“Our haughty life is crowned with darkness…”

-William Wordsworth, 1835


“We for a certainty are not the first

Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled

Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed

Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.”

-A. E. Housman, 1922


“Brianna is expressing what a writer hopes for–empathy for those about whom he or she writes… Does our feeling for them count for anything, even though they are all long dead?  I think it does.”

-Renae Hanson to Brianna Zachmann, 2009



As I sit at my computer, enjoying the scent of the season’s first lilac blossoms, it is hard for me to believe that the long months of winter are finally over.  In the work of the British authors I have studied these five months, I have been given many invaluable gifts.  I have been comforted, been offered ways in which to cope and stay mic1strong,  I have felt understood, and above all else, these authors have helped me heal.  At the beginning of this semester, my British Literature professor Ranae Hanson told our class to be brave, that bravery in this class would count for a lot.  So, in the spirit of bravery I offer you my voice to carry the words of these brilliant authors.  I hope I have done them justice.  Ranae also encouraged us at the beginning to read these poems and stories out loud to ourselves, which I tried a few times but like many people, I imagine, I felt a little silly.  I tried to find someone to read the poems to, or to read them to me, but this, sadly, never happened.  When I decided that it would be fun to make a recording of a poem or two,  I truly had no idea how much I would enjoy it or how much I would embrace the opportunity.  The process of reading out loud, again and again, the work of these authors, connected me with them in a way I would have previously doubted was possible.  I embraced my inner-book-nerd in a way I have never before been able to do!  Sitting in my basement with the Norton Anthology propped up in front of the condenser microphone, I went through an entire range of emotions with these authors; I giggled, I cried, I got bored, I got angry, I cursed them for writing poems that are impossible to read without stumbling over one’s own tongue, I wished I could sit and talk with them, I fell in love with them.  Please excuse me for any errors in pronunciation and the occasional stumble, as I do not think these poems and stories were meant for perfection anyway.  I hope that these voice files give you the opportunity to have this amazing work read to you, as they were meant to be.

*special thanks (and SBMPS) must be given to Cory Cantarella at Penn State for making my unrealistic vision of a blog with working music player buttons an astonishing reality*

William Blake

painting by William Blake

"Jacob's Ladder" by William Blake

William Blake’s two books of poetry: Songs of Innocence, published in 1784, and Songs of Experience, published in 1789, provide amazing insight into the complexities of human nature.  The poems in these books contrast what I see to be the lighter side of human emotion and experience (innocence, hope, joy, and faith) with the darker side (experience, cynicism, depression, and grief).  From Songs of Innocence, Blake’s poem “The Chimney Sweeper” is the tale of young chimney sweepers who somehow find hope for the future and faith in God in the midst of their bleak lives.  Classmate Abdiasis Hirsi comments on the character’s discovery of strength in the form of religious faith, “Out of empathy and hope, [he] begins to fantasize help from heaven: an angel descends and frees everybody, ‘And by came and angel who had a bright key, / And he opened the coffins and set them all free…’.”  “The Nurse’s Song” has a very different perspective of life.  From the perspective of an older nurse (a children’s nanny, so to speak)  who has lost hope and faith to her cynicism and fear, this poem is very dark and foreboding. The voices in these two poems are so very different that it is hard to assimilate the two when reading them back-to-back.  However, these contrasting states of emotion, philosophy, and experience are exactly what being human is all about.  We must decide for ourselves how to deal with or react to pain and adversity, as well as joy and happiness.  I believe that William Blake’s message has endured for over two centuries because of this honest truth.

“Nurse’s Song”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Dejection: An Ode” is Coleridge’s exploration of his own deeply rooted depression.  He writes an ode to his own internal feelings and thoughts, which is quite poignant and personal in nature.  He feels a lack of inspiration, a numbness toward natural beauty, an “unimpassioned grief” which drags him down into a “void” of sorts.  What I think is interesting about this poem, and indeed about Coleridge, is that this is such a beautiful poem and yet he writes that he can find no solace in the writing of it.  Perhaps, although he is seeking solace, or “relief” from this depression, he instead found a way to understand his own mental and emotional state through the writing of this poem.  I can attest that reading the poem certainly made me feel a strong empathy toward Coleridge for this state he is in, as I have felt so similarly in the past. I believe that this poem has a deeper meaning when you learn that Coleridge was heavily addicted to opium, which caused him to be estranged from his friends and his loved ones and often made it impossible for him to write.  This is depression resulting from drug addiction, which numbed Coleridge to the beautiful world around him and made his life a misery.  In spite of all this, Coleridge’s talent shines through.  Even when writing about numbness and a lack of aptitude or inspiration for writing, he still composes an articulate poem which deliberately uses certain methods and techniques to write eloquently about his state of mind.  Classmate Matthew Streit examined this poem and found a number of ways in which Coleridge used poetic techniques to show his intent; “the stanzas are of different lengths and there is no rigid rhyme scheme…  Coleridge uses less structure in this poem to help communicate the message of loss, longing and disruption of his creative life.”