Author Archives: Robin Bates

Neocons Never Have to Say They’re Sorry

Supporters of the Iraq War avoid responsibility for it as they advocate more of the same against Iran. Perhaps they read this scene from Anthony Trollope’s “Prime Minister.”

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Trollope, Obama, Schmoozing, & the Media

Barack Obama’s distaste for schmoozing is reminiscent of the Duke of Omnium’s own distaste in Anthony Trollope’s “Prime Minister.” And the press in Trollope’s novel is just as self-righteous as it is today.

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On Choosing Works for the Canon

What books should we throw out of the canon? That’s a difficult question because works are constantly changing.

Posted in Fielding (Henry), Pope (Alexander) | 2 Comments

Recollecting Summers Past in Tranquility

When we buried my father’s ashes in the family plot in Turner, Maine, I turned to a poem he wrote as a boy about summers in Maine.

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Black Lives Matter: Tearing Down the Walls

The “Black Lives Matter Too” movement dreams of the invisible walls that separate Americans coming down. In “Women of Brewster Place,” Gloria Naylor imagines an actual wall coming down.

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Death and a Night Powdered with Stars

Oliver Sachs quotes “Paradise Lost” in a touching article about his encounter with stars in the final months of his life.

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For Depression, a Nature Walk

New brain research is confirming what William Wordsworth long ago asserted: talking walks in nature is good for our mental health.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream Wedding

A former student chose a “Midsummer Night’s Dream”-themed wedding. The play captures the perfect balance between sexual urges and social tradition and ritual.

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Turning at Last to Home Afar

As I undertake the long drive home from our Maine cottage, I am put in mind of Bilbo’s song as he returns to the Shire.

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A Novel That Inspired Governesses

I’m pretty sure that my great-great-grandmother turned to “Jane Eyre” to get the courage to leave her family and go out into the world as a governess.

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Sentimental Fiction Comes to the Rescue

Reading 19th century family memoirs, I learned about the origins of my own love of books.

Posted in Kingsley (Charles), Tennyson (Alfred Lord), Warner (Susan), Wilde (Oscar), Yonge (Charlotte) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blessed Be the Peace Makers

The optimism in Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” became a bit more believable as the inveterate enemies Iran and America signed a peace accord this past week.

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Imagining Peace with iran

It will take a shift for Americans to stop thinking in terms of American firepower and start imagining peace achieved through diplomacy. Denise Levertov describes how to make that shift.

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Turning and Turning: A Tern’s Dilemma

Scott Bates’s playful poem about a tern appears to be some kind of feminist parable although I’m not sure what the moral is.

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Apple Picking Has Changed Since Frost

My cousins’ apple farm and cider-making operation show that much has changed since Robert Frost wrote “After Apple-Picking.”

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Atticus Finch Exposed in Sequel

Atticus Finch may not be as attractive in the sequel to Harper Lee’s “Go Tell a Watchman” but he may be more realistic.

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Dickens against the Death Penalty

Dickens would be appalled at the Supreme Court’s recent decision supporting the death penalty. As he saw it, the death penalty dehumanizes the rest of us.

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Pope and St. Francis vs. Climate Change

Pope Francis, taking his cue from St. Francis’s “Canticle of the Creatures,” hopes to save the world from catastrophic climate change.

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Rising to the Author’s Challenge

Novelist Lily Tuck warns against seeing literature too much as reality. Reading should be more akin to a church-going experience.

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The Inner City: Stay or Leave?

How do we get young people to stay in the inner city and make it a better place? Baldwin’s “Sonny Blues” gives us a sense of what is possible.

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A Weed’s Zen Acceptance of Fate

If you’re hostile towards garden weeds these days, here’s a very Zen-like Scott Bates poem from a weed’s point of view. Or maybe it’s an existentialist parable about free will.

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Read Poems for Life w/o Boundaries

U. S. Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, in “Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings,” holds up poetry as far superior to consumer society. A poem is “a way to attain a life without boundaries.”

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Mood Swings: Inside Out, Rape of the Lock

“Inside Out” has a lot in common with Pope’s “Rape of the Lock.” Both show us the interior drama of their heroines. In both works, the heroines lose touch with their upbeat helpers.

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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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  • 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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