Tutor profile: Jackson T.
Poetry Foundation defines a "sestina" as "a complex French verse form, usually unrhymed, consisting of six stanzas of six lines each and a three-line envoy. The end words of the first stanza are repeated in a different order as end words in each of the subsequent five stanzas; the closing envoy contains all six words, two per line, placed in the middle and at the end of the three lines." Whew! That's a lot, huh? In your own words, break apart a piece of this challenging poem and write an analysis of it.
The repetitive aspect of the sestina lends itself to more dramatic poems. The first two stanzas of Paul Muldoon’s “The Turn,” hardly alert the reader to any sort of form right away. In those days when the sands might shift at any moment, when his mother might at any moment lay into him, he thought nothing of getting up half-way through a story about the Sahara, the one about the tribesman following the scent of water to a water hole, thought nothing of getting up and going out while he was still half-way through a sentence, going out and taking a turn about the house, sometimes not bothering to return for an hour, two hours, a week, a year perhaps, perhaps not until the sands of time had run out, not until his favorite guinea hen had brought herself to lay a double-yolked egg, or the double scent of the sand-pile and the dunghill made a Sahara A few things keep the secret of the sestina under wraps. Muldoon takes liberty with the word turn, making it return at the beginning of the second stanza. The word sands, although with repeated readings stands out, doesn’t in the initial reading of the poem. Sahara is used in a different context between the two stanzas—the first referring to the actual desert, and the second a reference to a pile of sand in Muldoon’s own yard. Outside the discussion of word repetition, a few questions surface. It is hard to discern the Who and the Where of the poem. “He” can immediately be ascribed to Muldoon, who “thinks nothing of getting up halfway through a story about the Sahara.” The teller of the story remains a secret until the end of the poem.
In the twelfth century narrative poem, Guigemar, by Marie de France, love and gender play major themes. Marie herself was an anomaly of her time: a woman writer in King Henry II's court! In a few paragraphs, write about the way Marie speaks of herself at the beginning of her epic poem.
Guigemar is carried to his love by a ship that he stumbles (quite literally, he’s got an arrow in his thigh) upon. Once he is inside the ship, it floats off to where a lady is locked up in a tower. Her husband is “exceedingly jealous,” Marie remarks snidely, “for all old men are jealous and hate to be cuckholded. Such is the perversity of age” (46). It isn’t strange that the author, Marie, a woman in her time, would not talk about the power of men over women directly, but the power of old men. Age is a tamer thing to needle at, considering that most people get old. Still, her observations seem strangely sharp. Who could she be talking about directly? She worked and prospered in Henry II’s court, but that is the most concrete thing we know about the author. Although this might be seen as nitpicking, the context in which the poem is written lies greatly within the realm that Marie herself is a lady. The introduction of the poem reads, “Hear my lords, the words of Marie, who, when she has the opportunity, does not squander her talents” (43). She is unabashed in her skill, and her knowledge of the poem itself. She’s confident in her authority, and in the way she chooses to tell the story. Her anecdotes shape the tone of the piece. As the story sails forward, her perspective is important to keep in mind, as it gives insight to how early twelfth century society viewed gender, and how their ideals were projected onto the stories of King Arthur’s court.
Subject: Film and Theater
In the 1920s, a director named Robert J. Flaherty came onto the scene with two influential docufiction films: Nanook of the North (1922) and Moana (1926). In a paragraph, speak of some of the differences between these two seminal films.
The differences between Moana and Nanook were in tone and narrative. Moana flowed free, much like the people on the screen. Dancing, laughing, joking, eating. It was almost surreal at parts. The young boys carrying a warthog down from where they killed him, and the way they effortlessly glided in those beautiful black and white waves were such excellent shots. Flaherty knows how to film water—but it functions so differently in the two films. In Nanook, water, ice, and snow is their enemy. The waves are tumultuous, and seeking life from the water (seals, walruses, salmon) is time consuming and arduous. Nanook is more of a story. A family, hungry and brave, travel through the tundra. Moana never slowed down long enough to give me that sense of story. Maybe this is why, although I enjoyed Moana visually, Nanook had me thinking about it long after I was done watching.
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