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Passions in Poetry

Collectively speaking...

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hush
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since 05-27-2001
Posts 1693
Ohio, USA


0 posted 07-02-2002 11:07 PM       View Profile for hush   Email hush   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems  View IP for hush

"If you were coming in the fall,
I'd brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly."

-Emily Dickinson

This is just one example of writers using plural subjects with singular objects. I chose this, firstly, because it's part of one of my favorite poems, and secondly, because I think this is one rare case in which the author did so intentionally, rather than unwittingly.

"As housewives do a fly."

From a literal point of view, this is a kind of unrealistic image, unless you think she means a bunch of wives together having tea, all swatting at the same fly. I, personally, can't take this poem seriously with that literal interpretation... the only inference I can then make is that the fly is a symbol- for what? What do housewives absent-mindedly brush away? I found that really interesting.

However, let's take another approach- let's assume that she used that particular phrasing unintentionally, or perhaps compromised the subject/object agreement for the sake of rhyme (which doesn't make much sense since she used slanted rhyme so much anyway, but it's a possibility)... what is it that makes people think in this pattern? How many times have you heard phrases like "a mind of our own," "their sacrifice," "our life," etc.? It happens in poetry, music, and common speech- the above are all things I have personally heard.

The first example is (to me) a very unsettling expression of how collective our thinking(s) is (are)- even the sentence I just wrote... doesn't "our thinkings are" sound odd? Why should it? We all have different thoughts and patterns thereof... why should it sound so strange stated as such? I didn't even realize the extent to which the individuality of thought is denoted until I actually wrote that sentence... I know, I know... it's semantics, I shouldn't quibble over such minute details... but I am.

“Their sacrifice” implies that all the people who constitute “they” sacrifice the same thing… but, if 10,000 soldiers sacrifice their lives, was that sacrifice the same for all of them? For the young man directly out of high school, for the husband and father of three, for the man who was homeless before he joined the military? We all lead vastly different lives, and to give it one all-encompassing term (sacrifice) completely homogenizes the experience. That’s unsettling to me.

“Our life” is something close people such as lovers will say. On the one hand, it expresses a devotion, a feeling of oneness and love. On the other hand, it also expresses an inseparability, the lack of ability to function as individuals, dependence on the security of the couplehood… which can lead to placing so much importance on the relationship that the world literally ends for those involved if the relationship ends.

I don’t know… as a whole, the fact that this is a common pattern in speech (at least, here in America it is) disturbs, and at the same time, interests me. Does anybody have any thoughts on this?
Stephanos
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since 07-31-2000
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Statesboro, GA, USA


1 posted 07-04-2002 04:51 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

This line does not jar me when I read it, as do things that are obviously incorrect grammatically.  I think it maybe because it's meaning is so clearly understood.  "As housewives do" (collectively) "a fly" (individually).  


If she would have written "As housewives do flies", not only would she have lost something in rhyme and meter, but also in meaning.  When you take "fly" as singular, you get the idea of something small and insignificant that is "brushed away" and done with, while "flies" would be a poor metaphor, as it is hard to brush away flies ... with flies I get a picture of a housewife flustered, maybe even frantic, about a continual situation, not a passing one...  Didn't the line say "with half a smile and half a spurn"?  


Anyway, I guess she could have chosen to say "as a housewife does a fly", but it doesn't flow as well.  I would say it was intentional.  And I don't know enough about grammar (would have to look it up), but is that kind of thing considered absolutely incorrect by grammaticians?  I would like to ask an english professor about that.  

Stephen.  
Stephanos
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since 07-31-2000
Posts 3496
Statesboro, GA, USA


2 posted 07-04-2002 04:59 PM       View Profile for Stephanos   Email Stephanos   Edit/Delete Message      Find Poems   Click to visit Stephanos's Home Page   View IP for Stephanos

about this ...
you said:

"doesn't "our thinkings are" sound odd? "

Yes because it is not correct grammatically, it should be "our ways of thinking", or even " our thoughts"


I also think it sounds odd because when you use such a phrase (as 'our thinking') in a sentence, you are speaking of a commonality, not of difference.  Therefore, a grouping together is appropriate.  ie... our way of thinking... really means (society's way of thinking).  Why not use "society" you might ask.  Well, "our" is certainly more personal and brings things closer to home.  

If you were focusing on differences you would rightly say something like, "our ways of thinking are contradictory in a pluralistic society".  It depends on the purpose,  whether drawing a common thread, or differentiating.


Stephen.

[This message has been edited by Stephanos (07-04-2002 05:02 PM).]

 
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