Author Archives: Robin Bates

Look Down on Us Who Journey by Night

Alfred Noyes’s “Night Journey” looks to God to find hope in the night.

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Obama’s Eulogy & Beloved’s Baby Suggs

Commentator Melissa Harris-Perry quoted from “Beloved” following Obama’s Charleston eulogy. The passage she chose helps explain the power of the speech.

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Plato Anxious about Lit’s Pyschic Impact

Plato’s complaints about literature show up in censorship battles today. They testify to power of literature to invite imitation.

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The Wicked Witch, Disillusioned Dreamer

Gregory Maguire’s novel “Wicked,” like versions of the Oz story before it, wrestles with the death of the American Dream.

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Justice Scalia, Blind Like Pentheus

Scalia attacking his fellow SCOTUS justices sounds like Pentheus excoriating Teiresias and Cadmus in “The Bacchae.” Unlike Scalia’s fellow justices, Teiresias gives as good as he gets.

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The Bard Endorsed Same Sex Marriage

In “Twelfth Night,” 400 years before Obergefell v. Hodges, Shakespeare dreamed of same sex marriage. He would have been celebrating Friday after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage.

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No Room in This House for Two “I”s

A Rumi parable speaks to the recent killings in Kuwait City and Charleston. It shares certain themes with Barack Obama’s Friday eulogy to Reverend Pinckney.

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Poetry Enlarges the Moral Imagination

Shelley’s “Defence of Poetry” makes one of the strongest cases in history for how poetry changes the world.

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Plato’s Warning: Beware of Poets

While Plato advocated banning poets from the ideal republic, his censure works as an indirect testimony to literature’s power.

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The Fear of Not Reading All We Should

Many readers have they anxiety that they haven’t read all the books they should have. Bibliotherapists claim that they can offer relief.

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Prescribing Lit for What Ails Us

I had mixed feelings about a recent article in “The New Yorker” on bibliotherapy.

Posted in Austen (Jane), Woolf (Virginia) | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Puck’s Summer Magic

“Midsummer Night’s Dream” dips into ancient British legends about the mystical aspects of midsummer.

Posted in Kipling (Rudyard), Nesbitt (E.), Shakespeare (William), Sir Gawain Poet | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Milton’s Satan Invades Charleston

Once again, light has attracted darkness in America with the Charleston church killings. John Milton describes how this dynamic works in “Paradise Lost” and Leslie Marmon Silko does so as well in “Ceremony.”

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Grendel Violence Never Ends

Once again a horrific mass shooting. Once again an occasion to turn to “Beowulf.”

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Detecting the Person behind the Poetry

What we find when we look for the person behind the literary work.

Posted in Clifton (Lucille), Dickens (Charles), Fielding (Henry), Joyce (James) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bloodless Criticism Undermines Lit

Literature can function as an evasion as well as a guide. But only if we talk about it in evasive ways.

Posted in Byron (Lord Gordon), Hardy (Thomas), King (Lily), Yeats (William Butler) | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Complex Inner Life of Teachers

Lily King’s “The English Teacher” is filled with literary lllusions, most of them thematically important.

Posted in Beowulf Poet, Eliot (T.S.), Faulkner (William), Hardy (Thomas), Homer, Joyce (James), King (Lily), Poe (Edgar Allan), Shakespeare, Twain (Mark) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An English Teacher as Tess

Lily King’s novel “English Teacher” is a profound meditation on how a trauma victim may view “Tess of the d’Urbervilles.”

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The Spirit Moves in Continual Creation

In “Chorus,” Elizabeth Jennings finds God in ‘tears shed in the lonely fastness/And in sorrow after anger.”

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Worshipping the Gods of Fermented Fruit

The way Peruvian farmers use corn be gives insight into Teiresias’ encomium on wine in Euripides’ “The Bacchae.”

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The Color Purple and a Texas Pool Party

The out-of-control police officer at an African American pool party brings to mind a scene from “The Color Purple.” We’ve made progress, however, since the days in which the novel is set.

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Neruda on Machu Picchu’s Healing Powers

Neruda’s “Heights of Macchu Picchu” describes how the lost city of the Incas revitalized his faith in humankind.

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A Guide’s Conradian Revenge Fantasy

Do tour guides ever dream of doling out to their chargers what the porters in “Heart of Darkness” do with one of the visiting English?

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Pound’s Description of a Long Marriage

With every passing year of my marriage, which hits 42 years today, my appreciation for Ezra Pound’s “River-Merchant’s Wife” grows.

Posted in Pound (Ezra) | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Opening of Eyes Long Closed

David Whyte assures us that God is here now, not in some indefinite future. We have but to open our eyes.

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The Explosion of Summer

A Paul Laurence Dunbar poem to usher us into the summer. It begins with breathless waiting–and then everything explodes.

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Satan: Freedom Fighter Turned Dictator

“Paradise Lost” can function as a lesson in how freedom fighters become dictators. It also shows what we must do to resist this tendency.

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Swimming with the Water Babies

Swimming with my granddaughters put me in mind of Charles Kingsley’s “Water Babies.” Kingsley helped us enter into the rich imaginative lives of children.

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Donne and Climate Change Denial

Somewhat unexpectedly, John Donne’s “Valediction Forbidding Mourning” gives insight into climate change denial.

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Poetry Comforts the Mentally Disabled

This “New York Times” article describes how poetry came to the aid of a man with schizoaffective disorder. It also aided his therapist.

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Though Thou Art in Thy Blood, Live

Spiritual Sunday A couple of weeks ago my library reading group discussed Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, the third novel in what one member described as a triptych. I love Robinson’s depiction of the Congregationalist minister John Ames in Gilead, and Lila gives us the backstory of the woman that Ames marries as an old man. (Home, […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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