Response to “Metaphysics has always struck me as a prolonged form of latent insanity” by Fernando Pessoa


The Lost Origins  of the Essay

There are many writers whom we have read who inspire me to copy, emulate, and experiment with their approaches in order to grow as a writer and to improve my own writing. With Pessoa, however, I feel that he is actually me, in another life. I like to underline things while I read, things that are interesting and things that really speak to me. After the first couple of pages, I’ve noticed myself underlining every other sentence because it felt like he was speaking for me and revealing things I never even realized about myself. It is hard for me to analyze this essay critically because I feel so personally attached it. Nevertheless, I will try.

Some parts of the essay are thoroughly philosophical. For example, “to recognize reality as a form of illusion and illusion as a form of reality is equally necessary and equally useless” and “That is why the contemplative person, without ever leaving his village, will nevertheless have the whole universe at his disposal. There’s infinity in the cell or in a desert.” Other parts of the essay a personal. For example, “While I once took the smile is an insult, because it seemed to imply a superior attitude, today I see it as a sign of an unconscious doubt. Just as adults often recognize in children a quick – wittedness they don’t have” and “I am still obsessed with creating a false world, and will be until I die” and “I have a world of friends inside me, with their own real, individual, and perfect lives. Some of them are full of problems, while others live the humble and picturesque life of Bohemians. Others are traveling salesman. (To be able to imagine myself as a traveling salesman has always been one of my great ambitions – unattainable, alas!) Others live in the rural towns and villages of a Portugal inside me.”

Then of course there are parts of the essay (the best!) where the personal and philosophical bleed into one: “Better and happier those who, recognizing that everything is fictitious, write the novel before someone writes it for them and, like Machiavelli, don courtly garments to write in secret” and “ I am at one of those points, and I write these lines as if to prove that I’m at least alive.”

It is hard to separate the philosophical from the personal parts of the essay and it is even harder to know if they truly belong to the author. What I do find curious, however, is that perhaps it is like this with many writers. The only difference is that Pessoa and possibly a handful of others are honest enough to create authentic and independent and often contradictory personas that exists within all of us.

Response to ‘The Night’ by Campana, The Lost Origins of the Essay

The Lost Origins of the Essay
This essay is broken up into numerous disjointed paragraphs that are more like a collection of prose poems than anything else. One thing that I noticed right away is Campana’s use of setting and colons. Each paragraph discusses setting, making the entire essay appear almost obsessed with it. Even the characters (the narrator and others) are somehow part the setting, as if they are mere placeholders within the setting.

Another major thing that stands out about this essay is the author’s use of colons. I’m undecided whether it is the colons or the author’s approach to sentences that give many of the sentences within the essay an uncomfortable feel. For example, “at the edge of the countryside a door cut in the stone, watched by a young woman in a red dress, pale and fat, caught its eye: I entered.” There is a definite lack of action verbs and I’m sure that this is a conscious decision on the part of the author. However, I’m not sure if that works. Furthermore, there are many other sentences which are much more complex, mostly as a result of the use of more than one colon within the same sentence.

I have never seen more than one colon used per sentence before and, though it makes for an interesting style, I’m not entirely sold on it. It seems to me the literary devices such as these should be used sparingly so that they did not standout too much and take away from the actual writing. This essay’s style makes me consider my own essay and my decision to use footnotes. I’m trying very carefully to use footnotes in such a way that they actually add to the writing and the content of the story rather than standout as a novelty act (even though footnotes in fiction are no longer that novel). Perhaps footnotes and colons and other devices in writing should be treated like decorations in a house. While a few oddball pieces may add just the right amount of eccentricity to enhance the house’s beauty with a touch of authenticity, a large amount of oddball decorations can hide the house’s beauty and make it look like a bad garage sale/crappy thrift store.

Response to Egypt by Butor, The Lost Origins of the Essay

The Lost Origins of the Essay

This is an interesting essay that expands and plays with the concept the sentence. After checking a couple of times, I am confident to say that the first sentence ends in the middle of page 546. The author makes use of semicolons, commas, and paragraphs to allow the sentence keep going in a semi-organic form. The essay is both set and centered around Egypt but the author’s use of literary devices appears to take away from the content of the essay. I don’t think I am a very old-fashioned reader or writer and I enjoy experimental writing. However, my enjoyment of experimental writing ends when the experiment interferes with the actual writing. In particular, this essay is a good example of a literary device which passed the first paragraph or two starts to take away from the actual quality of the writing by bringing too much attention to itself.

Response to “The Raven” by Barry Lopez

Response to "The Raven" by Barry Lopez, The Next American Essay

The tension of this piece is the difference between crows and ravens and why there are no longer any crows in the desert. The raven (both as the bird and the metaphor for this type of person) is the protagonist while the crow is the antagonist. Lopez spends a lot of time discussing the crow’s faults (his arrogance and flamboyance) in order to illustrate how and why the raven has survived. In particular, the author shows how the crow’s arrogance leads to its downfall while the raven’s humble way of life and its quiet confidence allows him to thrive. The essay is written in third person and has no dialogue except a few instances where the author addresses the reader directly as ‘you.’ The essay is set in the desert but is not limited to it. Instead the author uses this setting to illustrate what characteristics of the the crow allow it to thrive in the city and die in the desert. As a result, the theme or the moral of the story is that people should try to live their lives like the raven, in a quiet and measured confidence.

The essay works on many levels because Lopez does an excellent job of illustrating why ravens (both as birds and metaphors) are superior to crows. The essay is reminiscent of a fable or fairy tale in that it does not cross into the realm of fiction any more than necessary and makes its point without being the least bit judgmental. This is one of my favorite essays and there is nothing about it that does not work.

Response to “The Death of a Moth” by Virginia Woolf

Response to “The Death of a Moth” by Virginia Woolf, The Lost Origins of the Essay

The thing that is at stake in this essay is the life and death of the moth. As a simple creature that is often overlooked, the moth has a lot to teach people. The moth is the main character that undergoes a change from living (and fighting to live) to dying. There is no traditional dialogue but Woolf does put herself in the story in first person. The moth fights its epic battle in the corner of a room with a window (setting). The theme or the moral of the story is life is worth fighting for no matter how insignificant and inconsequential one might feel.

This is a marvelous essay which works on many levels, just like “The Raven.” It uses a simple commonplace being like the moth to illustrate the meaning of life, perhaps to say that the meaning of life is just to live. For example, “this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely.” Perhaps what Woolf is also trying to say is that people need to stop relying on other people’s metrics of what is valuable and instead find their own value in life. The essay does not cross into fiction and there is nothing about this essay that does not work.

Response to “Definitions of Earthly Things” by Bernardino de Sahagun

Response to “Definitions of Earthly Things” by Bernardino de Sahagun, The Lost Origins of the Essay

The tension is man vs nature and the essay is separated into different parts under various subheadings like forest, a mountain, mirror stone, etc. Man or human kind serves as the protagonist while nature is the antagonist. For example, the forest is described as a desolate place where there are no people and nothing is edible. Man has the tendency to view the natural world as separate from him and society and this essay is great at illustrating that. There is no traditional dialogue but there are instances of first person. The essay has numerous settings, all of which are elements of the natural world. The theme or the moral of the story is that man has a lot to fear about nature but that he should nevertheless confront and become one with it.

The essay works by being way ahead of its time in its approach to creative nonfiction. However, while this approach is creative it does not work particularly well because it makes the essay appear disjointed. The cross into fiction is effective and thoughtful. For example, “A Mushroom: It is round, large, like a severed head.” This sentence, and others like it, make me think of an encyclopedia entry turned on its itself.

Response to “To the Reader” by John D’Agata

Response to "To the Reader" by John D’Agata, The Next American Essay

The tension in this piece is the meaning of nonfiction. D’Agata begins the essay by listing facts and then uses them to illustrate why and how nonfiction is an art. Essentially, he uses this essay to illustrate Emerson’s quote “There are no facts, only art.” The essay does not have a traditional protagonist or antagonist but the main character (perhaps the reader’s perception of nonfiction) undergoes a change by listing the so called facts that the reader expects from nonfiction and then using them to create art (creative nonfiction). The essay does not have any traditional dialogue but it is written in the first person (which can be interpreted to mean that it is all dialogue). The piece has no particular setting and its theme is that nonfiction is as much of an art as fiction.

The essay works on many levels and does a great job of illustrating the meaning of nonfiction. It is also quite effective in addressing the reader’s prejudices about creative nonfiction (that it is not art but rather a collection of facts). The middle of the essay (that discusses the Latin word for fact and lists words like artifice, counterfeit, etc.) does not work as well because it feels a little disjointed from both the beginning and the end of the essay. Finally, essay does not cross the line by entering the realm of fiction and is an excellent introduction to the book as a whole.

Literary Criticism Comparison: Wordsworth’s Daffodils


William Wordsworth wrote “Daffodils,” the quintessential lyric and song poem of the Romantic period, in 1804 and first published it in his Poems in Two Volumes in 1807 (Wordsworth, 351). In his reading of “Daffodils” in William Wordsworth, Geoffrey Durrant argues that the poem is “an account of the experience of poetic creation” (20). In other words, Durrant sees the poem as Wordsworth’s way of relating the experience of writing poetry by grounding that experience in something to which the reader can relate, i.e. remembering the beauty of daffodils. While I agree with some of his argument and many of his supporting statements, I would not go as far as to embrace his interpretation as a whole and instead interpret the poem on a more psychological level. Using daffodils as concrete symbols of other people’s happiness, Wordsworth’s speaker undergoes a change from someone who is alienated and lonely to someone who, while still alone, is no longer lonely.

The poem begins with “I wondered lonely as a cloud/That floats on high…” (Wordsworth, 385). For Durrant, these lines are representative of a feeling of aimlessness in which the speaker cannot fully relate to the outside world (20). I agree with his interpretation and give him credit for helping me understand this poem on a more psychological level. To me, Wordsworth’s mention of height is representative of space and emptiness which reinforces the idea that the speaker is in a mood that makes it impossible for him to feel connected to the world. I would not, however, go as far as to conclude that the speaker is depressed.

Durrant argues that seeing the daffodils as a crowd indicates “a sudden shift of attention and a sudden energy of mind” and goes on to interpret these words to refer to an “exhibit that is turned into a pattern…the order of an army like the host of angels in Paradise Lost” (Durrant, 20). Since I never read Paradise Lost, I cannot speak to this part of his interpretation. Instead, I am prone to interpret the “crowd” of daffodils as a crowd of people who are busy “fluttering and dancing” (Wordsworth, 385). Rather than a collection of flowers, the speaker sees the daffodils as a collection of people who are dancing because they are joyful and full of life. Since he admires this mass of happiness from afar, he is unable to truly connect to them on a personal level.

By bringing up ideas of “indifference and passivity,” Durrant’s initial remarks helped me understand the poem in an entirely new way and I now see little beyond what he called the poem’s “mood of detachment” (20). However, rather than agree with Durrant’s statement that Wordsworth used the word “golden” in order to organize the poem and give it “coherence and vividness,” I tend to see the choice of word as a reflection of the speaker’s mood (20). Wordsworth uses the word “golden” to describe the daffodils in order to give their “crowd” more strength (385). Golden is a much more powerful word than yellow because it is calm and soothing without the hostility of being bright. Durrant goes on to say that, as a poet, Wordsworth imposes the “brightness of his own imagination” “upon the disorderly facts of the world” in order to offer his readers not only the poem as a result but also “an account of” the poetic process as a whole (20). While I do agree with Durrant’s conclusion of this part in his analysis, I cannot go as far as to interpret the poem as a whole to be representative of the poetic process.

In the next part of his analysis, Durrant points out that Wordsworth does not spend much time describing the daffodils in detail and chooses to instead focus more on what their relationship to the natural world means to him (21). The daffodils are “Beside the lake, beneath the trees” and “They stretched in never-ending line” (Wordsworth, 385). Here Wordsworth is not speaking simply about the daffodils and their unique place in the world but rather of his speaker’s perception of them. Like all things, daffodils are products of their surroundings and their beauty is either enhanced or diminished depending on the environment. Since the speaker finds the daffodils within a landscape that showcases their beauty, the daffodils are able to capture and hold his interest. This would not be the case, however, had he spotted them instead in a garden. In a garden and in close proximity to other golden flowers, like yellow roses and daisies, the daffodils would not naturally stand out against the greenery and, as a result, their impact on their viewer would be diminished. Likewise, the speaker’s internal environment also contributes to his interpretation of the daffodils’ beauty. Wordsworth’s internal state allows him to experience these ordinary yellow flowers near a lake in such a way that he is inspired to create a poem that is anything but ordinary. Therefore, I would argue that Wordsworth does not spend much time describing the daffodils themselves but rather their power on the speaker in order to point out that their power has less to do with their unique attributes and more to do with the external and internal environment that allows those attributes to shine.

Durrant goes on to discuss the spatial location of the daffodils in comparison to the lake and trees. He notes the importance of the curve and calls it “the curve of necessity” which he in turn relates to “the very curve of the heavens” (21). He then concludes that Wordsworth ““shows the daffodils as part of a universal order, as growing where they do because of the natural law which dictates their existence” (21). I agree with his analysis and conclusion but I would like to expand this interpretation by relating it to what I mentioned before. In particular, while it is natural law that dictates the daffodils’ existence by allowing them to grow, it is man’s interpretation of their place in the natural order that draws attention to their happy dancing and the speaker’s own alienation. Durrant appears to agree because he points out that “in all creation man seems to be the only creature that is capable of feeling not home” (21). While I appreciate that we are in agreement regarding the speaker’s disconnect, I nevertheless have to point out that I do not agree with Durrant’s conclusion that men are the only creatures who are able to feel alienated from the natural world. Wild horses and burros still roam the high deserts of the American West. Who is to say that they, or their ancestors who were first let free, did not at one point feel alienated from their environment? No, perhaps it is not that man is the only creature capable of feeling disconnected from his environment but rather that man is the only creature capable of expressing this alienation in words.

Durrant continues his analysis by discussing other elements regarding the spatial organization of the poem. In particular, he interprets the fluttering of the daffodils as “a harmonious movement in which a pattern may be discerned” (Durant, 21). The pattern is not entirely discernible to me and I would instead like to stick to Durrant’s interpretation that speaks of the poet’s mind. The last stanza contains the lines, “And then my heart with pleasure fills/ And dances with daffodils” (385). Durrant interprets these lines as “the poet’s power” to not only organize the experience of writing poetry “so that it is coherent and delightful” but to also recall the experience at a future time (24). While I see what Durrant means, my interpretation relates less to the process of writing poetry and more to Durrant’s initial psychological assessment of the poem’s meaning. To me, the speaker lying on the couch “in pensive mood” and reliving his time with the daffodils means nearly what Wordsworth says, that the speaker is imagining the happiness he saw beneath those trees (386). As Durrant accurately points out, for the speaker “the experience is not lost but may be recovered when it is wanted” even though the memory and the imaginary daffodils (and the imaginary happiness) are not quite the real thing (24).

In conclusion, at the end of the poem, Wordsworth refers to the daffodils as a memory and states that they “flash upon the inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude” (386). Durrant interprets that this happens as a result of “the poetic process” that “makes the experience [of the daffodils] available again” (24). While I do not entirely agree with Durrant’s overall interpretation that the poem is about the process of writing poetry, given that premise his analysis is appropriate. I do however agree with his position that the speaker undergoes a change throughout the poem. In the beginning of the poem, the speaker appears alienated, as someone striving to experience the joy he sees before him. By the end of the poem, the speaker, though still alone, is no longer lonely. In the last stanza, the speaker is “in vacant or in pensive mood” until “they flash upon the inward eye/Which is the bliss of solitude” (Wordsworth, 386). Prior to remembering the daffodils, the speaker is either at peace or lost in thought, but no longer lonely, and after he remembers the daffodils, the speaker is content. By noting the speaker’s ability to recollect the daffodils and be thankful for the time he has to do this, Wordsworth shows that the speaker’s solitude is blissful and that this kind of solitude is completely devoid of melancholy or alienation.

Work Cited

Durrant, Geoffrey. William Wordsworth. London: Cambridge U.P., 1969. Web. 14 June 2011. <>.

Wordsworth, William. “Daffodils.” The Penguin Book of Romantic Poetry. Ed. Jonathan and

Jessica Wordsworth. London: Penguin, 2003. 358-386. Print.

T.S. Eliot, The Boston Evening Transcript

This poem is very observational about the newspaper, the Boston evening transcript, and the people who read it. Because of its observational style about a topic that is quite every day, the poem appears way ahead of its time (1917). The reader of the paper is described as someone who “sways in the wind like a field of ripe corn.” It appears to me that this description indicates that the reader of the transcript is someone who is not too discerning and someone who can be easily swayed. In the end of the poem, Eliot takes a jab at a family member i.e. Cousin Harriet, to whom he delivers the newspaper.

T.S. Eliot, Aunt Helen

This poem was addressed and is about Eliot’s aunt, Ms. Helen Slingsby. It is particularly descriptive and straightforward, unlike his other poems. His aunt Helen was a maid, an unmarried woman. After she died, there was “silence in heaven” perhaps meaning that she was not well-liked. She seemed to care for her animals, “the dogs were handsomely provided for”, but not so much for the people who served her, the servants have to be very careful “while mistress lived.”