Very interesting video I mentioned to Miss L the other day, thought I’d share on here!:)
Very interesting video I mentioned to Miss L the other day, thought I’d share on here!:)
“The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats is a poem about the apocalypse. It was written around the end of WW1, when lots of things were changing, and the world seemed to be changing so fast it was like Armageddon. Thus Yeats wrote this poem to show his thoughts on chaos, and how from all these bad things, even more bad could be coming. The new century was meant to be a bright and exciting new time, and yet everything seemed to be going so badly wrong. The tone of the poem is very pessimistic and confused, showing disorder. The use of both evil language “blood-dimmed”, and religious language, “Bethlehem” creates a confused feeling. The use of enjambment, the varying line lengths and lack of rhyme also adds to the idea of chaos.
Throughout the poem Yeats uses Biblical language to tie into the religious side of the apocalypse. ‘The Second Coming’ itself is a phrase to describe when Jesus will return and decide who goes to heaven. Yeats says:
“Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.”
The repetition of “surely” shows his doubt, as if he doesn’t know whether all the bad things happening means that the apocalypse is nigh. The whole phrase has overtones of prophetic grandeur. By saying ” some revelation” Yeats is referring to the book of Revelations in the Bible, in which the prophecy of the apocalypse is forseen by St John. Yeats references a verse of Revelations when he says “the blood-dimmed tide” – the verse stating that the star Wormwood would fall to earth and the waters turn to blood. This is an image filled with connotations of both religion and death – showing the nature of the apocalypse. Revelations is full of odd creatures, and this fact seems to be reflected by the line “A shape with lion body and head of a man” – obviously a reference the Egyptian Sphinx. The reference to the “desert sand” could refer to Jesus’ time in the desert where the devil tempted him.
The line “That twenty centuries of stony sleep” is a reference to Jesus being out of the world for twenty centuries. The word “stony” has connotations with Jesus’ resurrection – as the stone was rolled away from the tomb, and Jesus was not there. At the very end of the poem Yeats says:
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
This rhetorical question seems blasphemous – it is as if Yeats is describing Jesus as a “rough beast”. The effect of the word “slouching” adds to the image of a lazy rough beast. The use of the word “Bethlehem” reminds us of Jesus’ first birth – so maybe Yeats is trying to say that the Second Coming will not be pleasant, it will be a “rough beast” (looking at Revelations it definitely doesn’t seem like an optimistic time).
Yeats also uses references to the time he lives in falling “apart”. He states that “Mere anarchy is loose in the world” – maybe referencing the fall of the Tzars in Russia, or the World War. The use of the line “The falcon cannot hear the falconer” suggests disorder, and could be interpreted as a metaphor for mankind losing it’s connection with God. The use of the word “falcon” makes it sound refined, as only the upper classes would own falcons. Again the phrase “the centre cannot hold;” also suggests that mankind has lost it’s connection with the centre, the centre being a metaphor for God (as God is portrayed as the centre of life). Yeats suggests that everyone is guilty, that “innocence has drowned”.
The first line, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre” could be interpreted in many ways. When I first read it I thought the word “turning” was a reference to the phrase, ‘turning in your grave’ – and thus the word was used ironically as according to Christian belief all of the dead leave their graves and rise to heaven during the apocalypse. However the “widening gyre” is a reference to the idea of gyres – something W.B Yeats was fascinated with, as he loved the spiritual and the occult. A gyre is a vortex, yet in the spiritual terms it’s the idea that lives pull in at death and then contribute to the next life – thus all the lessons learned in one life are used in the next. It is visualised as two cones, with the points touching to show the lives connected. Thus the word “turning” could be interpreted as a reference to the circle of life, and past lives.
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This poem was composed by Yeats in 1919, just at the end of the First World War (the ‘recovery’ period, if you like), and it was originally named ‘The Second Birth’. The poem is considered a major work of Modernist poetry and has been reprinted in several collections, including ‘The Norton Anthology of Modernist Poetry’.
The first stanza of the poem begins by describing the conditions present in the world, “Things fall apart”, “Mere anarchy”, and the second surmises from those conditions that a monstrous Second Coming is about to take place, not of the Jesus we first knew, but of a new messiah, a “rough beast,” the slouching sphinx rousing itself in the desert and lumbering toward Bethlehem. This brief exposition, though intriguingly blasphemous, is not terribly complicated; but the question of what it should signify to a reader is another story entirely.
As it was written post WW1, you would think…
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‘An Irish Airman Forsees His Death’ by W.B. Yeats is a poem documenting the thoughts of Robert Gregory, an Irish airman who died in a plane crash in WW1. Robert Gregory was the son of Lady Gregory, Yeats’ patron – and she commissioned this poem in remembrance of her son.
It’s a very calm first person monologue, which shows RG’s thoughts as he flies, the enjambment highlights how the poem is a collection of thoughts, yet the rhyme scheme shows how his thoughts are controlled – he isn’t panicking. Robert Gregory is shown as a real hero, as the Irish didn’t have to fight in WW1 – only volunteers were taken, and this makes the tragedy of his death even more poignant as he only went to fly. The tone at the beginning is solemn and peaceful, yet by the end he wonders about the meaning of life.
The poem starts with a statement, “I know that I will meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above”. The use of the word “I” shows how the poem is personal, but the whole statement is calm. Gregory knows he will die in action. We can see that he isn’t in the war for ‘noble’ reasons to defend his country, he is there because he enjoys flying:
“Those that I fight I do not hate.
Those that I guard I do not love’
He shows that he is Irish, being from “Kiltartan”, the use of the word “Cross” could refer to his religion, highlighting that he didn’t have to go to war, as Irish Christians didn’t have to due to religious reasons. The use of the word “poor” contrasts where he lived to the rich nationalists of Ireland at the time.
Yeats distinguishes Gregory from the other fighters by saying “No likely end could bring them loss”. This shows that his impending death won’t affect the other fighters – making the reader empathise with Gregory’s situation. He also says that it wouldn’t “leave them happier” – showing that war has no outcome for him apart from the adrenaline of flying, to him there is no loss or win as it isn’t his fight. Yeats also shows that it isn’t his war by saying:
“Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
This shows that he doesn’t fight for public praise or law. The repetition of ‘nor’ emphasises that there is no other reason than the “impulse of delight” of flying. The word ‘impulse’ makes it sound like a split second, spur of the moment decision, yet Gregory doesn’t seem to regret his decision.
The next few lines shows that he has contemplated life, “I balanced all”. The phrase gives the idea of scales, and weighing up both sides – Yeats seems to question the point of life and war. We see that he thinks that life isn’t needed, only the adrenaline of flying is – “The years to come seemed waste of breath, A waste of breath the years behind”. The repetition of “waste of breath” shows how Yeats (and maybe Gregory) thought that life was unnecessary, and the past and present is too, only life in the moment is real, and not ‘wasteful’.
The last line “In balance with this life, this death” shows that he thinks that both life and death have little point. This is the first time the word ‘death’ is used in the poem – addressing the main issue in the poem directly, almost as if Gregory has realised.
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Found a band named ‘ The Waterboys’ who compose songs based around the lyrics of W.B. Yeats. This is one of my favourites – an interpretation of ‘The Stolen Child’
A Dandy is a man who has the belief that good looks, fine clothes and refined language are very important.
In ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ Lord Henry is a Dandy, seeming to hold the view that people’s physical appearance are most important – and can somehow define their personality and how they think:
“Your mysterious young friend, whose name you have never told me, but whose picture really fascinates me, never thinks. I feel quite sure of that. He is some brainless beautiful creature..”
Lord Henry’s advice and thoughts turn Dorian into a Dandy, caring only for his physical appearance, so much that he could trade his soul to be youthful forever:
“If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”
William Morris and the Aesthetics Movement
William Morris was an artist famous for his floral patterns, used especially in wallpaper and curtains etc. He was one of the figures in the Aesthetics Movement, a movement concentrating more on aesthetics (looking good) than social/political themes. In essence it supported art for art’s sake, art to be pretty rather than express a view.
This was not only in art, this was in all forms – literature, dance, etc, meaning that many things became meaningless – it’s only meaning was to look good.
In ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ Dorian’s only concern is to ‘look good’ – and be aesthetic and youthful for as long as possible. As well as this Wilde portrays his opinion of art in the preface. This seems to support the aesthetic movement, saying that “An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them.” This suggests that the “beautiful things” need no meaning, their beauty is enough without themes or back-stories behind them. Wilde also states that “No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.” – suggesting that there is no need to prove beauty with an overarching social theme etc, it is good enough without it. Wilde seems to be of the impression that good art is “useless” – and that creating art is the only good thing that is useless: “The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.”
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A collection of notes from contextual overview of the book, ‘The Poems of W.B. Yeats’ by Michael O’Neill. In these notes I have only included the facts and opinions that I thought were especially interesting or useful (I didn’t want to reword the whole thing – as you may as well read the chapter yourself to find it all out!)
Yeats grew up in a Protestant Anglo-Irish family, living as much in England as Ireland. He went to the west of Ireland in his early summers, for him a place a magic, fairies and dreams. From his youth he longed for a connection with tradition and ancient belief – partly due to his father’s lack of religion.
Yeats dealt from the beginning with a colonial dilemma. Ireland was under the control of Britain, and wanted to establish a national identity. Yeats participated in the cultural aspect of this struggle as a young man. He associated closely with nationalist figures such as O’Leary and Gonne. Gonne was dedicated to the cause of violent political revolt in England, and Yeats hated this nationalist extremism. His relationship with Gonne was a cycle of intimacy and solitude. He first met her in 1889, and fell in love with her, proposing to her for the first time in 1891. Gonne refused his proposals many times, yet in 1898 they entered into an asexual commitment, as if they were brother and sister. Gonne had no sexual attraction towards Yeats and married John MacBride in 1903, much to Yeats’ disbelief and disappointment.
In the early 1900s Yeats began to conceptualize his idea that the Irish poet’s task involved disdain of the crowd, loneliness and struggle. This struggle was explicitly against Catholic nationalism (a view easily viewed in ‘September 1913’ – the nationalist middle class are responsible for the death of “Romantic Ireland”). Yeats found refuge in Coole Park, the patron encouraged his interest in folklore – and his cultural and political vision moved to a growing appreciation of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy.
He was very interested in the occult – undergoing seances and initiation rites. He’s been linked to a specific Anglo-Irish alternative to Catholic forms of spiritual knowledge, that some call ‘Protestant Magic’. Yeats wrote essays on the subject, where he says that “the borders of our mind are ever shifting, and that many minds can flow into one another, as it were, and create or reveal a single mind, a single energy.” He was also fascinated by how ‘symbols’ can evoke this ‘single mind’. Yeats’ interest in the occult links with his early research into Irish folklore and legend, which sparked a desire to establish a national literature. He wanted to free the word ‘celtic’ from the past – it was treated in a sentimental way, and he felt that Irish culture was considered inferior.
It’d be wrong to categorize Yeats’ political opinion too quickly. His initial response to the Easter Rising of 1916 was distress, that all the work had led to violence, yet the poem ‘Easter 1916’ reveals an openness to experience and a readiness to undergo inner conflict and emotional change. He appeared to think that extreme nationalist aspirations were the stuff of ironic comedy, yet after the executions of leaders he realised that a “terrible beauty is born”. Many of his poems show shift, growth, change and conflict.
Over the years Yeats’ work changed, it became harder and more assertive, leaving behind the dreamily lyrical nature of his earlier work. He had a Romantic conviction that a poet was a prophet, able to articulate deep forces at work within culture. Yeats also had a trust in the mind’s capacity to tap into collective mythic or historic experiences, these experiences often reached Yeats in the form of powerful images. A friend of Yeats once remarked that “he had an uncanny way of standing aside and looking on at the game of life as a spectator’. Identity for Yeats isn’t personal, it links with culture and politics in a wider sense. A feature of his literary career was his frequent involvement in controversy concerning Irish politics. These were often based around arguments on what form a new Ireland would take. Yeats wanted to recover a heroic and mythological past.
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In the novel women are quite often referred to as inferior, so it is obviously not feminist, quite the opposite. This is established early on with Lord Henry saying that “no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex” suggesting that women are but playthings for men’s enjoyment – a decoration to spice up life. The main female character is Sybil, who seems weak and dependent totally on her “Prince Charming” Dorian Gray. She doesn’t seem to have any personality at the beginning, assuming only the role of the character she is playing in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Later on whenever she became herself she was obedient to Dorian, doing whatever he wanted. When Dorian insults her acting she feels that there is no reason to live, and thus commits suicide. This shows the powerlessness of women, and how Wilde may have thought them inferior. However Dorian is obviously very in love with Sybil, when he first talks to Lord Henry about her he has nothing but praise for her: “lips that were like the petals of a rose,” – this could be seen as an extension of what Lord Henry was saying though, Dorian only really compliments her looks and her singing, and doesn’t really know her – showing that he wants her in a more decorative sense.
In the novel there are many examples of the class system, the opposite of Marxism, especially with Lord Henry’s high class friends, and then the lower class poverty in the East End. Dorian’s status was also based on his good looks and wealth, showing how the rich (not the clever) were high in society. Dorian exploits his status by controlling the poor, such as Sybil – and believed he could get away with immoral actions due to his high status. The novel suggests that life and society revolves around wealth & money, something that completely goes against what Marxism stands for.
When looking up the subjects of post-colonialist literature I found that one of the subjects is “Misuse of power and exploitation” which I found related to the novel easily. Dorian misuses his power and exploits Sybil, controlling her. The book was written during the time of the colonies, in Victorian times, so this could even be interpreted as referring to Britain controlling a large portion of the world.
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**FUN FACT** I used to have a grey gerbil that had the name Dorian. That is all.
There has been a long-running argument between myself and a friend on whether Harry Potter is Literature (off topic: recently been wondering whether to post some writing on here arguing for the fact). One of my English teachers says that it isn’t – the other says it is. The teacher who supports that HP is Lit, Miss Larkin, commented on a post of mine recently saying that she would tell my friend that Harry Potter isn’t Literature if I didn’t post a blog on my thoughts to a radio documentary on W.B. Yeats. To ensure that the reputation of HP (and my personal dignity) is upheld – here is a blog post on just that.
The radio documentary was called “A Terrible Beauty” and focused on the lives and works of W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney. In class we have been focusing on Yeats – and so I will not be blogging here very much about the segments of the radio broadcasts that were about Heaney. The broadcast, present by Finton O’Toole explored these poets, both of whom aspired to be the people and poets of Ireland – representing the nation.
The broadcast started by highlighting the fact that the idea of country is important to the Irish – as well as literary heritage. A poet is someone who speaks memorable truths in an authoritative way, One thing the broadcast emphasised at the beginning was the fact that poets have power. Both Yeats and Heaney had deep connections with Irish land and tradition, and wrote especially from conflicts within the country. They were v. different people, Yeats was a Protestant middle class writing about Irish revolutions in the 1910s, whereas Heaney was a rural Catholic who wrote about the Irish troubles.
One of my favourite quotes from the broadcast was this:
“Yeats had a gift of beating the scrap metal of day to day life into a ringing bell”
When Yeats grew up the authority was held in the British state – and thus he was part of the revolution that wanted cultural authority. He was considered an urban intellectual speaker
I found it very interesting that the broadcast had recordings of Yeats introducing and reciting one of his poems. He almost sung that poem, chanting it. It was also interesting to hear Heaney’s impression of Yeats – and how Yeats inspired his writing.
What was central about Yeats was that he spoke for Ireland, yet was complicated and ambiguous. He was interested in the mythological west of Ireland, the Anglo-Irish country. He related to this heavily Protestant area naturally. He identified with the Protestant minority – embracing the area and was proud to be part of the Anglo-Irish community, especially due to other members of the minority – Emmet etc. He recites his Protestant heritage in ‘September 1913’ – “For this Edward Fitzgerald died, And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,” yet in ‘Easter 1916’ he cites those with a more Republican background, “I write it out in a verse – MacDonagh and MacBride And Connolly and Pearse”.
Having been the national poet of Ireland, identifying with this area soiled his reputation – and he was ridiculed by many and lost respect from his younger contemporaries. His relationship with the younger poets of his time varied – to some he was kind and affectionate yet to others he was fiercely and dismissively critical.
Yeats was a part of a movement that believed that Irish authenticity was rooted in authentic Gaelic traditions that had been corrupted by English rule. Some cultural revolutionaries considered him unauthentic – as he hadn’t always lived in Ireland, he had an English family and didn’t speak Gaelic. Yeats contributed an outspoken voice about Ireland at the time, he wanted it to be more open. He was a great public poet, speaking directly about conflict, yet was also outside it.
In the broadcast we also heard the voice of Maud Gonne (which I found fascinating, she sounded completely different to my imagination) who reacted to accusations about Yeats, agreeing that he was a snob.
I found the broadcast to be very insightful and helped me understand more about Yeats’ life and the times he lived in.
Thanks for reading,
‘The Fisherman’ by W.B.Yeats is a poem describing Yeats preconception that his readers were intelligent, cultural Irish citizens. Throughout this poem he realises that this is not the case. The poem is split into two stanzas, with simple language and rhyme scheme to highlight how Yeats wants his readers to be “wise and simple”. Yeats reflects on his ideal reader, then lists his actual readers, and at the end consigns to the fact that he will have to change his style of writing to educate the mundane ignorant public. Yeats thought that he was a man of the people, but the people do not appreciate art, there is no such thing as an everyday man of Ireland.
In the first section of the poem Yeats refers to his ideal reader, a simple fisherman. Yeats uses a lot of detail, “gray Connemara clothes” “freckled man” to show that he has put a great deal of thought into who he wants to write his poetry for. Yeats shows that he wants his readers to be skilled and intelligent by making the fisherman “cast his flies” – fly fishing being a very skilful art. Yeats refers to this man as “wise and simple”. This oxymoron highlights everything he wants his reader to be – wise and skilled, yet only needing to live simply, not wanting much. This fisherman gives a very pastoral image, the agricultural side of Ireland, showing that Yeats wants his readers to be engrossed in the culture and traditions of Ireland. Yeats suggests that he wants his readers to be of his “own race” – to be Irish to the bone, adhering to tradition and culture.
Yeats then displays the “reality” and lists the true nature of his readers, almost a list of things he despises them for. He references how he hates the “living men” and loves the “dead man” – a theme similar to ‘September 1913′ where he condemns the current Ireland and the people in it, and shows his love for “Romantic Ireland” and “O’Leary”. Yeats mentions how the public of Ireland have “beaten down” the “great Art”, showing their ignorance, how they’d prefer a “drunken cheer” than poetry. The use of the word “commonest” highlights this fact, that the people of Ireland are nothing special.
In the last stanza Yeats acknowledges that his “audience” is not what he wanted, and so he had to imagine “a man” – the simple fisherman described in the first section of the poem. This repetition of the “sun-freckled face” and “gray Connemara cloth” emphasises the idealistic reader of Yeats’ imagination.
In the last few lines of the poem Yeats says the same thing twice but in different ways, as if Yeats is telling himself, assuring himself:
“A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;”
Yeats then promises himself that he will change his writing to become a ‘man of the people’ and relate to these ‘common’ people who don’t appreciate art, “I shall have written him one”.
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Yeats does not appear in his poetry to be a particular feminist, yet we as readers have to realise that in those days it was frowned upon to do so. Yeats was living in a sexist and oppressive time, and seemed to realise that he couldn’t help women through his poetry, writing is not always about truth. However many of his poems suggest that he deeply admired women, and may have simply been a strong advocate for women who struggled to show his opinions in the time that he lived in. The woman he refers to most is Maud Gonne, the love of his life who didn’t love him back. His opinion of Gonne is obviously that of desire, yet also slight bitterness, as she does not love him. Gonne was very feminist, and stood up for women’s rights, and so Yeats most likely supported her views to try and win her affection. Yeats also mentions Constance Markiewicz and Eva Gore-Booth in several of his poems, revolutionary leaders who he seemed to admire deeply (at least enough to write poems specifically about them). Yeats was obsessed with the Occult, which rejected the sexist norms and was very pro equality, thus we can assume that he also took this stance.
A good source of information about Yeats and women:
To understand how Yeats wrote in a post-colonial style we must first understand definitions of post-colonialism itself. Post-Colonialism can be split into several subjects, though the subject I found that reflected in Yeats’ poetry the most is this:
Social and cultural change or erosion: It seems that after independence is achieved, one main question arises; what is the new cultural identity?
Yeats examines the idea of change very often in his poetry, especially considering change in Ireland and change in people. For example, in ‘September 1913’ Yeats compares the Ireland of 1913 to “Romantic Ireland”, and in ‘Easter 1916’ Yeats compares the “vainglorious lout” of MacBride who abused Gonne to the revolutionary hero – “transformed utterly” from what he was due to his brave and heroic actions. ‘Easter 1916’ is heavily about change, “all changed, changed utterly” and how the revolution has changed the society of Ireland.
Good sources of information about Yeats and Post Colonialism:
Thanks for reading,
An analysis of ‘Half Hanged Mary’ by Margaret Atwood, from 3am to 6am. If you haven’t read my other post on HHM, poke around my blog and you’ll find it eventually (I hope!)
The voice of Webster in this section seems insane yet determined, she has got this far and can’t give in to death now. There’s no punctuation in this section, and no stanza form, to show the confusion in Webster’s mind. Atwood uses lots of repetition, as if Webster is losing her mind and is forgetting what she’s already said:
“Wind seethes in the leaves around
me the tree exude night
birds night birds yell inside”
As well as repetition Atwood uses homonyms and synonyms to suggest Webster’s lack of control of her mind, “I was born I have borne I bear I will be born”.
Atwood uses lots of vivid verbs, yet mainly violent ones, “yell” “stabbed” “clench”, suggesting that Atwood is thinking violently. Despite this, some of the verbs are more gentle, “fluttering”, which contrasts heavily with the violent verbs, insinuating confusion. Some verbs also have connotations with ways of killing witches, “dangle” “drowning” to reiterate the theme of the poem.
The voice of this section is calmer, and talks almost as if Webster is having a timeless out of body experience, “Time is relative,”. The section is split into 6 short stanzas, which shows that Webster has regained control of her mind, she is less confused.
There are again references to nature, yet Atwood remarks that the sun is “no longer a simile for God” – showing that Webster is questioning her faith (reminding me of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Futility’). Later on, in the fourth stanza of this section Atwood mixes the semantic field of religion and the semantic field of science to show how Webster is doubting everything, “listening to the gospel of the red-hot stars”.
The use of language and punctuation in the stanzas suggest that time is slowing down, like an out of body experience, “when you drift in space”. The use of verbs and abstract nouns highlights the odd, almost hallucinogenic nature of this experiene (reminding me of “Bayonet Charge” by Ted Hughes), “Pinpoints of infinity riddle my brain a revelation of deafness”.
Atwood talks about death, and how Webster hasn’t died physically, her hair hasn’t “turned white”, but she has died spiritually, her “heart” is gone, “bleached out”, suggesting that she has lost all of her love and goodness due to the hate of others.
“At the end of my rope”
This is a common feature of Atwood’s poetry in which she twists an idiom. She twists the common idiom ‘at the end of my tether’ which means to get frustrated to refer to the rope that Webster is being hung with. This suggests that Webster may be getting frustrated with life and feels like giving in to the temptation of death, she wants to “testify to silence” – silence being a euphemism for death. Yet in the last two lines of this section Atwood shows that Webster will not give in, saying that she will not only have one death, she “will have two.” The use of language in these last two lines are vain, almost as if Webster is showing off.
Thanks for reading,
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