We have read such a wide variety of texts that it hard to pick out with confidence those that have influenced me the most or had the biggest impact on me. On reflection though, I have realized that there are some texts which I will remember for a long time – and those texts are ones which use language in a significant, interesting and original way.
So for me a very memorable text is Gail Godwin’s “A Sorrowful Woman” which uses fairy tales elements – even in the words she uses – and yet also manages to evoke a modern setting in order to make a clear point about the position of woman in marriage. The first sentence – “Once upon a time ther was a a wife and mother one too many times” – still haunts me because when I first read it I assumed that she had had many children. It is only as I read on that I realized it meant that for this particular woman even having one child was too many and that this is a story about a woman’s rebellion against being a “wife and mother.” Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” also uses language in a memorable way. The similes “obscene as cancer” and “like a devil’s sick of sin” are disgusting and disturbing, and effectively convey the horror of war. But Owen’s use of the Latin motto “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” is memorable because it is such a contrast to the other language in the poem. i also liked the way his anger and bitterness comes across at the end of the poem, when he calls the Latin motto “The Old lie” and then complicates his anger by revealing that the poem is addressed to “my friend” – which is intriguing and paradoxical, given Owen’s clear bitterness.
The use of Latin also helps Owen suggest that all wars since the dawn of history have been based on this lie, so the poem assumes a universal and timeless meaning.
There were two poems that I ahd very mixed feelings about. I thought Browning’s “My Last Duchess” was superbly written. I could see that Browning used the dramatic monologue to reveal that the Duke is actually a psychopathic murderer, but I found the poem itself and the narrator deeply unsettling – although I know that is obviously Browning’s intention. Nonetheless, I can see that the poem deserves its place in the canon. “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold is similar in the sense that it is a poem that is justly famous: the opening description of the night sky and the sounds of the waves breaking on the shingle beach is memorable, but I felt I could not empathize with the existential angst of a successful middle-aged English writer, reflecting on his religious doubts and the uncertainties of the world.
A poem you should consider taking off the list is Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz.” I can appreciate it as a poem and I recognize that everyone’s relationship with their father is importnat, but for me this poem required too much knowledge of the poet’s life to be truly successful. The poem is too personal to appeal to me. I felt it managed to combine the confessional with obscurity – since the two different ways of reading it are so diametrically opposed. Even Matthew Arnold managed to suggest some universal significance in “Dover Beach” with the idea of the “sea of Faith” ebbing and the “armies” clashing “by night” in the final few lines. In contrast to Godwin and Owen, whose work achieves a timeless and universal importance, Roethke’s poem is only about his waltzing with his father. I also did not like Crane’s “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky.” After our discussions, I can see that it is a comic story, and I can see how Crane parodies the theatre in some of the story’s set piece descriptions, but for me it remained rather narrowly provincial and fixed in a particular time period.
I would argue that Owen’s poem and Godwin’s story are great literature which everyone should read and which might even change people’s attitudes; Roethke and Crane write interesting literature which is too narrow for me and which have not enriched my life at all.