Monday, September 14, 2009


Here is an English paper I wrote at Campbell in 2002:

Ben Currin
20th Century Lit.
Dr. Tate


Language is a symbolic theme in several literary works. The importance of language, of course, is how to use it to express oneself and what part language plays in self-expression. Language seems to be a fascinating mystery. Where did it come from? How did it come about? Why are there so many languages in the world? These are just a few of the questions that people ask. Language seems to be an issue that even literary circles have grappled with---being that language is needed in order to write. Language as a theme is found in Robert Frost’s, Gerald Manley Hopkins’, T. S. Eliot’s, James Joyce’s, William Butler Yeats’ and several other writers’ works.
In Frost, language is viewed in his placement of words and images of nature. Frost’s poem, “After Apple-Picking” seems to suggest a connection to ‘the fall of humankind’ and the effect of that single event. In the poem, it is clear that the meaning of the poem can be viewed from several different angles. This plays a part in the use of language in this poem which is to show after Adam and Eve’s fall from grace language became more complex so that expression was harder to show.
The Babylon event, another biblical reference, also has a role in the breakdown of language and expression, but it is the fall of Adam and Eve that plays the main role in this breakdown. After the fall mankind has been unable to communicate fully with God and that accounts in one way for the need for Christ to be an intercessor on our behalf. In this way prayer became necessary whereas before it wasn’t needed because humans weren’t blinded before the fall and could see and hear God firsthand. Wittgenstein and Willard Van Ormond Quine conducted philosophical research on language and suggested the same principles in slightly different terms.
Gerald Manley Hopkins seems to have followed in the same vein as Frost in his use of language, but with more experimentation. Hopkins could have been a surrealist to some extent in the way that he plays with language to express himself. Hopkins’ poem, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” is the best illustration of what poets can do with language when they play around with it. In the poem Hopkins places words in weird places and forms unique phrases to achieve his goal.
T. S. Eliot plays with the theme of language much in the same way as Hopkins does, except Eliot inserts foreign phrases into a few of his poems. William Butler Yeats, also, plays with foreign words and phrases. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” seems to deal with the breakdown of language on the deeper level. Language for Eliot seems to be a reflection of how fragmented life is. This comes across especially in the manner which Eliot wrote the poem in several fragmented parts. This is also illustrated in the spaces where Eliot inserts foreign phrases into the poem.
James Joyce carries on the language tradition of Lewis Carroll in his (Joyce’s) usage of language. Joyce followed the surrealistic path of Carroll and invented new ways to use language. Just like William Shakespeare, Joyce would find ways to invent words where convenient. This all goes back to the problem of expression as it was effected by the fall of humankind. After the fall, humans were unable to express themselves in the clear manner that they wished to express themselves, so humans began to experiment with languages and could make up their own way of expressing themselves when in doubt---which includes inventing new words and languages.
Yeats utilizes the theme of the fall of humanity as well. This is shown in the poem “Adam’s Curse,” which speaks of poetry itself. In “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” Yeats reflects upon the language of a person’s heart versus the language of a person’s soul. In this poem Yeats expresses a Platonic/Socratic duality of existence. This duality is a theme common in several world religions so by necessity Yeats played with this theme. Duality is also found in “Byzantium,” another poem of his that deals with language in it’s form of a symbolic image.
“Vacillation” another poem of his follows the same vein as “A Dialogue of Self and Soul” and contains a section in it that deals with the language of self and the language of the heart. In this poem, Yeats is still looking for an answer to the question of what truthful language is---but doesn’t arrive at a clear answer. This suggests the duality of life, which Yeats expresses in several of his poems. It also suggests the choices that humankind are forced to make daily which runs along on the lines of ‘freedom of the will.’ This also goes hand in hand with the issue of predestination.
William Carlos Williams follows the same tradition of Hopkins in the way that they both play with the placement of words and phrases in their poetry to achieve their goals. William Carlos Williams also displays a surrealistic quality in some of his poems such as “Paterson.” “Paterson” could be a pun on father and son---being that ‘pater’ is Latin for ‘father.’ This may suggest a connection with Jesus---after all Jesus is the Word of God and therefore is the ‘Supreme Language’ of life.
This plays with the some of Heidegger and Nietzsche’s ideas which lead to some of the poets of the 20th Century to play around with the idea of inventing one’s own religion or a new religion. This goes along with the idea of ‘supreme fiction’ or literature relation with religion. It took language to make the bible after all and the bible is also a work of literature.
In conclusion, language then is viewed in different ways by different people and is also necessary for proper communication and expression. Several writers play with the theme and the idea of language and develop their own understanding of language’s place in the world. Several poets such as Shakespeare, Joyce and Carroll have invented their own words and languages in the manner which they see fit. It is clear that language has been effected by the fall of humankind and has presented a language barrier between cultures and a generation gap as well.
It also has made a communication barrier between humans and God which lead to the necessity for Christ to be an intercessor on our behalf to God through our prayers---for the Cross is the bridge which fills this gap. In any case, language is an enigma in existence that is a paradoxical problem of life which can’t be explain until one reaches the great beyond and even then it probably still can’t be fully explained.

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