“Narcissus and Echo” by Fred Chappell

Shall the water not remember   Ember

my hand’s slow gesture, tracing above   of

its mirror my half-imaginary   airy

portrait? My only belonging   longing,

is my beauty, which I take   ache

away and then return as love   of

of teasing playfully the one being   unbeing.

whose gratitude I treasure   Is your

moves me. I live apart   heart

from myself, yet cannot   not

live apart. In the water’s tone,   stone?

that shining silence, a flower   Hour,

whispers my name with such slight   light:

moment, it seems filament of air,   fare

the world become cloudswell.   well.


Originally published in Shenandoah Issue 50, Volume 1

edFred-ChappellA North Carolina native, Fred Chappell is the author of numerous books of poetry, including The World Between the Eyes and Midquest, as well as several novels and short story collections. He is the recipient of myriad awards, including the Bollingen Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize. He served as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate from 1997 until 2002.

Chappell’s poem “Narcissus and Echo” recalls the ancient Latin story of the same name that appears in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ovid’s tale depicts Echo, a nymph who cannot speak except to repeat the last few words she has heard. Echo sees and falls instantly in love with the beautiful and conceited Narcissus, who famously fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. When Narcissus cruelly rejects her, Echo’s body withers away and eventually turns to stone, leaving only her voice to eternally echo throughout the world.

John_William_Waterhouse_-_Echo_and_Narcissus_-_Google_Art_ProjectKeeping the original story in mind, the reader can interpret Chappell’s poem as a one-sided dialogue between Echo and Narcissus. The italicized words at the end of each line mimic Echo’s faint, half-heard voice. Like Echo, these words repeat the same sounds as the last words of the non-italicized lines. Read together, the italicized words create a message from Echo to Narcissus: “Ember of airy longing, ache of unbeing. Is your heart not stone? Hour, light: fare well”. The words “Ember of airy longing, ache of unbeing” refer to her formless state—one that is more painful because it keeps her from ever being able to accomplish her love in any physical way. Her desperate question for Narcissus—Is your heart not stone?—and final unrecognized goodbye emphasize how lonely and underserved her love is.

Since the italicized lines represent Echo’s voice, the upright words must represent Narcissus’s. Juxtaposed next to Echo’s quiet agony, his blind self-absorption strikes the reader as ridiculous. Narcissus, too preoccupied flirting with himself in the water, does not recognize Echo’s last desperate attempt to garner his attention. Instead, he teases his own reflection, playing peek-a-boo with himself in the glassy pool. His absorption is so complete that Echo’s final farewell strikes him as nothing more than a flower’s whisper, “with such slight moment, it seems a filament of air”. Chappell’s poem leaves the reader with a sense of the tragedy of unrequited, undeserved love, and of the absurdity of narcissism.

For more information on Fred Chappell, visit http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/fred-chappell

Posted by Emma Nash

“The Humans” by Melissa Dickson

Have scattered, have dithered and dathered, the humans
In helmets, in velvet, and veil, the humans recoil to their roosts
With buckles and booze, in funny white shoes,
The humans in duds of charmeuse, in knickers or knit, they scatter

And gather to chitter and chatter. The humans they scatter,
They wave and they whimper the glib and the glibber, scattered
Like feathers or flint. They rumble and riot, roost
In the viaduct, cruel fellas in slippers or boots, shoes

Patent or suede, slacks checkered with jade, shoo
Them home with their cheap chirping hearts, battered they scatter,
The dear pitter patter of boys and girls tumbled and tossed, scattered
Then smattered they swig and they swagger and shoot, shoehorned

And shopworn, the hoodlums and well-born, the humans
All clamor, get fatter and fatter, their brims and their shoe
Leather burst, go home to your harems, your roosts
Ripe with cherubs, you belles and you barons, your shoes

Laced with scarabs, you roosters and hens, you peckers in pens, you scatter
and stammer and flit. The humans, they want and they wane. The humans



mdickson-207Melissa Dickson holds a BFA in Studio Arts from Auburn University, an MFA in poetry from Converse College, and in visual arts from SVA in New York. Her first poetry collection, Cameo, was published by New Plains Press in 2011. Her second collection, Sweet Aegis, was published in 2013. Her work has appeared in many magazines and journals, and she also has experience in marketing and graphic design.

“The Humans” demonstrates an apt social critique while remaining humorous and light-hearted. Dickson does not venture into the depressing, acidic feeling of Lost Generation Era style social critiques, although it drives at a similar core message. The poem aims to highlight humankind’s tendency towards frivolity, soulless gossip and distraction, without establishing an aura of hate or condescension that this message often accompanies.

free-range-chickens_xft5b1Dickson does so by comparing The Humans to chickens. The humans “scatter,” “dither and dather,” “chitter and chatter,” “stammer and flit.” This language brings to mind an image of Dickson’s “roosters and hens” mindlessly scurrying around, with no real goals or purpose other than to simply exist. Chickens are not looked upon as particularly intelligent or sophisticated animals in the human world. Couple this with the poem’s almost nursery rhyme-esque feel–with internal rhyme, frequent onomatopoeia, and a simple, sing-songy rhythmic structure–and it becomes quite clear what the message of this story is. In our lowest, most primordial form, humans are nothing but aimless, unaware animals who can only obsess over superficial and unimportant luxuries like clothes, appearance, and food. According to Dickson, humans who “want and wane” are doomed to live the animalistic, primitive life of chickens.

It was interesting to stumble upon such a modern, fresh take on social critique during an election year. With Super Tuesday forthcoming and the 26th W&L Mock Convention just passing, my social media newsfeeds have not suffered a shortage of political parodies, The Onion headlines, and, yes, angry social critiques. It’s enlightening to read up on others’ opinions of the current human condition, but many of these accounts begin to blend together after a while due to similarities in style and structure (and at times, argument). But “The Humans” avoids falling by the wayside with other pieces pleading citizens to wake up by using a memorable metaphor and a thoughtful, innovative use of language.

You can read more of Dickson’s work in her book Cameo, available in paperback on Amazon.

Posted by Mansie Hough

“The Passing” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

It was the hour of dawn,
When the heart beats thin and small,
The window glimmered grey,
Framed in a shadow wall.

And in the cold sad light
Of the early morningtide,
The dear dead girl came back
And stood by his bedside.

The girl he lost came back;
He saw her flowing hair;
It flickered and it waved
Like a breath in frosty air.

As in a steamy glass,
Her face was dim and blurred;
Her voice was sweet and thin,
Like the calling of a bird.

“You said that you would come,
You promised not to stay;
And I have waited here,
To help you on the way.

“I have waited on,
But still you bide below;
You said that you would come,
And oh, I want you so!

“For half my soul is here,
And half my soul is there,
When you are on the earth
And I am in the air.

“But on your dressing-stand
There lies a triple key;
Unlock the little gate
Which fences you from me.

“Just one little pang,
Just one throb of pain,
And then your weary head
Between my breasts again.”

In the dim unhomely light
Of the early morningtide,
He took the triple key
And he laid it by his side.

A pistol, silver chased,
An open hunting knife,
A phial of the drug
Which cures the ill of life.

He looked upon the three,
And sharply drew his breath:
“Now help me, oh my love,
For I fear this cold grey death.”

She bent her face above,
She kissed him and she smiled;
She soothed him as a mother
May soothe a frightened child.

“Just that little pang, love,
Just a throb of pain,
And then your weary head
Between my breasts again.”

He snatched the pistol up,
He pressed it to his ear;
But a sudden sound broke in,
And his skin was raw with fear.

He took the hunting knife,
He tried to raise the blade;
It glimmered cold and white,
And he was sore afraid.

He poured the potion out,
But it was thick and brown;
His throat was sealed against it,
And he could not drain it down.

He looked to her for help,
And when he looked – behold!
His love was there before him
As in the days of old.

He saw the drooping head,
He saw the gentle eyes;
He saw the same shy grace of hers
He had been wont to prize.

She pointed and she smiled,
And lo! he was aware
Of a half-lit bedroom chamber
And a silent figure there.

A silent figure lying
A-sprawl up on a bed,
With a silver-mounted pistol
Still clotted to his head.

And as he downward gazed,
Her voice came full and clear,
The homely tender voice
Which he had loved to hear:

“The key is very certain,
The door is sealed to none.
You did it, oh, my darling!
And you never knew it done.

“When the net was broken,
You thought you felt its mesh;
You carried to the spirit
The troubles of the flesh.

“And are you trembling still, dear?
Then let me take your hand;
And I will lead you outward
To a sweet and restful land.

“You know how once in London
I put my griefs on you;
But I can carry yours now –
Most sweet it is to do!

“Most sweet it is to do, love,
And very sweet to plan
How I, the helpless woman,
Can help the helpful man.

“But let me see you smiling
With the smile I know so well;
Forget the world of shadows,
And the empty broken shell.

“It is the worn-out garment
In which you tore a rent;
You tossed it down, and carelessly
Upon your way you went.

“It is not you, my sweetheart,
For you are here with me.
That frame was but the promise of
The thing that was to be –

“A tuning of the choir
Ere the harmonies begin;
And yet it is the image
Of the subtle thing within.

“There’s not a trick of body,
There’s not a trait of mind,
But you bring it over with you,
Ethereal, refined,

“But still the same; for surely
If we alter as we die,
You would be you no longer,
And I would not be I.

“I might be an angel,
But not the girl you knew;
You might be immaculate,
But that would not be you.

“And now I see you smiling,
So, darling, take my hand;
And I will lead you outward
To a sweet and pleasant land,

“Where thought is clear and nimble,
Where life is pure and fresh,
Where the soul comes back rejoicing
From the mud-bath of the flesh.

“But still that soul is human,
With human ways, and so
I love my love in spirit,
As I loved him long ago.”

So with hands together
And fingers twining tight,
The two dead lovers drifted
In the golden morning light.

But a grey-haired man was lying
Beneath them on a bed,
With a silver-mounted pistol
Still clotted to his head.


At first glance, this poem reads as an account of one man’s suicide driven by hallucinations of his dead past lover. The gothic genre, which is frequently associated with death, is one typically associated with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is best known today for authoring the wildly successful detective stories of Sherlock Holmes. Yet the inspiration behind Doyle’s dark writing is something less well known about the writer; Doyle was a fervent believer in Spiritualism and the supernatural.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

His dedication to the study of supernatural phenomenon led him to serve as the President of the London Spiritualist Alliance and President of the British College of Psychic Science. He also published a book called The History of Spiritualism, which outlines the complete history of modern Spiritualism and describes specifics of the unexplained, such as the afterlife, spirits, ectoplasm, mediums, etc. It is his belief in the supernatural that reveals the deeper meaning of “The Passage.”

Doyle exhibits in his writing a fascination with the connection between the living and the dead. His book names the first modern medium to be Emanuel Swedenborg, whose description of his communications with the dead almost exactly match the one between the suicidal man and the spirit of his dead lover in this poem. Doyle writes of Swedenborg’s reports saying, “Death was made easy by the presence of celestial beings who helped the new-comer into his fresh existence,” (19) which aligns with the lover’s statements such as, “You said that you would come / You promised not to stay; / And I have waited here, / To help you on the way.” The lover, or spirit of the lover, encourages the man through his suicide; “She soothed him as a mother / May soothe a frightened child.”

The poem also deals with a spirit’s physical appearance after death. Doyle explains in his book, “We did not change in any way at death. Man lost nothing by death, but was still a man in all respects, though more perfect than when in the body,” (19) explaining the lover’s youthful appearance preserved in death just the way the man remembers her. In the poem, the man’s earthly body is described as “the worn-out garment / In which you tore a rent; / You tossed it down, and carelessly / Upon your way you went.” This correlates with the notion that the man is still a man, but more perfect than his physical body, “Ethereal, refined, / But still the same; for surely / If we alter as we die, / You would be you no longer, / And I would not be I.”

Just as appearance is preserved through death, so is love. Doyle quotes Swedenborg in his book as saying, “Two real loves are not separated by the death of one, since the spirit of the deceased dwells with the spirit of the survivor, and even to the death of the latter, when they meet again and are reunited, and love each other more tenderly than before,” (20) a statement that exactly matches the purpose of the poem. The lover states, “I love my love in spirit, / As I loved him long ago” just before the poem paints an image of the spirits of the two lovers ascending to the afterworld by saying, “So with hands together / And fingers twining tight, / The two dead lovers drifted / In the golden morning light.”

The poem is, without doubt, directly based off of Doyle’s obsession with the supernatural. Knowing about Doyle’s beliefs exposes a much deeper significance of “The Passage.”

posted by Camille Hunt

Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir. “Chapter 1.” The History of Spiritualism. Vol. 1. N.p.: Arno, n.d. 19-20.


“Fire and Ice” by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.



robert frost      Robert Frost, one of America’s most well known poets, was born in San Francisco in 1874. He moved to New England ten years later, after his father’s death, and started his career as a poet early in his life – in fact, he graduated from Lawrence High School as “class poet” and was published shortly after. Frost, best known for his regional style, often writes about life in New England, drawing upon his adopted home as inspiration for his work. In this poem, however, he sidesteps his trademark regionalism in favor of a witty, restrained inquiry into the nature of the end of days.

In “Fire and Ice,” Frost sticks to a colloquial, iambic structure, but this poem is purposefully ambiguous, its rhyme scheme untraditional. I find this poem to be incredibly witty – smug, even – which is what first drew me to it, but it’s also fairly complicated; Frost says so much in so few lines, and it takes several readings to crack the surface of his purposefully cryptic language and form. Though he writes “Fire and Ice” in a vernacular way, with monosyllabic words far outnumbering more complicated ones, the brevity of the poem invites the reader to seek meaning from it. There’s certainly more than meets the eye.

Some scholars claim this poem was inspired by Dante’s Inferno, as “Fire and Ice” draws many interesting parallels to the work. It contains nine lines corresponding to Dante’s nine-leveled configuration of hell, and its rhyme scheme mimics the terza rima pattern Dante invented for his Divine Comedy as well. The form of the poem, which begins with the longest line and more or less works its way down to the shortest, resembles the funnel-shaped structure of Dante’s hell. Though we often associate hell with imagery of fire and heat, Dante turns our preconception on its head by sentencing the Inferno’s worst offenders to an eternity in a frozen wasteland.

However, professor and astronomer Harlow Shapley claims a conversation he had with Frost, who was writer-in-residence at Harvard at the time, was the inspiration for this poem. A year or two before the publication of “Fire and Ice,” Shapley claims Frost asked him, “Now, Professor Shapley. You know all about astronomy. Tell me, how is the world going to end?” Shapley gave his scientific opinion – that the world would be incinerated, or that a permanent ice age would work to wipe out all life – as his answer, and “Fire and Ice” serendipitously appeared a year or two later.

As with all famous works, though, the interpretations of “Fire and Ice” stretch far beyond the scope of these two anecdotes. I think Frost is saying else entirely, though still profound: fire and ice, two elements we commonly conceive as fundamental opposites, have equal powers of destruction – we should stay cautious, as they might not be so different after all.

“Fire and Ice” was first published in Harper’s Magazine in 1920 and also appears in Frost’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1923 book New Hampshire.

To read more about the various interpretations of “Fire and Ice,” visit this link: http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/fireice.htm

posted by Caroline Todd

The Lady’s Yes by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

457px-Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning“Yes!” I answered you last night;
“No!” this morning, Sir, I say!
Colours, seen by candle-light,
Will not look the same by day.

When the tabors played their best,
Lamps above, and laughs below —
Love me sounded like a jest,
Fit for Yes or fit for No!

Call me false, or call me free —
Vow, whatever light may shine,
No man on your face shall see
Any grief for change on mine.

Yet the sin is on us both —
Time to dance is not to woo —
Wooer light makes fickle troth —
Scorn of me recoils on you!

Learn to win a lady’s faith
Nobly, as the thing is high;
Bravely, as for life and death —
With a loyal gravity.

Lead her from the festive boards,
Point her to the starry skies,
Guard her, by your truthful words,
Pure from courtship’s flatteries.

By your truth she shall be true —
Ever true, as wives of yore —
And her Yes, once said to you,
SHALL be Yes for evermore.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) was a highly esteemed poet in the nineteenth century. Married to fellow poet Robert Browning, her fame and reputation surpassed his – she was even a role model for Emily Dickinson herself. Browning grew up in a wealthy household, which gave her the background and inspiration to write poems such as this one.

“The Lady’s Yes” opens with a woman taking back the “yes” she had given to a gentleman suitor the night before. We find out in the second stanza that the affirmative answer was given in response to the young man’s inquiry into whether she loves him or not. However, the speaker says she has changed her mind because “Colours, seen by candle-light / Will not look the same by the day.” The opportunity for love and the possibilities for her future that seemed so bright the night before dim by the next morning, and she decides that no, she does not in fact love him. The speaker was caught up in the atmosphere of the previous night, in the lamp light, the music (the “tabors” mentioned are a type of drum), and the laughter surrounding them, and agreed that she loved her suitor without thinking. Now she is dealing with the repercussions, namely the risk of being called “fast” or “free,” both insults for those who were considered ladies at the time. However, she says she does not regret changing her mind, and even blames the suitor for catching her off guard, saying, “Time to dance is not to woo,” and that it is as much his fault as it is hers.

The second half of the poem consists of the speaker giving the gentleman advice on how to really win over a lady. She tells him to be noble, brave, and loyal, as these are all traits that ladies deserve. She also advises him to be truthful. This implies that she does not feel that he was truthful with her. Caught up in the moment, she believes they both said things they did not mean, so she warns him to speak nothing but the truth to any future love interests, and not to focus so much on “courtship’s flatteries.” With this truthfulness, she says, if another lady responds with a “yes” to his love, she will actually mean it, unlike the speaker. Or perhaps she is even telling her suitor that he has a chance with her if he changes his ways.

The poem is written in four-line stanzas with a simple ABAB rhyme scheme. It is very traditional, with no extraordinary flair or unusual style. This makes sense, as the poem itself covers a traditional topic. It speaks to the customs of courtship in the nineteenth century. It lists the qualities looked for in a man – bravery, nobility, loyalty, and honesty – as well as the traits that were looked down upon in a lady. The rude names the speaker expects to be called are “fast,” used to describe a woman who rushed through things quickly with a love interest, and “free,” meaning a woman who gave out her “love” easily to the men around her. That is one of the great things about poetry and literature in general – it can shine a light on the culture at the time, dipping into the historical and creating for a richer reading experience.