Welcome to my Writing Collection.
a selection of recent work from
Entries from a short blog entitled "behold & be held" which can be viewed at https://beholdandbeheld.blog
a selection of recent work from
The light burned into dark pink
as we ran through the desert together
letting the dirt covered our feet, turning around
every few minutes to watch our shadows
turn into slender ghosts.
All my memories splintered fast
into broken glass, but you told me:
Look at the moon’s glow,
You don’t need to be the sun.
Just be His reflection.
The Lamb's Liturgy
they scraped me up like dirt
hung me on my mother’s clothesline to dry
while the wind mourned for me
filled my lungs thick with saltwater
as I gurgled out a hallelujah.
I let them spit in my face too
just so you could know: I understood
I always understood
that each time a word seared your skin
it also sunk your heart like a stone.
you breathed Hosanna
then threw your stones at my bowed head.
today I’ll take them all
feel the sting of every last one
let my body be broken like bread
to tell you that our God is not numb
because I am not either.
Grace in the Key of c
He told a story
about a sentence
sung from the far
of a room with four walls
to keep the words
Battered knees pry-ing
through the tears
in his cotton gym shorts.
knuckles pulse under gloves
for a few nickels, the same
fist that extracted
the teeth from his brother’s jaw.
colder than granite’s
descended his legs down
to the church basement.
evict him like the others did,
a fly batted an eyelash. Their
through his fingertips like
blown by wind from
speak kindly and you’ll see.
the voice of your Redeemer
Better than dreaming. Better
he’s stiller than the brick against
wondering what makes their
Deception, deceived, wishful
swimming in a pool constructed
by a poet
in a red swarm of frustration.
they sing and the ceiling tiles unstack
across the sky
brimming with expectancy that’s already
a day more tangible than the one
because grace isn’t a figure of speech.
a sentence, and galaxies fold
like butterfly wings.
[An Imitation poem after Jorie Graham’s Reading Plato]
You’re a nuisance to me like bees are. Knowing your honey is good to eat doesn’t make me less wary of your sting. I’ll hold my breath instead– shut my eyes like a fortress.
We grew up with the sun on our backs, singeing our little shoulder-blades. I spent a year aloe-ing your blisters away and blinking purple until blindness set in.
But today, I am a string instrument. Thankful to be missing a bow; untouchable and lovely, with a good frame.
Making eye contact with a blue jay at sunrise.
Have you ever been hurt by your own autonomy before? Mine has teeth: I’m a siren, unable to understand why I crave my own skin like water in July.
The lights on the boardwalk silenced themselves to hear my breath that night– checked my vital signs, stole a kiss. I woke up unable to swallow.
They forgot to tell me that Love could swim through liquor-filled veins too; that contact with dirt and demons only makes me more qualified for His intervention.
I can still taste the bitter orange peels of my past life.
The jealousy wells up in my gut like tar, and hardens at nightfall. A solid rock that forgot how to cry out.
My shoulders wouldn’t be strong enough to carry you home if I hadn’t dragged my body through shards of glass last December.
I live in Remembrance
Entry from June 1, 2018
A truth that has come to carry heavy weight in my heart recently is that as followers of Jesus, our lives are best lived in perpetual and constant remembrance.
Our scattered brains can barely concentrate on anything that’s not directly happening to us in the present tense. Searching our memories and trying to recollect emotions, ideas and events from the past is not an easy task, in fact, it takes willpower. But, a lot of things that God asks us to do are not natural for us, which is why He sent us His Holy Spirit to intercede for us when we are at the end of our rope. We are never asked to fight against our forgetfulness on our own.
It is essential to remember lots of small things in day to day life like grocery lists and material for an exam or even bigger things like what you love about a person. In the same way, God calls us into a life of remembrance the moment we say yes to following Him, in the small promises and the big covenants.
Remembrance is spoken about in scripture on many different occasions and in many different contexts, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Deuteronomy 5:15 : “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Even since the time of the Israelite’s enslavement in Egypt, God has told humans and demonstrated for the the importance of remembrance. Exodus 2:24 says “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” God Himself even practices remembrance (surely in a much different way than we have the need to), but there’s something about the intentionality of God in actively remembering His promises that is filled with love.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26
One of the main roles that the Holy Spirit himself plays in our lives is to help us remember Jesus’ teachings and the things God has spoken. Every time a word from scripture or a promise that God has made to us pops into our head, that is the Holy Spirit’s way of guiding us in truth. We can read as much scripture as we want, but walking in step with the Spirit yields fruit when we don’t just leave the truth we learned with our closed Bibles. It happens when we give the Spirit the freedom to remind us of those truths in everything that we see and do as we go about our days.
Throughout all of David’s life, remembrance is intricately woven into his life and his story.
David’s prayers and praises to God in Psalms have been recognized all over the world as beautiful and pure models for how we should pray today, which is why it’s important to note that remembrance is a huge part of his focus in many of the Psalms he wrote. Each time he catches himself forgetting a promise from the Lord, he immediately turns to remembering truth. Psalm 143:5 says “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” (More examples from David and other Psalmists: Psalms 20, 42, 63, 77, 78, 105, and many more)
Here are some things that after searching scripture, I am convinced are important for followers of Jesus to constatly remember in pursuit of spiritual growth:
Who God is. Almighty, loving, wonderful counselor, Redeemer, deliverer of justice, all-knowing, ever-present, beautiful beyond comprehension, the Great I Am. The beauty in this is that we can never stop learning more about who God is… the list of stunning character traits goes on and on into the depths of the sea and to the reaches of the farthest stars. Each time we gain even the smallest amount of new understanding of who God is, we delight our Father. Proverbs 3:13-14 : “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.”
What Jesus did for us. “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me'” Luke 22:19. Jesus Himself told us how important it is to remember Him and His sacrifice on the cross, so much so that He gave us this beautiful sacrament to remember Him by. The greatest act of love that ever occurred in all of History, the willing sacrifice of the only perfect man who ever lived to save the world deserves to be remembered constantly throughout all generations. His death and resurrection changed absolutely everything, and is something that deserves to be at the forefront of our hearts and minds forever.
Who God says we are. Since Jesus has interceded for us, God now sees us as redeemed, restored, loved, free, covered in grace, new creations, chosen, and commissioned when we put our trust in Him. This list doesn’t end there either. The more the Holy Spirit allows us to discover about who God is, the more this list grows as well. We must also remember that while we are still here on Earth we are perpetually imperfect and can’t measure up to God’s perfect standard on our own. It is just as important to remember our imperfection and our need for grace as it is to remember our freedom.
What God delivered us from. Our personal stories and testimonies are some of the most encouraging ways we can remember how God has been faithful in our lives to spur us on to pour into others. By remembering my story and pondering the way in which God reached from His deep into my deep to deliver me from the death that I was living in, I am so encouraged by the fact that He is unstoppable and can bring even the most hardened souls like mind back to Him. We become increasingly confident in God’s redemptive abilities the more we remember the big and little ways that He has worked in and around us.
Who God made us to be. We were meant to be in perfect fellowship and Communion with Him, beloved servants, heavenly things, blameless in His sight, completely satisfied. We were made for heaven. Whenever we forget God’s promises and try to find our satisfaction in ANYTHING on earth, we are settling for less than heaven and a lesser identity than who God made us to be. This is why we remember… in pursuit of heaven as we become more like Jesus.
What He has called us to do. The beautiful truth about this one is that as we grow in our remembrance of the other ones, this becomes easier and easier. Out of knowing who we are in Christ and all that He has done for us, answering our calling to the Great Commission becomes natural. It’s when we forget God’s promises that evangelism becomes hard. I will be the first to admit that I am completely guilty of this, just as we all are at times, which is what makes sharing our faith with others so hard. The moment we lean into our own identity and what others think about us rather than our identity in Christ and Christ alone, sharing Jesus with others seems forced and difficult. But when we remember truth with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are showered with the most lovely peace and by the grace of God, we learn how to walk in confidence.Hallelujah, what a gift!
My prayer now and for all of my life, for myself and for all followers of Jesus across the world, is that by grace we would learn to walk in remembrance.
“As far as heights reach from the depths
As far as east is from the west
So far Your grace has carried me
If ever I should lose my way
If ever I deny Your grace
Remind me of the price You paid
I’ll live in remembrance”
(Remembrance, Hillsong Worship)
what god has been teaching me overseas
Entry from May 26, 2018
For the last 3 weeks, I have been in Northern Ireland on a mission trip working to share Jesus with university students.
It has been hard work and very dry at times, with many students who are apathetic towards the gospel or were hurt by the church in their upbringing. Despite the difficulties, God is moving here. He has been moving in the curious eyes of the students as I tell them who Jesus is to me, He has been moving in my teammates conversations as they earn students’ trust and open doors, and He has even been moving in our hearts as we climb up the rocky cliffs on the North coast and experience His mysterious love and beauty in new ways. So in so many ways, there has been nothing unsuccessful about this trip… every encounter we have with Jesus and allow others to have is a miracle.
Thankfully, God’s greatest teaching moments happen when our faith is stretched. So of course, God has been teaching me an abundance of new truths over the course of these past several weeks, and my hope is that He will continue to do so over my last couple weeks here.
Seasons of famine make room for abundance of blessings.
No matter what kind of famine we’re talking about (whether it’s wandering in the wilderness for years and years like the Israelites or a long season of waiting or wandering around campus for hours not finding students to talk to), each blessing we receive, no matter how small, has a really special sweetness like water after days of being paralyzed with thirst. There is something so glorious about those moments, when in our desperation we receive grace upon grace. Many times, these small blessings are taken for granted, even overlooked, when we receive them during a season of abundance. How sweet it is to realize that the small things had been blessing from the Lord after all and for the thankfulness capacity in our hearts to grow. I’m finally learning to let the cool breeze on my face and the little whispers of the Holy Spirit bring me to singing.
2. Eternal life is lived in the present.
You know those truths that you hear for the first time and it hits you so hard it’s all you can think about for days? This is definitely one of those for me. I have heard this statement before, but I heard it with fresh ears last week and haven’t shaken it ever since. We are living as much in eternal life now as we will be when we are in perfect, sinless and sorrow-less fellowship with our Lord one day. Although my sin causes me to turn my back on God daily, He never departs from me… He is so present, just as He will be when we finally experience His glory in fullness. As I move houses again and again and feel restless and even homeless at times, this truth has been SUCH an encouragement to me. Of course I don’t feel at home anywhere! My true and permanent home is already being built so lovingly and with such care by my Father.
3. I am still called worthy, even when I forget God’s promises.
Evangelism can be really, really hard. When wandering around for hours, trying to muster up the willpower and strength (when I should probably just be leaning into the Holy Spirit) to engage in a deep spiritual conversation with someone you’ve never met before, you learn what spiritual exhaustion feels like. And then Satan attacks, in all of his cunning temptation, hitting you in all of your weak-spots at once because he knows well that God is on the brink of a breakthrough and will do everything he can to stop it. I have wondered often why God would choose someone like me, who is uncomfortable with and doesn’t really like talking to strangers, is timid and whose greatest sinful fear is rejection, and has physical disabilities to serve Him in this way. Sure, maybe this type of evangelism isn’t my lifetime calling. But it is for now, and God has every intention of using me to grow His kingdom and plant seeds. The times when I forget God’s eternal promises and focus on my present fears and emotions never have and never will disqualify me from ministry. Romans 9:22-23 “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”
Throughout my time here, I have been praising God for the sustenance I have found in His beauty.
The Lord, the supplier of all things good and beautiful, knows exactly what we need when we need it. It’s sweet to know that He knows us so intimately that He knows just what causes us to sing hallelujah, and for me that’s all things visually beautiful. I see God’s heart so clearly in the cliffs and green grass and flowers growing in hard places and the turquoise water crashing onto the shores of Northern Ireland. God knew exactly what He was doing when He placed me here, and I know that not only through the encouraging and intentional conversations I’ve been able to have with Northern Irish students, but also in the extravagant physical beauty in this place that leaves me stunned by His glory. His heart for us is as relentless as the waves which mysteriously carve the rocks at the Giant’s Causeway.
Entry from March 21, 2018
This is how many times, in the ESV alone, the word “behold” appears in the Bible.But here’s the thing: I have yet to find a place in which it is completely grammatically necessary for it to be used. A quick case study:
original: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31a —- without behold: “And God saw everything that he had made and it was very good.”
original: “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.” Psalm 54:4 —–without behold: “God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.”
The list goes on and on (1,069 times, to be exact). Although it’s easy to skim over the word whenever we encounter it for that very reason, we also know that God is intentional… His words are not in vain; Not even a word like behold, that we don’t exactly tend to throw around in our daily conversation.
“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” Revelation 21:5
God urges us to behold this amazing truth while He reminds us that the scriptures are His words and they are trustworthy and true in the very same verse! But regardless of this interesting overlap, in this verse God gives us this beautiful mental picture of Him speaking each word to the writer and assuring him that the words are His, and that they overflow with truth. Divine authorship does’t exclude words that we overlook due to our fleeting attention span, and our fleeting attention span is the exact reason we NEED to behold.
The word behold is used in a unique way all throughout the Bible. Many times, it could easily be replaced with “look!”, and it would still fulfill the same grammatical usage. But it’s not, and there is a key difference here: “Behold” is a beckoning to linger, an urging to admire, survey and appreciate… the command “to look” only demands the necessity of a fleeting glance. The dictionary puts it this way: “We see, distinctly or confusedly. We look at,near, or at a distance. We behold, with wonder and attention. We view, with care and exactness.” God doesn’t call us to “take a glance” at what He’s doing… His majesty displayed in His word deserves our wonder and attention. His beauty doesn’t require an audience, but He knows that our captivation leads to our sanctification… so He beckons us to behold. Every time we behold His promises in scripture and allow them to sweep us off our feet, God draws us nearer to Himself.
But here’s the problem, our society doesn’t encourage beholding. Humans are fast paced creatures with the inability to even lock eyes with someone for more than a few fleeting seconds without becoming tired or uncomfortable. Things become mundane to us because our sinful eyes and hearts are restless. But the Bible encourages us to look at the world differently… and to behold how everything in creation cries out to God like the rocks cry out in silence (Luke 19:40). I believe that many of my problems and sins… the desire to control my life, my selfishness, pride, and fear, can many times be because I struggle to behold God rightfully. Job was pressed with an immensity of trials, more than most of us will ever experience. But each time he was mocked, questioned, or questioning God, we are also shown how he fights defeat: by reflecting upon and beholding God’s character. This is our calling.
Don’t miss it, God faithfully uses the word behold before revealing some of His greatest masterpieces! He knows that our fickle hearts struggle to see the marvelous glory that he reveals about Himself in the ordinary and extraordinary objects of life. He clothes the lilies in splendor, He springs forth redwood trees from seeds that we can hold on our fingertips, He handcrafts the light that flickers through the trees in the morning and bounces off our windowpanes at night… and He intricately and perfectly planned to save ordinary, broken people like us to hold His treasure. Nothing in my sinful nature wants me to see and experience these wonders, but God sent His spirit to us for this very reason: to help us behold Him and His hand in our lives so that we can press on in faith.
These glimpses are just small glimmering fragments of the promise that one day, the fog will be lifted and God’s glory will be revealed to us in fullness. When we behold Him as our vision, how could our hearts not well up with excitement and overflow in worship?
“Remember to extol his work,
of which men have sung.
All mankind has looked on it;
man beholds it from afar.
Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.
For he draws up the drops of water;
they distill his mist in rain,
which the skies pour down
and drop on mankind abundantly.”
19 November 2019
“Othering” in Matthew Arnold’s “The Scholar-Gipsy” and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”
“The Scholar-Gipsy” by Matthew Arnold and “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, seem to take the traditional use of personified inspiration us into a territory which could be interpreted as problematic, since their inspirations are part of an “othered” and often oppressed culture. In her poem, Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks in the first person as an African American slave woman as she recounts the horrific experiences she has endured, and in his poem, Matthew Arnold attempts to identify with and uncover the mystery of the Scholar-Gipsy, who, legend has it, centuries ago entered into a gipsy group as a means of acquiring wisdom. Like the slave woman who was part of a group who faced serious harm and discrimination, the gipsy people were an “othered” group in the context of Victorian England since they were viewed as societal outcasts and potential threats. Although the forms and subjects of these poems differ greatly, both of the authors share a natural detachment from their inspirations (the slave woman and the scholar-gipsy) since they are not members of their cultures. Thus, these authors are no longer simply “utilizing an inspiration”; more accurately they are “ventriloquizing” the inspiration’s experiences in some way. The problem with this method arises from the fact that the author must either research and hypothesize or make assumptions about the kinds of experiences people in other cultures have endured, causing a possible ethical and accuracy dilemma. Making such assumptions could result in the authors projecting their personal biases onto their inspirations, thus endangering the authors’ credibility (which is important, considering that they are attempting to confront real, societal issues). Two factors have the potential to either problematize or de-problematize the issue of the ventriloquist method (at least to an extent): the quality of the author’s intention and whether the way in which the author portrays the inspiration“s further perpetuates the negative lens through which they (and their culture) are viewed by larger society. Identifying the author’s intent will help uncover possible motivations they may have had to either informedly imagine such experiences with as much accuracy as possible, or to take creative liberties which might perpetuate negative stereotypes about these cultures. Insights into these motivations for and the ramifications of the authors’ use of the ventriloquy will surface through the analysis of cultural context, poetic form, and rhetoric, finally showing that these attempts to identify with a cultural “other” cannot properly be viewed as wholly problematic.
Broadly examining the effects of these authors’ social and political contexts within their writing allows the reader to make important, educated speculations about the authors’ motivations and how the average reader during the time may have perceived the poems. Arnold’s attitude of criticism towards the modern era seems to be driving hiss attraction to the people known as gypsies, who were under a great deal of scrutiny in England at the time, perceived as thieves lacking proper morals. As Deborah Nord points out in her book, Gypsies and the British Imagination, Wordsworth exemplifies the common negative perception of gypsies: “For Wordsworth, whose identification with Gypsy wanderers and ‘travelers’ was ambivalent at best, the Gypsy was a primitive, an unevolved fellow resident of the Cumberland hills, whose vagrancy was itself a defining characteristic” (44). Arnold, by contrast, seemed to view the gypsy population as inspirational because of their independence from the “modern world” and deep connection to nature.d Arnold , used gypsies as an inspirational trope in a couple of his works (ie. “Thyrsis,” “To a Gipsy Child by the Sea-Shore”i) showing that like most of English society who rushed to condemn the gipsy figure/s, Arnold considered gypsies to be worthy artistic inspirations. In such a context, Arnold seems to be making a radical move by elevating them to the status of figures with almost divine insight, waiting to be tapped into by those who choose to learn their way of life as the Scholar-Gipsy does. This degree of contrast begins to generally justify Arnold’s use of ventriloquy, since his positive portrayal of gypsies was countercultural and could have left him vulnerable to skepticism from the literary world at the time. “The Scholar-Gipsy” utilizes a more indirect form of ventriloquy than Browning does in “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's point,”, in that, Arnold is ventriloquizing the intentions of the Scholar-Gipsy rather than his voice itself. This indirect approach is intensified by the fact that the Scholar-Gipsy has implanted himself into the gipsy society for the sake of acquiring wisdom, and could therefore be considered not to be a full member of their culture. However, n by all accounts, it would seem that an outsider would identify him with the gipsy tribe rather than as a scholar due to the fact that the Scholar-Gipsy adopts the gipsies’ full external identity: “In hat of antique shape, and cloak of grey, / The same the gipsies wore” (Arnold, lines 55-56). The form and rhetoric of “The Scholar-Gipsy” then, still have bearing on how both the Scholar-Gipsy himself and the gipsy people in general are viewed and perceived by readers.
The poem is written as a meditative y lyric, containing twenty-five, ten-line stanzas filled with pastoral imagery. The tone of the poem is celebratory while also jealous and longing, underscoring the idealization of the Scholar-Gipsy figure, whose transition from scholar to gipsy is presented as an “awakening,” almost of a spiritual nature, taking the Scholar-Gipsy from being identified as “the Oxford scholar poor” (Arnold, line 33), to possessing “an immortal lot” (Arnold, line 157). An issue arises when we consider Arnold’s notion that the Scholar-Gipsy is immortal in some sense, which, in projecting an unearthly quality onto him, carries the potential to further “other” him rather than allowing him to be seen as a valuable person in society. However, for Arnold, the source of the Scholar-Gipsy’s transformation is discovery of the natural world afresh, provided by the guidance of the gipsy tribe. The key motivation for the scholar leaving Oxford is described as his being “tired of knocking at preferment’s door” (Arnold, line 35), highlighting an important aspect of the gipsy tribe he joins: they required no knocking or begging, they simply allowed him to roam with their “wild brotherhood” (Arnold, lines 38-39) regardless of his intentions in doing so. Arnold portrayed the welcoming nature of gipsy living as a refreshing escape from the reality that in Victorian society, “begging for preferment” was a necessary part of life for scholars and academics. The gypsy tribe effectively becomes the Scholar-Gipsy’s deliverance from the “strange disease of modern life” (Arnold, line 203) that Arnold clearly despises. Although it is necessary that Arnold makes assumptions about the lifestyle and disposition of the gipsy people in choosing to use the Scholar-Gipsy as his inspiration, the fact that they are seen as an ideal and their lifestyle a standard to strive for seems evidence to support this instance that ventriloquism is justifiable, rather than as a vessel for perpetuating negative stereotypes about gypsy culture.
The choice Elizabeth Barrett Browning made in writing such a graphic poem as “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” was extremely risky in respect to her cultural context. The poem was published in The Liberty Bell, a magazine run by the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society. Although The Liberty Bell was an abolitionist magazine, there was still a tendency towards portraying “white abolitionists as messianic martyrs” (Joshua King, 3), thus undermining the credibility of their respectively more inclusive message. One example of this is Eliza Lee Follen’s poem, “To Cassius M. Clay” which was published in the liberty Bell and in which she addresses Clay (a white politician and abolitionist):
Millions are crying, 'Make us free!’
They stretch their fettered arms to thee.
Hear only these poor outcasts’ cry–
Stand ready in their cause to die. (Follen, lines 5-8)
In these lines, Follen ascribes “savior-like” attributes to Clay by portraying the slaves to be crying to him for salvation, and imploring him to die for their cause. In light of poems such as Follen’s, Browning’s poem is revolutionary: not only is there no white messianic figure to be found in “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,” but the narrative voice is that of an African-American slave woman. In publishing such a poem in the dramatic monologue form, Browning would’ve been radically undermining the popular tendency towards portraying white characters as messiah figures in abolitionist literature. Joshua King introduces the central issue with this approach in his article: “The awkward degree to which EBB’s voice overtakes that of the runaway slave nonetheless risks repeating an ethical lapse to which Liberty Bell writers were prone–is this yet another white antislavery writer capitalizing on the suffering of slaves to promote her own message?” (King,18). As a modern reader, it is easy to condemn her for imagining herself in the shoes of someone who has experienced terrible injustice and harm due to the color of their skin, since she was privileged due to her whiteness and middle-class status. Warwick Slinn points out that contextually, “Few slave narratives were published before 1848, so there was little precedent for actual slave speech in print” (Slinn, 66). Knowing that there was little option for an African American person to publish such a poem, the way in which Browning uses her privilege to give a voice to this woman (who is silenced by society) seems much more admirable. Browning’s work to subvert tendencies of white dominance can be better seen through the investigation of form and rhetoric in the poem.
“The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” features a rather chaotic rhythm and rhyme scheme, which echoes the violent nature of the poem’s subject matter. In using the dramatic monologue form, the slave woman’s voice becomes the only voice in the poem: effectively removing all outside n lenses of judgement so that readers can interpret their words for themselves. The refrain, “I am black,” which repeats throughout the poem is particularly effective: “Rather than asking white readers to imagine slaves with ‘our skins’ so as to discover that ‘the negro...is one of us’ behind ‘the’ black’ ‘covering’, EBB encourages them to ponder, ‘Would it be so difficult to find time to think about slaves if I had their skin?’” (King, Section 3.) Coupled with the use of the first-person narrative, such instances require white readers to give voice to the slave woman’s (rightful) grievances against white people and the abuse she endured, necessitating a degree of humility on their part. There is also a level at which the reader is forced to grapple with the realities of slavery which have shaped the slave woman’s spiritual experiences . The presence of a rather controversial theology makes sense in light of Browning’s personal belief system and self-declared agenda which she states in a letter to Fanny Dowglass: “To wrench into oneness the various members of Christ, can only be done violently, by the screws and wheels of Inquisitional torture. Difference of opinion is the natural consequence of partial knowledge & human individuality. The unity we pray for, is rather of the heart than the intellect” (Browning Correspondence, letter 2726). “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point” seems to be aiming to accomplish exactly this; Browning is willing to use as much violent vocabulary in her writing as necessary in order to make strides towards unity of the heart, and reconciliation of the body of Christ apart from religious institutions (which in Browning’s view, are divisive). Browning’s most direct example of such subversion is her decision to make the whole slave population the central Christ figure. This is evident in one of the closing stanzas in which she says, “We who bleed / (Stand off!) we help not in our loss! / We are too heavy for our cross” (EBB, lines 242-244). These examples make it clear that Browning is not writing to gratify the community of white readers and critics. Browning supersedes doctrinal theology and the avoidance of graphic violence in order to draw proper attention to the problem of slavery.
In both “The Scholar-Gipsy” and “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point,” context proves to be an essential component in understanding how a Victorian reader may have received these poems. In writing “The Scholar-Gipsy,'' the poem’s depictions of the gipsy people are radically different from most other voices in Victorian England at the time, which labeled gipsies as threatening to society. Arnold ventriloquizes the intentions of the Scholar-Gipsy and uses celebratory rhetoric in order to elevate him, giving him (and consequently the gipsy people) the high status of one possessing important insights about the world. The same phenomenon can be observed in examining “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point.” If published today, it would be extremely difficult to justify Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s use of the first person to articulate the horrific acts of violence the slave woman describes. However, during a time when the literary voice of African American women was very rare, Browning’s choice of the dramatic monologue form seems to adequately accomplish the important task of subverting the tendency in abolitionist literature to bestow savior-like attributes upon white figures. It seems, then, that the use of ventriloquy has served, rather than as a problematic way of further isolating an “othered” cultural group, as a helpful vehicle for Arnold and Browning to draw positive attention to these groups.
Arnold, Matthew, et al. The Scholar Gipsy. Tern Press, 1996.
Arnold, Matthew. “Thyrsis: A Monody, to Commemorate the Author's Friend, Arthur Hugh Clough by Matthew Arnold.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43608/thyrsis-a-monody-to-commemorate-the- authors-friend-arthur-hugh-clough.
Arnold, Matthew. “To a Gipsy Child by the Seashore.” To a Gipsy Child by the Seashore, by Matthew Arnold, 2002, https://www.poetry-archive.com/a/ to_a_gipsy_child_by_the_seashore.html
Behlmer, George K. “The Gypsy Problem in Victorian England.” Victorian Studies, vol. 28, no. 2, 1985, pp. 231–253. JSTOR,
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point By Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Edward Moxon, Dover Street, 1849.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. “2726. EBB to Fanny Dowglass.” Correspondence, https://www.browningscorrespondence.com/correspondence/2989/?rsId=176762&returnPage=1.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. “2881. EBB to Mary Russell Mitford.” The Brownings’ C Word choicee/phrasing?orrespondence, https://www.browningscorrespondence.com/correspondence/3154/?rsId=176761&returnPage=1.
Cook, Peter, and كوك پيتر. “Scholarship and Integrity: Matthew Arnold's ‘The Scholar-Gipsy’ and Anita Desai's ‘Scholar and Gypsy’ / البحث العلمي والنزاهة: قصيدة ماثيو أرنولد ״الباحث ـ الغجري״ وقصة أنيتا ديساي ״الباحث والغجري״.” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, no. 29, 2009, pp. 195–214. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27929826.
Follen, Eliza L. “To Cassius M. Clay.” The Liberty Bell, 1845, pp. 21–22, babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=pst.000020065904&view=1up&seq=41.
King, Joshua. “Transatlantic Abolitionist Discourse and the Body of Christ in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘The Runaway Slave atPilgrim’sPoint.’”Religions,vol.,no.1,2016,doi:10.3390/rel8010003.
Nord, Deborah. Gypsies and the British Imagination, 1807-1930, Columbia University Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ncsu/detail.action?docID=908474.
Slinn, E. Warwick. Victorian Poetry as Cultural Critique: the Politics of Performative Language. University of Virginia Press, 2003.
Wilkenfeld, Roger B. “The Argument of ‘The Scholar-Gipsy.’” Victorian Poetry, vol. 7, no. 2, 1969, pp. 117–128. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/40001489.
Due to the time period and the religious context of the area we have been studying this semester, there has been connections to the religious and spiritual in almost every single one of the works of literature we have focused on. It is interesting to compare and see the differences and similarities in tone concerning the divine that each work has, most of them adopting a rather positive portrayal of Judeo-Christian God specifically. I believe, however, that there are multiple ways of interpreting the relationship between human agency and divine agency in each of these works, which are especially interesting in “The Wanderer” and in “Eve’s Apology” by Aemilia Lanyer.
The Wanderer is an interesting piece to discuss, because unlike many of the other works we’ve covered, the tone for the vast majority of the poem is very solemn. In fact, it seems to adopt a tone throughout of anger towards the way God is handling his agency, such as “Often the lone-dweller longs for relief, the Almighty’s mercy… Fate is firmly set” (The Wanderer, 1-5), or even more forwardly, “Mankind’s Creator laid waste this middle-earth till the clamor of city-dwellers ceased to be heard and ancient works of giants stood empty” (The Wanderer, 85-87). In both of these quotes, there is a perceived anger or outcry to God for the way He has allowed the earth and specifically, the speaker’s situation to become. He recognizes divine providence in a way that seems to place blame on God for his circumstances. I think it's easy as a modern reader to examine this poem and interpret it as a poem that’s just angry at God for the way things are, and nothing deeper than that, but the last two lines completely alter the tone of the poem: “All shall be well for him who seeks grace, help from our Father in heaven where a fortress stands for us all” (The Wanderer, 114-115). It seems fairly absurd to have an attitude of confusion and disdain towards God for the entirely of the poem and then to come to the conclusion that all will be where if we seek God’s grace, so I would say there are a couple ways we could interpret this. It has been suggested that the last 2 lines could have been added to the poem later on by the church institution or a clergy member concerned about the reputation of Christianity, but I propose an alternative idea.
The Wanderer, in structure, tone and subject matter, has a lot of similarities with a book from the Old Testament called Lamentations. In Lamentations, which is usually thought to have been written by the prophet Jeremiah, the author calls out to God saying things such as “In the day of the Lord’s anger no one escaped or survived, those I cared for and reared my enemy has destroyed” (Lamentations 2:22). He does the exact same thing as the speaker in The Wanderer does– he cries out to God in what seems like anger and confusion when he’s lost the companionship of other people. But in the same way, after going on for pages about the miserable state of him and his nation, and concludes by saying: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail” (Lamentations 3:21-22). Knowing the commonalities that these two works share provides a different way of looking at the message of The Wanderer, and it is less surprising that this “twist” exists at the end, knowing that this is the case in a book of the Old Testament as well. Throughout, the speaker wrestles with the expression of his emotions, as does Jeremiah in Lamentations. But specifically, the wrestling is with not having anyone to talk to about his feelings: “I must lament my cares; not one remains alive to whom I could utter the thoughts in my heart, tell him my sorrows” (The Wanderer, 9-11). I think that when we examine both of the texts together, they become much clearer to understand. So in both The Wanderer and the book of Lamentations, the conclusion could also be interpreted as “yes, things are awful and I have no one left, but I can be honest with God and He’ll give me grace for it”.
Another text in which it's interesting to examine the nature of Divine providence and free will is in Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women by Aemilia Lanyer. In this poem, Aemilia argues that the fall of man was more Adam’s fault that Eve’s, since Eve “had no power to see; the after-coming harm did not appear” (Eve’s Apology, 21-22). This is super interesting when examined within the misogynistic culture surrounding Christianity at the time, where women were condemned and blamed: it makes complete sense why Aemilia would see this as an issue to be argued. It’s interesting, however, that she took the approach of saying Eve is entirely less culpable than Adam “But surely Adam cannot be excused; Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame” (Eve’s Apology, 33-34). I say this because it would in many ways be easier to argue that men and women’s fault in the fall was equal.
However, in the context of the time, Aemilia Lanyer is hardly to blame for feeling that man’s fault was worse than women’s, to, in a sense, balance out the scales after centuries of oppression due to men glossing the scripture in a way that benefits them. This is interesting to consider in terms of free will, because it could be said that Lanyer paints Eve to not have made a choice of free will in the matter, that rather, she was simply deceived and had acted out of good intentions the whole time. While she paints Adam to have had free will in the situation, and he, not being under the serpent’s spell, should have known better.
Aemilia Lanyer’s poem Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women is also notable in terms of feminist ideology. As discussed in the previous prompt, Lanyer takes the interesting approach of trying to show why Adam was more blameworthy than Eve for the fall of man, rather than simply saying that they were both equally at fault. Since Lanyer herself is a woman, she takes it upon herself to elevate two women in the Bible who she believes were the overlooked protagonists in the situation: Eve and Pilate’s wife, who tried to stop Pilate from sentencing Jesus to be crucified. It’s likely that Lanyer wrote this in response to misogynistic teachings of the Bible in the cultural context she was living in, that twisted scripture to elevate men in society, so her status as a woman is essential to understanding the poem. A man at the time would have likely never written something like this, and Lanyer likely received scrutiny for it. There are even moments in the poem where Lanyer seems to address men directly, such as “Your fault being greater, why should you disdain our being your equals, free from tyranny?” (Eve’s Apology, 85-86). In Lanyer, herself, being a woman and asking such a direct question here, it makes the poem seem like more of a call to action than a hypothetical argument. It addresses all men to undergo reformation, not just giving an example of one man who messed up in the past.
In Margery Kempe’s book, we can also see how her perspective as a woman is essential to her work. She describes an encounter and conversation she had with God, and what he said to her, which also reveals information about herself and her personal struggles. For instance, God says “I should not be ashamed of you as many other men are, for I should take you by the hand among the people and make you great welcome so that they should well know that I loved you right well” (The Book of Margery Kempe, 307). I believe that Kempe here, is trying to show how Christ knows her heart, in this case, knows that many men have been “ashamed” of her in the past, and wants to satisfy her longings. Knowing that she is a woman who has been rejected by men in the past, it allows a lot of the other language surrounding intimacy with Christ to make much more sense as Him satisfying the longings of her heart, not in a sexual way. The metaphor of the relationship between husband and wife is similar to that of Christ being the bridegroom and the church being the bride which is used many times in scripture, so this makes a lot of sense here. It also makes a lot of sense why Kempe, a woman, would gravitate towards this metaphor more than a man would. A woman at the time, specifically one who has faced trouble in relationships with men, would be exactly the profile of a person who would extend this metaphor in the way that Kempe did.