Notes on Hayes (complete)

Part of the point of Hayes’s references, I think, is to spur readers to look stuff up. So I have some hesitation about doing it for you, but on the other hand I can make following the breadcrumbs a little easier. (Updated 2/27/21 with notes through the end.)

Hughes (5)


Wheatley (5)


Sylvia Plath (5)

American poet (1932–63), icon of confessional poetry, that is, poetry on explicitly autobiographical subjects.

Orpheus (5)

in Greek myth, a poet and singer who (in the most familiar version of the story, from the Latin poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses) attempted to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld, was allowed by Hades to return with her on condition he not look back, looked back, lost her, and was subsequently torn to pieces by Maenads for playing unbearably mournful music.

Money (7)

Emmett Till was lynched at age 14 in 1955 in Money, Mississippi. His murderers were acquitted.

Neruda (8)

Pablo Neruda (1904–1973), Chilean poet, perhaps the most eminent Latin American poet of the twentieth century. Nobel Prize for Literature, 1971.

Sanford (9)

city in Florida, site of the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

Ferguson (9)

needs no annotation, hopefully, like the subsequent city names here.

threat / Advisory (10)

the US Department of Homeland Security’s color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System, used 2002–2011, mostly fluctuated between Yellow and Orange.

Caligula (10)

(12–41 CE), third Roman emperor, notorious for decadence and cruelty.

gym & crow (11)

Jim Crow is the name for the legal system of racial segregation in force in the U.S. South from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries.

Voltas of acoustics (11)

the volta, remember, is the “turn” prescribed between the 8th and 9th lines of a Petrarchan sonnet. Hayes is punning on “volts” too.

James Earl Ray (12)

assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.

Dylann Roof (12)

perpetrator of a mass shooting at a black church in Charleston, SC, in 2015.

George Zimmerman (12)

killer of Trayvon Martin in 2012.

John Wilkes Booth (12)

assassin of Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

Robert Chambliss Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr / Bobby Frank Cherry Herman Frank Cash (12)

four Ku Klux Klan members who committed the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombings in Birmingham, AL, in 1963, killing four black girls.

Byron De La Beckwith (12)

Ku Klux Klan member who killed civil rights activist Medgar Evers in Mississippi in 1963.

Roy Bryant J. W. Milam (12)

murderers of Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi in 1955.

Edgar Ray Killen (12)

Ku Klux Klan member and ringleader in the murders of three civil rights activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, in Mississippi in 1963.

Bettye LaVette (14)

soul musician.

Buckras (14)

white people.

Archie Bunkers (14)

Archie Bunker was a bigoted character on the 1970s sitcom All in the Family.

Gwen Brooks’ “The Mother” (14)

poem from Brooks’s first collection, A Street in Bronzeville (1945).

James Baldwin (16)

(1924–1987), eminent African-American essayist and novelist. A bit of a photographic icon too (look at images on the Wikipedia page).

Jimi Hendrix (18)

(1942–1970), the great guitarist.

Monk orchestras (18)

that is, the jazz orchestras of Thelonious Monk (1917–1982).

Miles with strings (18)

Miles Davis (1926–1991), the jazz trumpeter.

Ms. Dickinson (21)


Galway Kinnell writes of Saint Francis (21)

(1927–2014), American poet, whose “Saint Francis and the Sow” says what Hayes says it says.

deep image poem (21)

term associated with the American experimentalist poet Jerome Rothenberg.

Maxine Waters (23)

Congresswoman from California, prominent among Democratic Party politicians denouncing Donald Trump.

listening / to Aretha Franklin sing Precious Lord (23)

you can too, with YouTube.

Amiri Baraka (24)

(1934–2014), poet, central figure in the Black Arts movement. Born LeRoi Jones in Newark. “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note” appeared in Baraka’s 1961 volume of that title.

Bluff Estates…Harlem Street (25)

These are street names in Hayes’s hometown, Columbia, SC.

Soaphead Church…/ Gideon, Son (26)

characters in Toni Morrison’s novels.

Derek Walcott (30)

(1930–2017), poet from St. Lucia in the Caribbean. After Walcott’s death Hayes spoke publicly about reckoning with Walcott’s record of sexual harrassment (in a notorious case from Walcott’s time teaching at Harvard in 1981) alongside his poetic eminence. He alludes obliquely to the issue in his 2020 Blaney Lecture to the Academy of American Poets (transcript, video).

the Hancock movie (31)

2008 superhero film (clip).

Trinidad / James (32)

All Gold Everything,” 2012.

“Lemonade” by Gucci / Mane (32)

single, 2009.

Midas (32)

the mythical king whose touch turned everything to gold.

Neruda said / Of lemons (32)

Neruda’s “Oda al limón” appeared in his Tercer libro de las odas (Buenos Aires: Losada, 1957), 126–27.

Rilke (33)

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), Austrian poet. “Archaic Torso of Apollo” was published in German in Rilke’s Neue Gedichte [New poems], vol. 2, in 1908.

James Wright (33)

(1927–1980), American poet. “Lying in a Hammock…” was published in 1963.

Ruth Stone (33)

(1915–2011), American poet. I cannot find an online text of “A Moment.”

Time Lord (40)

in the long-running British science-fiction TV show Doctor Who, the hero, called the Doctor, belongs to alien race of time-travellers called Time Lords.

“Pony” by Ginuwine (47)

this reference to the 2014 song sets up a very good joke, but possibly I should warn you that the music video, which you can find yourself easily, is provocative.

Shop Road (50)

In Columbia, SC.

When / Lincoln witnessed a slave auction (57)

on a trip to New Orleans in 1831. In some accounts of this life (for example Ida Tarbell’s 1896 Early Life of Abraham Lincoln), this is said to be a defining moment for Lincoln’s opposition to slavery.

Job’s / Afro (57)

the Old Testament figure, a pious man who suffered greatly. His hairstyle is not described in the Bible.

Nina Simone (60)

(1933–2003), American singer and musician, strongly associated with the Civil Rights movement.

Whale-road is a kenning for sea (61)

Old English poetry (ca. 600–1000 CE) is noted for the use of figurative compound nouns called “kennings.” Near the start of the great epic Beowulf, the sea is called hronrād, “whale-road.”

sunflowers / Van Gogh destroyed (63)

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)’s series of sunflower paintings are among his best-known. Hayes studied painting in college.

stones Georgia painted (63)

Georgia O’Keefe (1887–1986), American modernist painter, famed for still life paintings of stones, skulls, and flowers.

Prince taught us [63]

(1958–2016; note the date), American musician who was, as Wikipedia says, known for his “flamboyant and androgynous persona.”

what happened in Money (63)

see notes to p. 5.

Willie Nelson (66)

(1933–), country musician.

George Wallace (69)

(1919–1998), segregationist governor of Alabama, shot by a would-be assassin during his 1972 presidential campaign.

the girls the bomb buried in Birmingham (69)

see notes to p. 12.

Jackson & Abernathy (73)

Jesse Jackson (1941–), Ralph Abernathy (1927–1990), civil rights activists who were close to Martin Luther King, Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference but whose relation to MLK’s legacy is complex.

Du Bois (73)

W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963), pioneering black intellectual, founder of the NAACP.

X (73)

Malcolm X (1925–1965), black radical political leader, killed by assassins.

The saddest part of the opera is where Frida says it / To Diego (80)

there really is, apparently, an opera about the Mexican painters Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) and Diego Rivera (1886–1957) who married in 1929 and divorced in 1939. That makes me wonder whether the “story” and the “scene” in the same poem also have real referents.

Lorca’s Breath (82)

Interviewer: “Did you make up ‘Lorca’s Breath’ as an orchid?” Hayes: “Yes.” Federico Garcia Lorca (1898–1936), Spanish poet, killed in the Spanish Civil War. Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), Spanish surrealist painter and friend of Lorca.

A further note on Keats’s “Grecian Urn”

I had planned to deny you any visual aid to envision the object of Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” but then in class I ended up looking around for examples. What I showed you in class needs to be supplemented a little.

In the early twentieth century scholars worked hard to find an actual Greek urn with all the things on it that Keats describes: a piper, a bold lover, trees, a sacrificial procession. There isn’t one, but scholars did find urns Keats might have been familiar with in making up his own imaginary one. Two often-cited models are the Sosibios vase (ca. 50 BCE; now in the Louvre, Paris) and the Townley vase (2nd century CE; now in the British Museum, London). These are both marble vases with decorations in relief, as it seems Keats’s urn is.

Sosibios vase, Louvre
Townley vase, British Museum

Greek marble was also a hot topic in Keats’s time, as I mentioned, because of the exhibition in London, starting in 1817, of the so-called Elgin marbles or Parthenon sculptures (5th c. BCE; now in the British Museum). This exhibition signals the elevated prestige of classical Greek culture; it’s characteristic of Romantic (late 18th-early 19th century) literature and art across Europe to be particularly fascinated with ancient Greece.

Marble relief, Parthenon North frieze, British Museum

But it is equally important that there is no actual Grecian urn. Keats could and did see real ones: why does he imagine a fictional one instead for the purposes of the Ode?

Notes on readings for 1/28

In the readings from January 28, three poems should receive special emphasis.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 129 (“Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame”)

For notes on this dense poem, please consult the Oxford Shakespeare edition of the sonnets. Whenever I put a Shakespeare Sonnet in a handout, the sonnet number (printed in blue on the screen) is a hyperlink to the page of notes in this edition.

George Herbert, “Prayer” (1)

As with Donne’s “Valediction: forbidding Mourning,” I’m giving this to you in its seventeenth-century spelling. A modern-spelling version is here:

Prayer” (I), ed. N.J. Endicott, in Representative Poetry Online (University of Toronto, n.d.).

The number “(1)” is not part of Herbert’s (or his printer’s) title; in modern texts it distinguishes it from the other poem titled “Prayer” in Herbert’s book The Temple.

The PDF on Sakai includes dictionary links for some words that may be hard to guess the meanings of. In addition:

Christ-side-piercing spear (6)

during the Crucifixion, according to the Gospel of John, a Roman soldier stabbed Jesus with a spear; John 19:34 q.v. Cf. Wikipedia s.v. “Holy Lance”.

The six-daies-world (7)

in the Book of Genesis, God is said to have taken six days to make the world.

in ordinarie (11)

likely in the sense given in OED, 3rd. ed., s.v. “ordinary,” n., P2: “in an official capacity.”

Stevens, “The Snow Man”

A good poem for a pandemic winter.

Notes on Jan. 25 readings

In the readings from January 25, three poems should receive special emphasis. Here are a few further aids to comprehension:

Donne, “A Valediction: forbidding Mourning”

I judged it useful to present this poem to you in a form similar to its first printing. The spelling is Early Modern rather than modern, and that reminds us that Donne’s English was rather different from ours, and his world was really different. However, if the spelling is getting in the way, please refer to the modern-spelling version here:

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” ed. N.J. Endicott, in Representative Poetry Online (University of Toronto, n.d.) .

That version has some extra explanatory notes, though many things will still be hard or impossible to explain. Explanation may in some cases be beside the point here (re-read line 18, and think why). Still:

trepidation of the spheares (11)

an idea from Ptolemaic (geocentric) astronomy, which was the dominant system from the Middle Ages, still taken seriously in Donne’s time. If the poem is from around 1611, it is almost exactly contemporary with Galileo’s 1610 publication of the results of his telescopic investigations (on this see Wikipedia). The Copernican revolution was well underway already. Donne plays with both geocentric and heliocentric cosmologies in his poems.

Dull sublunary lovers love / (whose soule is sense) (13–14)

obscure, but I think it means that earthly lovers’ souls are dominated or constituted by the senses, as opposed to the more “refin’d” faculties Donne attributes to “us.”

twin compasses (26)

the instrument for drawing circles.

Pound, “In a station of the metro”

the metro

the Paris metro, opened 1900.

Armantrout, “Will”

There’s a nice short profile of Armantrout on the Poetry Foundation (which also has a number of her other poems).

the past / perfect (15–16)

in grammar, the “past perfect” refers to constructions like “she had gone” or “I had eaten.”