Sunday, 12 July 2009

Critical appreciation of the poem “The Album”

The title of the poem is The Album, by C. Day Lewis.  The poem suggests the speaker is haunted by her past, that she misses the beauty of it, and presently, she feels empty, low-spirited, unhappy and disappointed with her life.  The Album is about the speaker who is looking through her album, and looks at herself in photos taken years ago; in her childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.  In my point of view, she is now old and lonely, and wishes to be in her heyday again.

The structure of the poem is that it has five stanzas and each stanza has eight lines.  In stanzas 1, 2 and 3, in the first four lines, rhyming ABAB, the tone is pleasant, where speaker gives complements to the photos she sees, but in the rest of the lines in the stanzas, rhyming CDDC,  the tone changes to be unpleasant, which suggests the speaker then turns lugubrious – that she misses her past and wants to go back to it.  This can be seen, for example,  in stanza 1, line 7 “…my voice distantly calling / ‘Wait! Wait for me!’ ”,  stanza 2, line 15  “Yet I wish I was there ….” and stanza 3, line 23 “ I cry: ‘Give not to those charming desperadoes.”

The tone and mood of this poem is influenced by the speaker’s choice of words (diction) and imagery of the poem.  The speaker has a careful choice of words because she wants the reader to feel and experience what she is feeling and experiencing.  Generally, the tone of The Album indicates that the speaker feels joyless, unhappy, low-spirited, and lugubrious.  This is perhaps because she misses her life in the past and it is haunting her presently, her life now is empty and lonely, and she has nothing here for her,  and furthermore, the speaker wants to go back because life then was beautiful and wonderful.  We can see this from stanza 1, line 2, which says “in a garden sheltered for buds and playtime.”  This line suggests that the speaker is looking at her photograph when she was a young girl in her childhood, when there was no worry about anything because she was young and all that matters was to have fun.  “Sheltered for buds and playtime,” also provides the image the “buds” (symbolizes young) and “playtime” in the garden is secured (as they are “sheltered”) and that childhood is a time when she was preserved and protected.  The tone of the first four lines is pleasant, and the speaker is complementing the photograph she sees.  In lines 7 and 8, “… echo of my voice distantly calling / ‘Wait! Wait for me!’ ”  The lines show that the speaker do not want the image of that happy childhood to go away from her because she still wants to look at it and to “be there” again. “Distantly calling” gives the imagery that the print is “ignoring” her calls and the speaker cannot do anything to stop the print from fading. The tone now has changed from pleasant to unhappiness and lugubrious.

In stanza 2, we can still see that the speaker misses her past and wants to go back to it.  Lines 11 and 12 tells us that the speaker then was a adolescent – “…at an age / That asks every mirror to tell what the heart’s desire is.”   The imagery of adolescence is present here where at this age, adolescences are seeking for their own identity, experiencing confusions, and are curious about a lot of things.  “Oracle stream” symbolizes the flow life (as she experience life) where only “time could affirm or disprove,” (L14).  The first four lines carries a pleasing tone.  That she misses her teenage life and wants to go back to it is indicated in lines 15 and 16,  “Yet I wish I was there to venture a warning, ‘Love / Is not what you dream.’ ”   These lines suggest that the speaker wishes that she was there to warn her young self about the risks of venturing love.  Perhaps, she had bad experience in love and wished that she had been warned about it before.  Different from the tone of the first four  lines,  the t one  here  is  regretful,  depress  and  low-spirited  because something had happened.

The speaker continues to tell us of how she misses the past and how it is haunting her.  In stanza 3, she first complements the beautiful adulthood she had had.  Perhaps the picture was taken when she was in her early adulthood.  Again, the tone is pleasing and almost full of spirit.  We can see this in lines 18, 19 and 20,  “As if garlands of wild felicity crowned you – / Courted, caressed, you wear / Like immortelles the lovers and friends around you.”  The lines could suggest that the speaker’s life was beautiful, wonderful, and full of happiness. “Garlands of wild felicity” gives us the imagery that the speaker was experiencing untamed happiness, and it could symbolize the state of restlessness she was in.  The happiness seemed to be part of her because of the image given in line 19 – “wear” – as if she “wears the happiness.”  In line 20, “immortelles” provides the image of the immortal, but not applied to gods, but to higher things like young girls or fairies.  This tells us of how she felt she was superior to her lovers and friends at that time.  Line 22, “They are but straws and shadows,” creates the image of unimportance and not significant.  It indicates that to the speaker, others were unimportant and insignificant then, because she felt as if she was on top of the world – the climax of her life.  However, her tone changes later in the stanza to sounding rather depress and regretful.  In lines 23 and 24, “I cry: ‘Give not to those charming desperadoes / What was made to be mine.’ ”   Perhaps she was angry to herself rather than to the “charming desperadoes” because at that time, she had given them everything of her life and the excitement that she has nothing left for herself now.  She had been providing for the desperadoes, which could be hypocrites who had been taking advantage of her, perhaps in terms money, assets, energy or even her dignity, that now she regrets for giving them so much that she has nothing left for herself in her old age.

Stanza 4 tells us that the last picture the speaker had is missing.  The tone of the stanza is unhappy, lugubrious and regretful.  The last picture, “…a tree stripped bare / By intemperate gales,” could symbolizes her fall and anti-climax of life, as the “tree” symbolizes her life; the “leaves”, her happiness; and the “intemperate gales”, an incident that took place – the storm of life.  “Intemperate gales” gives us an image of sudden burst of strong wind which left a tree bare without leaves.  This could suggest an incident that had happened to the speaker which had taken all her glory and happiness from her so quickly, which has left her feeling empty.  The missing of the photo also could tell us that her life presently is empty.  In lines 30, 31 and 32, “In tremble, as one who must view / In the crystal a doom he could never deflect – yes I too – / Am fruitlessly shaken,”  the speaker looks at her pictures of her heyday, and knew she was going to fall into her “doom” as she puts it.  “Crystal” gives us the image of destruction beyond repair or cannot be mended again, that is she feels that when she fell, she could not rise again. She knew that she is going to fall and is afraid of it, but there is nothing that she can do about it (as she says, “fruitlessly shaken”).

Line 33 and 34 in stanza 5 tells us that the speaker is haunted by her past that she “closed the book ;  / But the past slides out of its leaves…” (L33, 34) to haunt her.  She seems to be unable to escape the past, as she says  “…it seems, wherever I look, / Phantoms of irreclaimable happiness taunt me”  (L35, 36).  “Phantoms” gives the imagery of ghosts which follows her wherever she goes, she is unable to touch it but knows that it exists,  and perhaps it scares her to know that she cannot experience the happiness that she once had in the past.  However, line 37 to 40 in the stanza, “Then I see her, petalled in new-blown hours, / Beside me – ‘All you love most there / Has blossomed again’, she murmurs, ‘all that you missed there / Has grown to be yours,”  suggests that the speaker sees another character of herself who are optimistic and as if she is a “new” her, telling the speaker that her love for the past has blossomed again, as if assuring herself not to feel down, depress, low-spirited and regretful of what had happened.  These lines moves from regret, depression and sadness to happiness because the joys and happiness of the past are  part of the present (it has blossomed again), as we can see in lines 38, 39 and 40, “… ‘All you love most there / Has blossomed again’, she murmurs, ‘all that you missed there / Has grown to be yours.”

Sounds are used in the poem to give some effect to the meaning.  In line 4, the sound /j/ is used; “By a fancy beyond your years and the following may time.”  The sound is a glide or semi-vowel, and it creates the image as in fatigue state – the speaker is unhappy and lugubrious.  Throughout the poem, there are quite a number of fricative /s/ and /z/ sounds, for example, as in “years” (L4), “heart’s desires is” (L12),  “caressed” (L19),  and “those scene”  (L29). The flow of air by these fricatives has created an image as if the speaker is sighing.

As a conclusion, in my point of view, the speaker in The Album is presently old, lonely and is haunted by her past.  She looks through her album and pictures of her when she was younger, and wishes to be there again.  However, the tone of the poem moves from regret, depression and sadness to happiness in the last four lines.

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