. In the end, the boy feels more than a little irritated about the father’s ways. In between we hear also about the boy’s uncle with whom the boy is in very good terms.

The key point appears right in the middle of the storry. The uncle and the boy are in a bar where he tells the boy that he likes his company and hopes to see more of him if his father remarries.

He’d like that too. With his uncle everything seemed open: ‘Life seems to have no purpose other than to reproduce itself. Life comes of matter and goes back into matter. We inherit it and pass it on. We might as well take as decent a care of it as we can. You can’t go against love and not be in error.’ Nothing was closed. This freedom was gaiety, even though it seemed that it caused him to seem most lonely.

Eventually, we see how much the son is influenced by his uncle and how much he resents his father’s behaviour and how he chooses to stand alone and be strong. For his uncle, nothing was closed. For the father, nothing was open and he could not even reveal to his girlfriend how his son came by a rabbit he cooked for her.

The interactions between the boy and the uncle on one end, between the rabbit and the stoat on the other end and between the father and his girls somewhere in the middle, this story gives a spectrum of relationships, from co-existence to parasitism to agression and dominance.

When the boy brings the dead rabbit, the father teases the boy’s and his uncle’s humane side,

“No doubt, it can be another specimen for youself and your uncle to mull over”
To this the boy has a proper reply hinting at the father’s narrowminded politics,

“Well, it is as good as what you find in The Independent

This defines the difference between the uncle and the father since the political magazines generally care only about the lives of humans and this is only a natural outcome of the misled quest for survival. The uncle and the son have soared over what is natural and refined themselves to have better values and principles in life. When he comes to know the father’s joke about getting grant to improve the look of women who responded to the ad, the uncle coments that,

“…the man must finally have gone off his rocker.”

and says to the son that,

“At least, if he does get married, it’ll get him off your back.”

Finally it is the son who tries to make the father see that he is being too selfish. But the father fails to see the point. The insight and objectivity help the son see deep into situations and people. He sees ‘with terrifying clarity that it was the stoat the father had glimpsed in Miss. McCabe’s hotel toom’ where she was recuperating after a heart attack.

Even though the story is ridden with details, everything is carefully chosen to make meaning. Miss McCabe and the father revels in the dinner and looks forward to more while the son feels bad about having been part of what he sees as buffoonery. The uncle later contrasts a driving licence with a marriage licence. Another example is the opportunism shown by the people at he post office when they see so many responses to the marriage ad. All this obviously support the theme.

Sorry, Shakespeare!


There was an odd issue which had been troubling me for days. I brought it up during my causal discussion with people who were aware of Shakespearean literature, though not in depth.
Today, strangely, Debora, a Grade IX student brought it up. I instantly gave her my best compliments. What she asked me was why Shakespeare is considered such a great writer through his stories are all very silly.
It still takes a child to comment on the nudity of kings.
First I told her that he should not be blamed for his stories since almost all his stories came from other people. He is not called the thief of thieves for nothing. A plagiarist, a born kleptomaniac on whose nature nurture will not stick!
But why? The answer lies in his last play The Tempest.  His own story in more than one way. But, what story are we talking about here! There isn’t any.
So, creating a plot was not one of his talents.
But, a man who began his career as a hostler outside theatres could have trained himself to create any number of winding plots instead of borrowing silly plots from anyone, like a desperate Bassanio repeatedly borrowing money from Antonio. And the plots he borrowed were so popular that it was hard to say who told the story first.
But then, we say that he was a hostler near the theatres for some time. But no one is sure. No one is sure where he was for long years. So much is simply missing from his life like a maths table we learned too early in life. We can make up for what we have lost.
OK, his tales were not his. But his wisdom is wonderful. We can quote endless examples from him.
You mean from him or his books.
From his books, but is there a difference?
Yes, it is not like quoting from Dickens or Shelley. When we quote Shakespeare, we are only quoting what he made his characters say. And none of his characters are angels. So, be warned. Quotations from Shakespeare are not like maxims you can live by. See what those characters did in life or what others did to them. So, there goes the Shakespeare who lives in quotations like Dr. Jonson predicted.
So, was he just a popular money-spinning playwright, pleading guilty about beautifying himself from feathers from the other playwrights?
No, far from that.
The fact is if we call Shakespeare a writer, we should find another term for those who just write and if we don’t want to change that, then we should find another name for Shakespeare’s profession. Such is his greatness.
He is the most misunderstood of all the writers in the world. Not because his language is archaic but we are all pretentious. We don’t take literature as seriously as it has to be taken. Our tastes are so low that we would sit and watch any opera had we not been watched by others. This is where Shakespearean tales are a  boon. We can enjoy all those silly stories and not feel guilty.
We enjoy those stories and we take them to class and the children too are enchanted by the melodrama. Since neither they nor we read enough, it never occurs to us that most writers come up with better plots and Shakespeare could not have hoped to win even the school drama writing competition with that kind of stories. A man signs his own death warrant when he borrows money. His friend wins a rich lady by lottery for which she offers him illegal help and with the same inclination to do illegal acts she later saves her husband’s friend misrepresenting her gender and presenting herself as a lawyer though she would have thought a ‘plaintiff is a common quarrel’ (plain.. tiff)  ( from The Twisted Tales of Shakespeare by Richard Armour). The argument she comes up with is not even worth mentioning here. How can this be a classic story? It is not.
To cut it short, Shakespeare had higher aims than making an extra ducat by being a playwright. Each of his plays is meant to teach us something. Like his art which conceals his artfulness, he hid his tracks completely. In The Merchant of Venice, he wanted to tell us that appearance is deceptive or that one should not judge a book by its cover. On the cover, it says The Merchant of Venice, but it is hardly about the merchant. Portia is the protagonist and Bassanio is no merchant. Antonio does not lead the story; he only signs his death warrant and waits to be ripe to fall off. Taming of the Shrew, considered to be a true anti-feminist play has spiritual aspirations if we are shrewd enough to see it all. He has brought us the medicine because he knew we are all sick. He was only 31 when he wrote Romeo and Juliet, the story of which he got from a three thousand line long poem. What he says about Juliet’s parents is something none of the other writers would dare to say even today. Jacques, in As You Like It, looks at a fool with wonder and whispers to himself: Motley is the only wear. In this brief blurting out, Shakespeare has revealed his view of life. He has given those words to a philosopher, no wonder. The hero’s mouth is not worth it. Life is so meaningless that the only way to live it meaningfully is to live like a fool. Charles Chaplin’s Tramp and Samuel Beckett’s Gogo are celebrations of this idea. And they are not the only ones who took this seriously.
We should take a good look at someone like T S Elliot or James Joyce and then see how great critics find even him not as good as Shakespeare. It is then that we realize the level of loving wrong we do to Shakespeare. It is then that we find we are not equipped to gauge the greatness of this writer. We are small-time astronomers who look up and wonder at the stars on the firmament while rocket scientists are arranging guided tours to Mars.  While we are waiting to wise up to appreciate the real excellence of Shakespeare, let us not belittle him by measuring him with such small yardsticks.

Afternoon with Irish Cows

2015 PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature: On Africa © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center


Scientists mostly ask questions about the world outside themselves. It is very rare that they question themselves or try to learn about themselves. There is no subjectivity here.

But artists, on the other hand, keep questioning themselves and ask questions to themselves. They are introspective and want to know more about themselves. Poetry, for example, is mostly one way of doing this. Thus, a poem becomes an attempt to answer the question: Who am I?

The poem “Afternoon with Irish Cows” by Billy Collins is a typical example for such introspections. The poet does look out and sees cows and observes their behaviour which is in contrast with his.

This contrast can be seen all over the poem. In a beautiful country, the poet prefers to be indoors while the cows prefer to be outdoors,

Stepping all day from tuft to tuft

their big heads down in the soft grass,.

The distinction starts there and continues in different ways. The cows live from moment to moment, in the real world of the meadows which provides them with food while the poet lives in a world of imagination too. He describes himself realistically

I would sometimes pass a window
and look out to see the field suddenly empty

But then reveals his world of imagination with he says,

as if they had taken wing, flown off to another country.

But imagination cannot provide a realistic answer and the poet continues to observe them with a view to understand them which by contrast may help him understand himself. So, he does not believe that they have flown away but opens the front door to look for them and there they are going ahead with their routine mundane things like eating, chewing the cud and lying down on their sides, completely relaxed.

Then later, I would open the blue front door,
and again the field would be full of their munching
or they would be lying down
on the black-and-white maps of their sides,

The black and while patterns that the poet refers to as a map is of importance here. These patterns which only roughly resemble maps still remind the poet of maps because of his interest in the world and its affairs. But for the cow it is just a pattern on their body and they don’t mind getting them dirty by lying on their sides. It is nothing to be proud of or flaunt.

We pride ourselves as social animals, but we commit uncivil and unsocial acts. The newspaper, the stone wall and the knife are symbols from such a world. But the cows, which do not seem to communicate like we do, are also social animals and when they rest lies down in different direction to guard one another.

facing in all directions, waiting for rain.

After such an observation the poet’s interest in the cow comes out in the open when he says,

How mysterious, how patient and dumbfounded
they appear in the long quiet of the afternoon.

They only “appear” dumbfounded, mysterious and patient. They are not to take things lying down, for,

… every once in a while, one of them
would let out a sound so phenomenal


Given the kind of world he lives in, this noise brings only memories of torture and pain to the poet’s mind.

… which one of them was being torched
or pierced through the side with a long spear.

But looking at the cow, the poet finds that the cow was only being self-assertive.

… it sounded like pain until I could see
the noisy one

Through mooing, the cow was only asserting its nature, voice and behaviour and it is not ashamed of its ‘unadulterated cowness’ but rather proud of its self.                       

The cow’s self expression does not come from its soul or mind as some poet deem their poems to do. It is a product of its body.

… she gave voice
to the rising, full-bodied cry
that began in the darkness of her belly
and echoed up through her bowed ribs into her gaping mouth.

The cows have been here long before us and they have been trampling the hills, munching away the grass, polluting bays and cursing the rain. But unlike humans they were always apologetic about their atrocities and the poet believes that every mooing of a cow is only its apology for what its race did. The poet’s face coming up behind the wall is a later incident in history and shocks the cow with a premonition about the worse things the new race can do to the world.

Now the afternoon is no afternoon but the second half of the earth’s own life as it is unapologetically hurriedly pushed into its grave by the human race. And Ireland, though a land of great writers, is also famed to be a land of faction and civil wars where people pride in killing their own siblings in the name of God and faith.

But the cows are the same anywhere, anytime. They don’t kill one another or damage the environment in any serious way. Yet they are apologetic.

At the same time, through a series of concrete images, mostly visual and kinaesthetic but auditory and tactile too, the poet has managed to give us an almost direct experience of his surroundings. The visual imagery, like

the field would be full of their munching
or they would be lying down
on the black-and-white maps of their sides,
facing in all directions

recreates the scene in our mind while the kinaesthetic images, like

her bellowing head
laboring upward as she gave voice

make us feel how dynamic the scene is.

Thus in highly subtle ways the poet is able to suggests what he learns from watching some Irish cows one afternoon, without being preachy or overtly didactic. Even we set aside the philosophic content of the poem, there is still enough in the poem to enrich us in a pleasing way because of the skill employed by the poet.

The Tintern Abbey

In  The Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth we see a romantic poet at his best. The poet goes beyond the common romantic themes of ‘far away and long ago’ and looks deeper into himself by reflecting on his own relationship with nature and that of his sister’s. He argues that the pleasure derived from being in the presence of nature is more sublime than other everyday pleasures and that such a pleasure goes beyond sensual pleasures. For Wordsworth, poetry was the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility. Most of his poems on nature are recordings of his reflections on visits to landscapes he had done much after the actual visit.
Tintern Abbey even more so, since it was written after his second visit to the beautiful landscapes around the river Wye beside which there is an old place of worship called the Tintern Abbey. The abbey is now deserted and it suggests how religion has failed to console the poet during his most disturbed days and how nature took its place and successfully kept him happy and contended.
The poem begins with a graphically rich description of nature. Using beautiful images and melodious expressions the poet conjures up a beautiful image about the river.
These waters rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur

He looks higher up and sees the mountains that set forth the springs.
Once again
I behold these steep and lofty hills
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of a more deep seclusion;
The lines that follow appeal to our senses so much that they could be easily mistaken for those written by John Keats. The poet speaks of orchard-tufts which, with their unripe fruits, are clad in one great hue and lose themselves among other trees. He continues in the same mellifluous tone
These hedge rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild:
and then about movements and silence,
wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees
Having displayed his skills to describe nature, he starts to explore his own being and share his thoughts with us. He had seen that same landscape five years ago and it has changed very little. During all those years, it lingered in his memory and continued to please him.
I have owed to them
In hours of weariness, sensation sweet
and gave him ‘tranquil restoration’. It also gave him a serene and blessed mood in which his existence and ‘even the motion of his human blood’ were ‘almost suspended’ and he became nothing more than a pure ‘living soul’. His thoughts were settled and by the power of harmony he was able to see into the life of things. He often recalled the memory of this landscape when he was troubled by the fretful stir and the unprofitable fever of the world.
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer thro’ the woods,
How often has my spirit tuned to thee!
The poet recalls and compares how he behaved and felt during his first visit when he was much younger and less insightful and rather inexperienced. Then ‘like a roe’ he ‘bounded over the mountains by the side /Of the deep rivers’ and ‘wherever nature led’ him. Those were the ‘boyish days’ and he derived ‘coarser pleasures’ from his immediate experiences. The physical sensation and pleasure he enjoyed in the lap of nature from the ‘colours and forms’ did not make him think about or look for anything beyond the ‘here and now’.
But ‘that time is past’. During his second visit after five long years he feels ‘a pleasure that disturbs’ him,
with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused
with his being. He is still,
A lover of the meadows and the woods
And the mountains; and of all we behold
But now, nature has risen from that which speaks ‘the language of the senses’ in order to please the human mind to the level of,
a nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being
Paganism or acknowledging and worshipping God in everything around us is not a philosophy favoured in the west. The monotheistic concept of the western religions does not allow the worship of any other God. So, nature poems in English, unlike those in the eastern languages, remained for long as description of nature’s beauty. Wordsworth, along with S. T. Coleridge, risked being called ‘a pagan’ and dared to call himself
A worshipper of nature …
Unwearied in that service…
making a personification of nature leading to its deification by using the word worship along with it.
The poet says that in the recent years when his life has been one of ‘sad perplexity’ and disillusionment he has learned to look on nature,
Not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still, sad music of humanity
Nor harsh or grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
He has seen how nature can stay in one’s mind and continue to guide, help and raise one above the common din of life. Here the poet is referring to his disillusionment in his private life as well has the hope and despair that the French revolution gave him.
Now that he is aware of the immediate and long term benefits of being in the presence of nature, the poet wants to initiate into such a life his sister Dorothy who is accompanying him on this second visit. He sees in her, an image of what he used to be long ago. He assures her that no evil shall prevail on them, no rash thoughts shall come to them, no sneer of selfish men shall ever touch them and no unkind men can hurt them if they have faith in the powers of nature. It is her privilege to help men like that.
Knowing that nature never did betray
The heart that loved her
He hopes that his sister will take heed to remember this lesson that he is teaching him now.
If solitude , or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
She asks her whether she will ever forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; ………….
With warmer love – oh! With far deeper zeal
Of holier love.
He tells his sister that this second visit is dearer to him, both because of the beauty of nature and also because of his sister’s companionship. Thus we see how Wordsworth creates an atmosphere of affection, beauty, nostalgia, scenic beauty, and divinity to convey to us the embalming power of nature that raised man to sublime levels.

Frost at Midnight by S T Coleridge

It is a calm and quiet night and the poet is in his cottage.  His infant son is sleeping silently in his cradle. It is winter and the frost seems to be performing a secret duty without the help of the wind. The only sound is an owl hooting repeatedly. The inmates of the cottage have all retired to rest, leaving the poet to his solitude so that he could ponder over his incomprehensible thoughts. The only person near him is his infant son who is so silent in his cradle. The calmness is such that its extreme silence disturbs the poet in his meditation. The sea, the hill, the woods which are all abuzz with activities during the day time are all quiet now. They are as inaudible as someone else’s dreams.

The poet spies a thin blue flame on the grate in the fireplace. It flutters all over the dying embers. It is so thin it doesn’t quiver like normal flames. The poet sees in the thin unquiet flame a clear reflection of his inner self. It is a companionable form to the poet’s soul. His quiet soul is able to interpret the weak and mild movements of the thin blue flame in the grate. He finds parallels between himself and the flame. The poet has the habit of thinking deeply about the things around him and seeing himself in them. This helps him have a better look into his own soul. The poet says that this is exactly what the flame also does. It reflects on the various things around it so as to see itself.
The poet suddenly goes back to his childhood memories and says how often he has seen the same flame do the same thing in fireplaces in his school. While in school he used to see day dreams about his birthplace and the old church tower there. He remembers the church bell which was the only music the poor men in his village heard. On hot Fair days it would sing from morning to evening. It was so sweet that it always gave him a wild pleasure. It told him of the things that were to come in his life. He would stare at the thin blue flame in the school fireplace till the soothing things he dreamt would put him to sleep. In his sleep the day-dream would continue as a real dream. He would further think about it the following morning in his class while at school. This would infuriate his stern teacher. But the poet would still pretend to be studying his books while in fact the book too floats around in his dream. Whenever the door opened he hoped to find a stranger’s face or a man from his own town or an aunt or his favourite sister or a play mate wearing the same dress as he did.
The poet now addresses his baby. The gentle breathing of his baby is heard in that deep calmness. It fills the vacant moments in between his thoughts. He finds his baby beautiful and it makes him very happy. When he looks at his infant son he thinks that he may grow up different. He may grow up listening to stories which are different from the ones he had heard. He may spend his childhood in places which are different from the ones his father, the poet, grew up in. The poet grew up in cloistered surroundings and saw not much of the beautiful nature. He saw nothing lovely except the stars and the sky. But he hopes his son may wander like a breeze by lakes, on sandy shores, in the valleys of ancient mountains and under clouds that look like lakes, shores and mountain crags. He will see the lovely shapes and hear the lovely sounds intelligible only to those who speak the eternal and divine language that God utters. Through everything around us God teaches us about Himself and about all things in Him. The Almighty will mould his son’s spirit and, by satisfying his curiosity, make him ask for more knowledge.
All seasons would be sweet to his son. He will be happy when the summer clothes the earth with greenness or the winter makes the redbreast sing lovely songs sitting between tufts of snow on the branches of mossy apple trees while the roof seems to emit vapour when the sun falls on its wet thatches. He will enjoy the soft sounds of water drops as they fall off eaves, though this sound can be heard only when the general din of the day subsides to quietness. It will please his eyes to see how the secret ministry of the frost makes the water drops stay up as icicles and they keep shining to the quiet moon.
S. T. Coleridge’s poems are famous for the dream-like atmosphere they create. From the very first line where the poet talks about ‘the secret ministry of the frost’ to where he talks about the icicles hanging from the eves shining at the moon, the poem treats memories, landscapes, dreams, fears and hopes as if they are not different. The poet reveals a mind which is sensitive to his inner life and the external reality.

Illusion and Reality in Macbeth

Illusion and Reality

Illusion as a corollary of reality seems to be a favourite theme for Shakespeare. The theater itself is a world of illusion and Shakespeare talks endlessly about it. The news from the new world and the flood of Greek and Roman literature also would have influenced Shakespeare to explore this aspect of life.

When the witches say ‘fair is foul and foul is fair‘, we are told of how the world is seen differently by people depending on what they are. Evil operates through deception. Macbeth’s mind has an inkling of the deeper water he is led to when he says,

So fair and foul a day I have not seen.

Duncan refers to Macbeth as a worthy gentleman and pays with his life for his inability to see through Macbeth’s outward appearance. Macbeth is called noble and also a valiant cousin. But in reality Macbeth is a potential traitor. Duncan trusted the earlier Thane of Cawdor. Now he trusts Macbeth and makes him the new Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is happy when Duncan plans to visit his castle but Duncan fails to see why Macbeth is so happy about the visit. Both Duncan and Banquo find the atmosphere at the castle wholesome and welcoming. They don’t know about the serpents that reside there.

Lady Macbeth welcomes Duncan very politely and expresses her desire to serve him very effectively. But we know that she has already made up her mind to kill the king. She herself refers to the occasion as the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements. She tells her husband to don a pleasant appearance to hoodwink the others. She says,

Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it,

She tells him that ‘to beguile the time he has to look like the time’. Macbeth more than echoes her words when he says later,

False face must hide what the false heart doth know.

He later gives her a taste of her own medicine when he says,

Let your remembrance apply to Banquo:

Present him eminence, both with eye and tongue


Macbeth is presented as a great warrior who vanquishes all his enemies.  But his main enemy is within himself. He says the he has given his soul to man’s eternal enemy. He fails to see that the enemy is within himself in the form of ‘vaulting ambition that overleaps itself’. His courage and determination fail when he confronts Lady Macbeth. He is not powerful than his enemies in anyway. But she is able to work on him by fanning his own desires. We hear her counsel Macbeth and persuade him with diabolical cogency.

Appearance and reality becomes very clear when Banquo’s ghost appears. Hallucinations are used very effectively to reinforce this theme. The witches give Macbeth some false promises which he considers as protection against his downfall. But he fails to see the double meaning in their words. He is killed not by a man born of a woman. He is killed by a man who was brought into this world by ripping open his mother. The foerst which is thought not to move, finally moves toward Macbeth’s castle in the form of branches held by his enemy soldiers. This kind of cheating makes Macbeth call the witches ‘these juggling fiends’.

When Malcolm meets Macduff in England, he suspects Macduff is a spy. Malcolm pretends to be unfit to be king and fools Macduff. In effect, they both misunderstand each other. Later Macduff is found to be a trustworthy person and Malcolm is found to be a man of integrity. There several instances of life considered as a drama and the world as theater, both examples of reality and illusion. The supernatural also is made use of to reiterate this aspect of the world.

The Dolphins by Carol Ann Duffy

The Dolphins by Carol Ann Duffy is a dramatic monologue uttered by a dolphin in an aquarium. We hear only the words of the dolphin. In very simple terms, the dolphin expresses its painful confinement which in turn symbolizes human condition and suffering. The poem pivots around the concept of freedom. Having made a general statement that the world is for everyone to enjoy (swim in or dance), the dolphin makes a personal statement.

We are in our element but we are not free.

The dolphin knows that it cannot survive in the outside world, on land, which is its first and major limitation. The dolphin is able to see its own reflection on the water surface from below and it takes it to be another dolphin. Because it is only a reflection, the other’s movements are also controlled by the dolphin which thinks that its own movements are also controlled by the other one in turn.

There is a man and there are hoops.

All this is in a pool of guilt, overflowing from the human mind and it flows continuously.

The water is not real, it is an artificial pool. There is no thrill of discovery or new experience. Unlike the ocean the dolphin is familiar with, the pool is limiting and unchanging. It was a blessing to live in the ocean, life in the pool is not a blessed existence.

We were blessed and now we are not blessed.

But after being in the pool for long, the dolphin and its reflection began to come to terms with its new conditions. The space (the pool) is repetitive and above it lives the man. The dolphin repeats its lament that its life is no longer a blessed one and it does not promise any improvement. It is so static that it will not deepen even in dreams. However, the other one, being only reflection of itself has no such worrying thoughts. The silvery flash from the reflection of its skin is like a long lost feeble memory of some places, far away. There is a coloured ball that the dolphin is supposed to play with to entertain the audience.

At night, the dolphin, moves around in circles in the pool like it has done so many times that even the water has “well-worn grooves” now. From it reflection it only gets silence (music of loss) and its silence,

turns my own heart to stone

There is a discarded plastic toy in the pool. But there is no hope left behind. The dolphin sinks with its own reflection deep into the pool only to return when the man blows his whistle. So long as human intervention is there, there is no redemption, the dolphin knows.

Seen from the human perspective, it is the same story. Man has built this complex society and has lost much of his freedom in the process. With the huge oceans all around him and many schools of dolphins in them, man prefers the aquariums. Equipped to swim like fish, he still prefers to watch others do it. Not only that human beings makes whatever is natural unnatural, he prevents himself and other animals the freedom which is naturally available for all. When life itself could be an entertainment in itself, man creates artificial entertainment which finally becomes uninteresting even for the entertainer. Thus the master fares no better than what he has enslaved.

References to people and places in The Merchant of Venice

Abraham: Father of Laban and founder of the Jewish race. Issac and Laban were his sons. Jacob was his grandson

Aeneas: Greek hero, founded Rome

Alcides: Hercules, Greek hero famous for his feats

Antipodes: Countries on the opposite side of the globe

Barrabus: Jewish criminal who was exchanged for Jesus’s life

Colchos: An island where Sibylla, a monster guarded some golden fleece tied to a post. Jason with the help of his wife, Medea killed the monster and obtained the golden fleece

Cresscida: Troilus, the prince of Troy was in love with Cresscida who was exchanged for war prisoners from Greece. She was unfaithful and in Greece fell in love with Diomed

Daniel:A very just judge of the Old Testament times

Dardanian wives: The Dardanian wives of Troy are just Trojan wives. Dardanian is just another way to say Trojan because Dardania is the city where the Trojan war was fought

Diana: The goddess of chastity and of moon

Dido: Dido was the wife of Aeneus who founded Rome. During Aeneus’ voyages, he reached Carthage and married Dido. Later he sailed away leaving her and she killed herself out of grief

Endymion: He was a handsome young shepherd who was loved by the Moon.

Heraclitus of Ephesus: A Greek philosopher who lived before the time of Socrates. His philosophy of life is famous for its confusing nature. Also known as weeping philosopher.

Hesione: Hesione was the daughter of King of Troy. Poseidon, the goddess of the sea sent a large sea monster, who would only be appeased by devouring the princess, Hesione. Hercules bravely killed the beast by allowing himself to be swallowed by the monster, whom he then killed from the inside.

Janus: A two headed goddess of doors after whom the month of January is named. One face is happy and the other is sad and her statue is often found near thresholds.

Jayson: A famous Greek legndary hero who led an expedition to Colchios in search of the golden fleece and succeed in getting them with the help of his wife Medea

Laban: Jacob’s uncle who is supposed to have engineered the birth of striped lambs. Laban had promised to give him all the striped lambs as his wages. Jacob made the shadows of sticks fall on the rams when they were mating and according the a superstition, artificially engineered the birth of striped lambs.

Lichas: Hercules’ servant

Manna: Divine food which is supposed to drop from heaven on the blessed

Marcus of Monteferet :Probably a well know rich man of Elizabethan times

Mars : God of War

Medea: Wife of Jason, a famous Greek legndary hero who led an expedition to Colchios in search of the golden fleece and succeed in getting them with the help of his wife Medea

Midas: The king who was blessed with the golden touch by gods giving him the power to change anything to gold by merely touching it. He starved himself to death as his own food became gold.

Nestor: A Roaman general famous for his serious demeanor

Oracle: The solemn temples of Rome where the priestesses could help people get their questions answered.

Prodigal son: the character from a parable told by Christ. The young boy left his home, spent all his money, and returned home repentant.

Pyramus: Thisbe and her lover Pyramus was forbidden to meet each other. They became symbols of faithful lovers.

Pythogoras: The famous mathematician who discovered the ratio of the sides of triangle known as the theorem of Pythogoras

Sibylla: A monster which guarded some golden fleece tied to a post. Jason with the help of his wife, Medea killed the monster and obtained the golden fleece

An Inspector Calls

An Inspector Calls



An Inspector Calls by J B Priestly is an interesting play which thrills the reader in several different ways. Written in 1912, this play is a mixture of social criticism, religious idealism and family drama.
The play opens in Mr. Birling’s dining room where the family is hosting a dinner. Present in the room are Mr. Birling, Mrs. Sybil Birling, Miss. Sheila Birling (their daughter), Mr. Eric Birling (their son) and Mr. Gerald Kroft, who might marry Sheila. Mr. Kroft is to inherit his father’s industry which has been offering tough competition to Mr. Birling’s.
As soon as Gerald gives a ring to Sheila as a sign of engagement, an inspector called Mr. Goole calls and the plot begins to thicken.
Eva Smith, a young working class lady, has committed suicide. Mr. Birling admits that he had to dismiss the lady, even though she was a good worker, when she asked for a pay rise. He dismisses her from a photograph shown by images (3)Mr. Goole. He confesses that it was an unfair thing but he believes that he was left with no option.
Sheila who walks in also gets to see the photo and recognizes her as the girl she forced a ready-made shop to fire from service. This was the girl’s second job. When she brought a dress to Sheila she first held it close to her body and it looked great on her. When Sheila tried it, it looked ridiculous on her. She An Inspector Callsnoticed the girl smiling at another sales girl. Infuriated with jealousy, Sheila forced the shop to dismiss her, using her father’s position as a major industrialist and a politician.
Now Gerald is also shown the photograph and he confessed that he also met her at a bar and gave her some money and a place to stay in. In other words, he kept her as his mistress. She had changed her name. During that time, he did not come to meet Sheila and his excuse was that he was too busy with his work. Sheila immediately returns his ring though she acknowledges his honesty.
imagesNow it is Mrs. Sybil Briling’s turn. As the head of the charity committee she also wounded Eva when she approached her as Mrs. Briling. She was put off by the fact that the fake name Eva used was her own. She asked the committee not to help her though the girl was pregnant. She also refused to believe the girl’s story that the man who impregnated her had offered her some compensation but since it was stolen cash, she did not take it so as not to make the man a thief. Mrs. Briling asks whether a girl of her standing could afford to be so conscientious. Sheila tells her not to play into the inspector’s hand by being so innocent as he might tear her to pieces. However, against Sheila’s protest, Mrs. Briling says that the young man should be properly punished.
The last one to fall in is Mr. Eric Briling. He admits that he was the one who impregnated the girl and stole the money from his father’s office to pay the girl. In a way the girl didn’t lie about her name this time. She considered herself as the wife of Mr. Eric Briling. So she introduced herself as Mrs. Briling.
images (2)Eric and Sheila confess their guilt but their parents and Gerald sticks to the idea that it was the girl who should be blamed. The inspector walks out telling them that such uncivil practices will be met with fire, blood and anguish.
After the inspector leaves, Gerald manages to find out that there is no inspector by that name in the entire police force. They also find that no girl had committed suicide that night. This makes the inspector and impostor and all except Sheila and Eric consider themselves exonerated. They vehemently argue their way out of it, though they admit that he was of a strange nature and behaviour. He knew everything even before they opened their mouths.
The play ends when they get a phone call informing them that a girl has committed suicide and that a police inspector is on his way to meet all of them.
The real identity of the inspector is left to the reader’s speculation. So is the question whether he was showing them the photographs of different girls. We also hear the parents and Mr. Gerald passing a poor opinion about some of the great writers of the time.
If we take the play as a symbolic representation, it can be observed that Eva represents the woman folk from the working classes about whom the rich people has no regard. They exploit them in different ways. They are either workers, or sleeping partners for them.
The inspector’s words ‘fire, blood and anguish’ refers to suffering in hell or at the hands of the revolutionaries or a stern legal system in future. We see that Sheila and Eric are willing to learn a lesson but the others refuse to do so. Everyone’s real nature is brought out by the inspector.images (1)

Whether they all wronged the same girl or different one is not an important question. It is only as insignificant as the parents’ and Gerald’s question whether the inspector was real or fake. See holistically, this is what working class women suffer at the hands of the rich everywhere in the world, then and now. This is how the rich see their own mistakes, then and now. This is the lesson that many refuse to learn, then and now. In other words, this is a theme that goes beyond time and place. The writer is able to present it in such a way that it has several layers of meaning and all of them are more blatant and not subtler than the other.

Summer Farm

Summer Farm by Norman MacCaig is a very philosophical poem. Like Frost’s poems, it has a deceptive simplicity about it. In the beginning the poet observes simple things around him but ends up in introspection. He realizes his own place in the universe. He looks at an ordinary pastoral scene. Living and non-living things attract his attention. He does not find them especially beautiful or attractive. Each image is self-contained and there are no similes or metaphors. It is rather a factual recording like,


Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines


The poet is observing it all but he is not thinking. He says he is afraid where a thought might take him. Then he strikes a comparison between himself and a grasshopper. He thinks that like a grasshopper which,


Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space


He might also discover himself and go into another level of perception. The next moment he is at another level thinking about himself as a multi-layered entity, with all those selves threaded on time. Then he realizes that he is the center of his existence and that there are layers of farms around him. He says that with a metaphysical hand he has lifted the farm like a lid.


This poem is remarkable for its thought content and the subtle ways in which the poet conveys his thoughts.

There are several simple words that the poet has strewn all over the poem with a view to give the poem a different level of meaning. A wisp of straw is made to look like tame lightning. This is to show that a different perspective can change the very nature of things. The comparison is between two things which are entirely different from each other. Water and glass which usually have no colour of their own are presented as colourful. Along with this the poet gives factual descriptions to show that he doesn’t see any difference between reality and appearance.

There is indeed a reference to perception when he talks about the eye of a hen.


A hen stares at nothing with one eye


Except owls, the birds see two different things with their eyes and then choose between them. Even such a simple phrase like ‘then picks it up’ is loaded with meanings. The hen has picked up nothing. Or whatever it has picked up is nothing. This idea of void is repeated in the following lines when he says ‘empty sky’ ‘dizzy blue’  ‘not thinking’ and ‘finds himself in space’.


So the poet ponders on nothing and everything. He does not think they are different. He looks at the face of a grasshopper and thinks it is made of several plates like an armour. The face of a grasshopper indeed has this look. The poet uses this image to suggest the idea that there are layers of existence.


The next moment the poet goes into introspection and thinks of his own existence as multi-layered. He thinks he is also a pile of selves which are revealed to him one at a time (threaded on time). He now explores it in depth.
To explore himself in depth, he has to assume a different perspective. He does this by adopting a metaphysical point of view (with metaphysic hand). He removes the veil of illusion that one is different from the other. Metaphysics say that the world is one and the difference is due to our senses. They believe that there is a higher reality which is hidden by our senses. It is when these senses do not operate that we can have a vision of the higher reality. Usually, this happens only in our deep sleep.


But the poet has adopted that view point deliberately and sees his existence as a farm which produces or presents the back ground for an illusion. He sees farm after farm around himself. We should think of a matrix when he says this. The mind is such a matrix which generates images. The world is another one which produces things. By lifting the lid on one of them, we get a clear idea about the next one. When we understand our mind we see the world more clearly.


The poet ends with the words ‘and in the centre, me’. He establishes his own existence as primary. The ‘farms’ around him produces visions for him just like the farm he is on. Since he is able to see the farms too, they are also part of his illusion. They too come and go as in deep sleep and wakefulness. The real self, ‘me’ is the only permanent entity.


Thus, though this poem sounds like a nature poem, it actually explores our real nature.