A close analysis of ‘Lines written near Richmond, upon the Thames, at Evening’

In Lyrical Ballads Wordsworth is keen to establish a general sense of connectivity between the poems contained within the compilation. Indeed, by its very nature, the various pieces collected together conjure up greater levels of meaning when taken as a whole, compared and contrasted with each-other. Similarities can be picked out, as well as differences, common themes throwing up links between two distinct works. By performing a close analysis of the poems, picking up on linguistic techniques and the effect these achieve we can gain a better understanding of Wordsworth’s intentions.

Looking at Wordsworth’s poem Lines written near Richmond, upon the Thames, at Evening at its most fundamental level, it is defined by a highly precise structure. Each line is comprised of 8 syllables and the rhyme scheme follows a strict A, B, A, B pattern. This conveys a sense of order and regularity that fits in with Wordsworth’s descriptions of the river as something rich and beautiful. This presents an interesting contrast with Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbery – here there is no rhyme scheme and the poem is far longer than …near Richmond, giving the sense of something far more rough and untamed. Indeed, Wordworth’s descriptions are full of evocative language that backs this up; a ‘wild secluded scene’ and ‘unripe fruit’. Here, there is that touch of the unpredictable and the chaotic.

This plays into a broader theme that under the initial, tranquil appearance of nature, there is a darker side. …near Richmond is full of this undercurrent, Wordsworth filling the poem with description of the ‘silent’, ‘dark’ and ‘gloom’. There is a sense of foreboding that also finds itself permeating into …Tintern Abbey too, with talk of ‘seclusion’. The image of nature given here is of something that you could at any moment find yourself lost within, completely consumed. The depiction of ‘wreathes of smoke’ progresses the dark imagery even further, touching on the theme of death. Here, we think of wreathes of flowers laid at a funeral, nature taking on its most dark overtones. The idea of smoke is significant too, it is something that masks and blinds, just as the dark side is hidden behind a more benevolent facade. Thus, the river, described in both poems as being ‘fair’, is also a thing that holds the potential for darkness, that it possesses a sinister side too. It is this juxtaposition that lies at the heart of both pieces.

The idea of nature being multi-faceted ties into numerous descriptive devices in both poems that personify nature. In …near Richmond, the narrator exclaims ‘O Thames! …come to me.’ By talking directly to the river, the narrator sets up a bond that goes beyond a person simply admiring a thing of beauty, it becomes something alive, capable of heeding the narrator’s call. In …Tintern Abbey the narrator personifies the river, describing it as ‘the nurse, the guide’, even going so far as to call it ‘My dear, dear Friend’. The fact ‘Friend’ is capitalised shows the extent to which Wordsworth places importance on it as something beyond being merely a river. Instead it becomes something living, something that shares an intense bond with him. The fact this theme transcends over both poems outlines how Wordsworth’s beliefs in nature find themselves invested in so much of his work. The scale of the theme, like Wordworth’s emotional connection with the river, is considerable.

This theme of a bond can be explored further by looking at the way the river and nature exist alongside humanity. In …near Richmond, the narrator claims ‘in thy waters may be seen / The image of a poet’s heart’. Here, the river is presented as a mirror for the poet himself – this plays into the idea of nature having both a bright and dark side too – human nature has the tendency to display both a good and bad side as well. The symbiosis displayed here outline how in Wordsworth’s eyes, nature and man co-exist as one. This theme is expanded in …Tintern Abbey where so much of the description depicts a world where the two live together in harmony. Farms are ‘green to the very door’, smoke is sent up ‘in silence’ and vagrants live in ‘houseless woods’. All portray a place where the presence of man is utterly unobtrusive to nature.

Wordsworth explores this harmony through the use of the senses. It is, after all, through the senses that nature, in all its wonder, is experienced. He speaks of ‘eye and ear’ and ‘the beatings of my heart’, thus encompassing the means by which he partakes of nature, through vision and hearing, and how these senses prompt such excitement in him, invigorating his very heart and lifeblood. In particular, the sense of hearing is picked out in lines such as ‘the only sound the dripping of the oar’. This can be explored further in …near Richmond where the narrator’s feelings for nature are so profound, he uses an exclamation mark thirteen times over the course of the poem, showing the extent to which his emotions are aroused by what he experiences.

The way the human senses and body are explored this way links in to the common idea of ‘Mother Nature’, again, an image of nature personified – just as in the description of nature in the two poems. The narrator’s description of the river as ‘fair’ again presents the image of a woman, her beauty prompting these feelings in him. Through all this, the bond between writer and subject is strengthened and thus made all the more tangible for the reader. The narrator even describes himself as ‘A worshipper of Nature’. It is this level of appraisal for something that if taken in the most base sense is just soil, foliage and water, that highlights the intentions of Wordsworth’s poetry. The fact ‘Nature’ is capitalised again presents it as an individual being, something named, rather than just a faceless entity.

In the river itself, we also find another piece of symbolism. In …near Richmond, words like ‘glide’ and ‘flow’ conjure up a constant sense of movement, change and progression. As the river flows ever onwards, so does time. This theme is continued in …Tintern Abbey where Wordsworth states ‘That time is past, / And all its aching joys are now no more’ – we see a remembrance of days long past, of distant emotions that while now gone, still hold a place within the poet’s mind. This shows not only another aspect of the bond between man and river, but also how it can conjure up memories of the past; acting as a gateway to another time.

The importance of this theme is stressed by the fact it forms the focus of the first two lines of …Tintern Abbey. ‘Five years have passed; five summers, with the length / Of five long winters!’  states the narrator and with the repetition of ‘five’, we feel just how long those years have been for the narrator. Its effect is profound and expands the scale of the poem far beyond its initial means. This is more than just a description of a single situation; it carries with it all the associations that are dredged up from the narrator’s memories. But the concept of time is not just associated with the past, in …near Richmond Wordworth also talks of the future, and what it holds. The line ‘their colours shall endure / ‘Till peace go with him to the tomb’ alludes to the eternal power of nature – while human life comes and goes, nature carries forever on. The line looks forward to how in time, death comes to us, harking back to the ‘wreathes of smoke’ line in …Tintern Abbey. By covering death in his poems, Wordsworth encompasses all angles of life, from the most, joyous, to the bleakest.

On the face of things, …near Richmond is a very simple poem, a clean cut description of a river and the emotions it prompts in the writer. But looking deeper into it, as the writer looks deeper into the nature of the river itself, we see it is in truth, so much more. Through this close analysis and through comparison with the way a different river is described in …Tintern Abbey we can then gain a greater understanding of the writer’s intentions. The two poems share so much in common, from the themes of time, life, death, and all the senses that affirm us as who we are. Through this all the aspects of the river and nature as a whole are explored, the two poems juxtaposing their capacity for both dark and light and how this juxtaposition can also manifest itself in the human psyche itself. …near Richmond encapsulates a specific time and way of thinking, and in its reading, and by association, other poems from Lyrical Ballads, that way of thinking is shared with us, the reader, too.

 

Bibliography

Davies, Hunter, William Wordsworth, Frances Lincoln: 2009

Keegan, Bridget, James McKusick, Literature and Nature: Four Centuries of Nature Writing, Longman: 2001

Wordsworth, William, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads, Routledge: 2005

Wu, Duncan, A Companion to Romanticism, WileyBlackwell: 1999

Comparing & contrasting examples of film modernism in Metropolis and Man with a Movie Camera and illustrating how their respective approaches exemplify modernist principles

In the early 20th century, the world found itself immersed in an exciting and dynamic new artistic movement. That movement was called modernism, and wrapped up within it lay a host of ideals and thought processes. Modernism presented a self conscious look at what comprises art and tried to find a new type of aesthetic, a new way of seeing. It was in this that Modernism found its focus, the qualities of observation and insight, how looking deeper at the world that surrounds us can throw up all kinds of previously unseen revelations. However, Modernism, by its very nature of being a global movement, is built up from many different and often wildly contrasting examples. From the German Expressionism of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) to the ethics of Soviet Montage evidenced in Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) we are presented with two films that explore and exemplify the principles of the movement in a variety of ways. Through close analysis of these techniques we can gain not only a better understanding of the films themselves, but also the intentions of the film-makers and their own individual take on the Modernist movement.

Looking first at German Expressionism, this aspect of the movement is defined by an idealist focus on the inner life of a person, the individual themselves. Metropolis then, with its clearly defined central character of Freder, is perhaps the perfect film to explore this concept. Expressionism investigates this concept of the inner self by presenting visualisations of a person’s internal state, something that is picked out with Metropolis’s highly melodramatic acting style. In numerous scenes we see Freder’s emotions highlighted by his exaggerated facial expressions and gesturing – the physical acting out of the character’s emotions and state of mind. This stands in direct contrast to the ‘truth’ depicted in Man with a Movie Camera which sets out through its documentary-like style to give the viewer a snapshot of life as it is, an essence of fact rather than fiction. In the film, there are no traditional actors, those being filmed are the real populace of the city, any emotions they portray being as they would be in real life, often possessing a subtlety that is a far cry from the style of Metropolis.

Man with a Movie Camera falls into the category of Soviet Montage, another branch of Modernism that defines itself on a film language based on effects. Through a multitude of editing effects, a montage is created, depicting events in a dynamic way that concerns itself fully with the ideas of seeing and imagery. Most crucial is montage’s aesthetic of catching life unawares, something that lends itself highly to the documentary feel of …Movie Camera. Indeed, it is telling that Vertov worked for a period at the Moscow Film Committee’s news reel section as well as serving as editor at the Kinopravda (film truth) company. Both place significant evidence on the documentation of fact and truth through the film medium, something that this film serves as a direct extension of. This truth is highlighted by the fact many of the people in the movie react to being filmed, there is that breaking down of the 4th wall between what is being recorded and the act of recording itself. This stands at odds with the fictional narrative of Metropolis where we are merely an observer, removed from the events taking place on screen.

In Metropolis, truth is constantly masked behind a facade. On a most basic level, there is the city itself, a thing of grandeur, extravagance and modernity above ground – but go beneath, into the workers’ quarters and machine room and you find a place of hard manual labour and squalor. Go even deeper and you find the catacombs, somewhere even the city’s creator Joh Fredersen doesn’t know about. There is this aspect of knowledge, of how things appear to be and how they are in reality. This is presented further in the sequence where Freder finds himself in the M Machine room and sees the machine transform into a horrific Moloch, a pagan god of sacrifice. Now the workers are not merely slaving away, but they are offering up their lives. Yes, Metropolis might be a shining example of technology reaching its peak, providing a utopian life for the aristocrats above, but it is based on this terrible reality below ground.

This transformation, from the mechanistic precision of a machine to the gross distorted view of a monstrous god is achieved by way of a cinematic technique Lang uses throughout the film, that of the crossover dissolve. The technique is used again in the actual creation of the robot Maria, the film dissolving back and forth between the human and robotic faces until they become one. Thus, in one of the film’s central characters we are presented with another facade, a machine dressed up in the appearance of a human. Wrapped up in this juxtaposition lies a key element of Modernism, the idea of knowledge and ways of seeing, of truth being something that is previously hidden but now revealed – hence the significance of them workers’ horror as the true robotic nature of Maria is uncovered towards the end of the film. They have now seen the truth and in this case it disgusts them.

The blurring of the lines between what is man and what is machine is explored in Man with a Movie Camera also, specifically, in the stop motion sequence where the camera moves about and takes on human characteristics. Vertov’s inclusion of this sequence is telling as it alludes to a statement made by him in his manifesto “I, a machine, show you the world as only I can see it. Now and forever I free myself from human immobility”. In this statement we have an important relation to the principles of Modernism – Vertov is claiming that the machine is not only capable of everything a human can do, but it is in fact better, that it can perform tasks only a machine can. Indeed, by its very nature Soviet Montage presents sequences of images in a way the human eye cannot produce itself. In this way, it is able to present something previously unseen.

An additional way in which Metropolis links man and machine is in the city itself. The audience is told of the Heart Machine that functions as the source of the city’s power, and high above, Lang presents us with great, sweeping vistas of the city’s skyline, roads and railways threading their way through the buildings like the arteries and veins of a circulatory system, feeding the traffic and people throughout the city. The people of Metropolis are its very lifeblood, a crucial element in the vast complex that is metaphorically presented as a body. Indeed, the film is bookended by a further emphasis of this, the film’s motto being ‘The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!’ – here, again, we have reference to parts of the body, linked together to comprise one being. This is a classic example of the Modernist view of having an idealist focus on inner life, the concept that all the elements that make up a ‘thing’ work harmoniously together. It presents a certain machine-like aesthetic, a desire to see everything functioning perfectly.

Of course, the reality is far removed from this; despite all the trust Joh Fredersen puts in the perfect functioning order of his city, Metropolis as a film is full of underlying fears of modernity. Whereas Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera embraces machines completely and the technical capabilities of montage; filling his film with images of trams, the epitome of a city running like clockwork, to a perfect orderly timetable, Metropolis presents a darker side. In the sequence with the Moloch Machine we are presented with a horrific mechanical accident that results in the loss of life of workers – here, machines are not perfect, they are threatening and can kill. This is brought to a climax as the robot Maria instigates the destruction of the workers’ city – a creation that Rotwang believed would be the perfect being is instead a corrupt, chaotic and highly dangerous killer. We even have Rotwang’s house and the catacombs underneath the city, gothic vestiges of a long lost age, signs that deep down, people still long for a more simple time, that they still fear handing over complete control to machines. For a Modernist film then, it seems strange there would be so many fears of modernity presented – but equally, a core element of German Expressionism is the notion of a divided self and in Metropolis’s conflicting views on machines, we are presented with this.

A number of key themes run strongly through both films, that of birth, death and work. …Movie Camera presents this in its realistic documentary-esque way, an observer of natural everyday processes; we see a woman giving birth, people moving about the city in the process of doing their jobs. Metropolis chooses to instead present these three themes in highly symbolic ways. Here, the birth is a bizarre, alchemical distortion; the creation of the robot Maria. Death manifests itself physically as a skull-headed character, swinging his scythe, physically scratching the film stock. Work becomes a twisted, agonising dance as the workers shift the dials in the machine room. In this contrast between the two films, we see two differing approaches in Modernism to three themes that define life itself, the cinematic treatment of them prompting us to consider these things in a new way, to understand them with new insight.

This plays into a key principle of Modernism and how the movement is highly concerned with ways of seeing and perspective. Both films explore this through the use of manipulation of space – in Man with a Movie Camera the opening shot presents to us the impossible image of a man placed on top of a camera. Here, our traditional views of how looking, viewing and comprehending what we see are challenged. Metropolis is built upon its impressive shots of the city, the film itself made possible by way of the Schüfftan process which allowed actors to be placed against models by using mirrors to construct shots that would be impossible in reality. Thus, in the presentation of the finished film, we marvel at the modernity and scale of the city, constructed through the manipulation of perspective.

…Movie Camera goes further in its manipulation of space by way of its montage structure, presenting the audience with a city that is in fact an amalgamation of multiple cities. Through the use of a cinematic technique, Vertov has manipulated the film medium to present a certain image to his audience – that of a universal city, an idea that goes beyond traditional concepts of place and setting. Metropolis presents a similar idea in the very idea of the city itself. Its name is ‘Metropolis’, a universal term for a large city. We are never told where this city is within the world; instead, it can be seen to a generic city, becoming almost a concept rather than an actual place.

Again, this plays into the notion of a divided self, where the setting becomes the thing being divided, the finished item being comprised of many elements; much like the Modernist film itself. It also sets up the idea of Modernism as a truly global thing, the concept of the universal, generic city serving as an idea that transgresses borders. Whether it be in Germany, Russia or beyond, Modernism manifests itself in different forms and by examining the principles that make up the variants of the movement we can come to a greater appreciation of the films in question, the intentions behind them and perhaps most important of all, what those intentions prompt us, the audience, to consider.

 

Bibliography

Eisenstein, Sergei, Film Form, Harcourt Publishers Ltd: 1969

Elsaesser, Thomas, Metropolis (BFI Film Classics), BFI Publishing: 2000

Girgus, Sam, America on Film: Modernism, Documentary, and a Changing America, Cambridge University Press: 2002

Hicks, Jeremy, Dziga Vertov: Defining Documentary Film, I B Tauris & Co Ltd: 2007

Pinteau, Pascal, Special Effects: An Oral History, Harry N. Abrams, Inc: 2004

Roberts, Graham, The Man with the Movie Camera (KINOfiles Film Companion), I B Tauris & Co Ltd: 2000

Roberts, Ian, German Expressionism, Wallflower Press: 2008

Tsivian, Yuri, Lines of Resistance: Dziga Vertov and the Twenties, Indiana University Press: 2004

Vertov, Dziga, ‘We: Variant on a Manifesto’: 1923, [http://artsites.ucsc.edu/faculty/Gustafson/FILM%20161.F06/readings/vertov.pdf] (accessed 7th March 2010)

Close analysis of an extract from Robinson Crusoe

Robinson Crusoe, as a novel, contains various stages of development, from Crusoe’s initial journeys to his arrival on the island, from his journal entries to the introduction of Friday – every step is ripe for analysis. However, one extract in particular represents a crucial shift for the novel – the moment where Crusoe now finds his island populated not only by himself and Friday, but also Friday’s father and a Spaniard. In a novel defined by isolation, the introduction of a ‘community’ into affairs signifies a massive change and thus Defoe’s writing should, by association, contain various themes that relate to this change too. It is through the examination of these themes that helps us better understand Robinson Crusoe, both as a text, and as a character in his own right.

Looking at this in the most fundamental sense, Crusoe gives his own views on the situation in the first line of this extract, stating ‘I thought my self very rich in subjects’. Here, Crusoe places massive worth on now having people around him, ‘rich’ hinting at how throughout the novel he finds humour in the fact the money he salvaged from his ship is worthless on the island. Whereas before, his father would judge him on what he managed to achieve in life and his time in Brazil centred around the monetary gain of his plantation, now he is far more concerned with having fellow men around him and the sheer joy he gains from this is palpable.

The irony is, of course, that Crusoe’s status on the island is greater than he could ever have achieved in the outside world. His line ‘the whole country was my own meer property’ and his own admission to feeling ‘like a king’ shows how he recognises the power he has over the other three individuals on the island. There’s a sense that Crusoe is perhaps almost tempted to mis-use his powers, the fact he repeats in numerous ways the extent of his powers, linking them to titles such as ‘lord’ and ‘lawgiver’ and how pleasurable he finds thoughts of such things suggests strongly how easy it is for power to corrupt someone.

In his years of isolation on the island, Crusoe had escaped all notions of this, all the rules and laws of the civilised world. But now, with just three others on the island, these notions are already returning to Crusoe, hinting at a basic element of human nature to seek order and structure. Part of this structure is a sense of hierarchy, something which is prevalent throughout this extract – Crusoe continuously uses the possessive ‘my’, referring both to the island, and more crucially, Friday. This can in many ways be attributed to the fact black slaves were common during this period of history. Despite on the whole Crusoe being seen to treat Friday in a far higher regard than a slave, in showing us this rootedness in the tradition of a sense ownership of another human being – particular of a white man ‘owning’ a black man, Defoe provides a window into the context of the time.

What’s interesting to note however is that although Crusoe does give this sense of ownership over Friday, he also gives him an elevated status over others of his race. The very fact he has a name and is called ‘man’ lifts him above the nameless mass of savages from which he came. Through Crusoe’s intervention he has in many ways become more human. This leads onto the way Crusoe has also taught him language, and looking into the latter part of the extract we also see ‘the Spaniard spoke the language of the savages pretty well’. This sharing of each-others languages and cultures is of massive importance, highlighted further when looking at the text in deictic terms by the use of ‘after we had dined’ – after so much of the novel focussing on Crusoe as ‘I’, the singular person, there is now a sense of ‘we’, a community of people eating and co-existing together. Through the bringing together of these people there is now a feel of civilisation even in this most remote of places, an marked contrast from the beginning of Crusoe’s spell in this place where he described it as a ‘horrible desolate island’.

Crusoe not only shares his language with Friday, but also his religion, teaching him the ways of Protestant Christianity. One interesting element is that in this extract Crusoe’s dialogue with Friday is through the means of reported speech, a simple ‘I ordered…’. In contrast, when we are given direct speech between the two men, it is frequently on the topic of religion. Thus, where menial tasks are concerned, Friday is ordered about, but when he and Crusoe discuss the nature of god, they become equals.

The theme of religion is one that is explored further in this extract in relation to all the individuals now living on the island, as Crusoe points out ‘and they were of three different religions’. There is presented here a danger that the three religions may clash – we need only look to the series of wars over religion – most commonly between Catholics and Protestants – that broke out across Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries as proof of this. The mention of ‘the place of battle’ in this extract also hints at this and Defoe’s wish to give his writing added weight by associating it with the historical gravitas the mention of battle conjures up. These events would have been well known to Defoe as he wrote Robinson Crusoe and thus when Crusoe states he ‘allowed liberty’ of the others’ religions it strikes us as decidedly forward thinking and modern, Crusoe showing respect for other cultures and beliefs even if they are not the same as his own. Of course, the clash between religions is also one that still afflicts the world today, the wars in the Middle-East standing as testament to this.

This aspect of respect, however, is one that is also present in the writing of one of Defoe’s contemporaries. Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko was the first English novel to show black Africans in a sympathetic light and this ties in to Defoe’s treatment of other cultures in Robinson Crusoe, both in regards to Friday but also the boy Xury in the earlier passages of the novel. Furthermore, looking at both of these works – it is important to note that they both stand regarded as candidates for the first ‘true’ English novel. They both present accounts of great men that make lengthy journeys across the world and experience both hardship and joy in exotic locations. Thus, with this subject matter therein lies the foundations for what we would now call the basis of a ‘novel’.

One of said elements is that of description – of both the setting and the proceedings which take place within. This is an element which features prominently throughout Robinson Crusoe as a whole and within this extract, here taking the form of Crusoe’s description of the preparation of a meal. What makes this passage so important though is how it relates to the savages’ ‘feast’ – the remains of which are described in the next paragraph. Crusoe details the killing of a goat in an almost ceremonious way to mark the occasion of the newcomers to the island. This draws similarities to the savages and their ceremonious killing and eating of humans. What marks the goat out as different? Well, aside from the fact it is an animal, Crusoe’s detailed description of the various cuts of meat, ingredients and cooking process, ‘having put some barley and rice also into the broth’ stands as a perfect example of culture, society and method in the face of the uncivilised, cannibalistic savages. This idea is continued as Crusoe stresses the importance of burying their dead bodies due to the fact they would quickly begin to rot in the sunlight. Here we see the use of logic – knowledge of a scientific process – put to practice, again upholding the values and routines of civilisation even in adverse conditions.

Thus, even within this small extract from the entirety of Robinson Crusoe, it is evident how many themes are at work here and it is testament both to Defoe’s skill as a writer and Crusoe himself as a creation. With his values, ideals, ambitions, passions, through him we experience the world of the novel. In a strange, exotic land, he is our touching point, the source of our empathy, our opinions, our emotions. But most importantly, as a character, he stands not only as an individual, but a metaphor for society and civilisation as a whole.

 

Bibliography

Behn, Aphra, Oroonoko, Penguin Classics: 2003

 

Defoe, Daniel, Robinson Crusoe, Oxford University Press: 2008

 

Drescher, Seymour, Abolition, Cambridge University Press: 2009

MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Reformation : Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700, Penguin: 2004

Watt, Ian, The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Fielding: Pimlico: 2000