Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Feeling at Home

Reflecting on the last four years of living at Loyola College and my home in New Jersey, when I think of moments when I “feel at home,” I typically think of a mix of physical places and interactions with friends and family. However, although it may seem a bit unconventional, I also think of instances of self-actualization in which I feel most grounded, alive, and fully myself. In this respect, as an English major and writing minor, when I think of when I feel most at home with myself, I think of when I read and write.

One of my favorite poets is New Jersey native, William Carlos Williams. As I was reading Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay, I found a correlation between his description of Dolly and Williams’s poem, “The Yachts” (Which can be read at the bottom of this post). Chandra’s narrator says that Dolly “grew more and more to resemble a kind of stately ship in sail, constant and beautiful, unmoved by choppy waters, and her supporters grew delirious with admiration” (52). Williams’s poem focuses on a similar metaphor of social class and economics, but focuses on America during the early 20th century. His poem begins with a speaker watching beautifully crafted yachts (the upper class) lining up in a harbor for a race. Once the race begins, the yachts “cut aside” “bodies thrown recklessly in the way” (Line 26). The yachts are unaffected by the “sea of faces about them in agony, in despair” (Line 27), the waves, or lower class citizens. The speaker realizes the horror and the implication of the race in lines 28-29, as “the whole sea become an entanglement of bodies / lost to the world bearing what they cannot hold.” The waves become a “broken, // beaten, desolate” (Line 30-31) mass of people “the skillful yachts pass over” (Line 33). The speaker’s initially idealistic perception of the pleasant appearance of the yachts develops into an interpretation that reads and understands the implications of the seemingly satisfying scene of ships in the water.

I thought this connected directly in “Shakti.” In Williams’s poem, other crafts follow the yachts, aspiring to attain their image of prestige and beauty, like the countless characters who wish to attain similar wealth and status of Dolly. We learn that Dolly, like William’s yachts, “pass[es] over” Ganga, her servants, and anyone of a lower class. Ganga says, “To such high people the rest of the world is invisible. People like me she cannot see” (69). Sheila succumbs to competitive temptations for a while, but ultimately, she, like William’s speaker, experiences sorrow in realizing what is going on around her and what she is participating in—most apparent in the change of demeanor of Sheila and T.T. after Asha’s wedding. Sheila realizes what is more important to her than such petty affairs of competition: her friends and her family. She is successful in healing the wounds afflicted by the long-lasting rivalry.

Overall, by reading and writing literature, I find that I feel most at home with myself. Aside from the joy experienced in finding random literary allusions or connections, I find my own connections with other characters, writers, and their ideas, which allows me to evaluate my own traits, beliefs, behaviors, and feelings—ultimately attaining self-awareness, or for me, feeling most at home.

The Yachts

contend in a sea which the land partly encloses
shielding them from the too-heavy blows
of an ungoverned ocean which when it chooses

tortures the biggest hulls, the best man knows
to pit against its beatings, and sinks them pitilessly.
Mothlike in mists, scintillant in the minute

brilliance of cloudless days, with broad bellying sails
they glide to the wind tossing green water
from their sharp prows while over them the crew crawls

ant-like, solicitously grooming them, releasing,
making fast as they turn, lean far over and having
caught the wind again, side by side, head for the mark.

In a well guarded arena of open water surrounded by
lesser and greater craft which, sycophant, lumbering
and flittering follow them, they appear youthful, rare

as the light of a happy eye, live with the grace
of all that in the mind is feckless, free and
naturally to be desired. Now the sea which holds them

is moody, lapping their glossy sides, as if feeling
for some slightest flaw but fails completely.
Today no race. Then the wind comes again. The yachts

move, jockeying for a start, the signal is set and they
are off. Now the waves strike at them but they are too
well made, they slip through, though they take in canvas.

Arms with hands grasping seek to clutch at the prows.
Bodies thrown recklessly in the way are cut aside.
It is a sea of faces about them in agony, in despair

until the horror of the race dawns staggering the mind;
the whole sea become an entanglement of watery bodies
lost to the world bearing what they cannot hold. Broken,

beaten, desolate, reaching from the dead to be taken up
they cry out, failing, failing! their cries rising
in waves still as the skillful yachts pass over.

William Carlos Williams

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