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“…The Music of the Universe…”
An Album by Sean Dillon

“The whole point of magick of course, is to bring about change. But it's got to be the change that's right for you and right for everyone and everything else in the rest of the universe. How do we know what that is? We don't, really. We can't. Well, we sort of can. If we listen, we can hear the music of the universe, and if we *really* listen, we can hear it talking to us. What is it saying? What is it trying to tell us? That's the journey, you see. That's why we travel through space and time.”
-Josh Marsfelder

i. Because by The Beatles
Both Wallace Stevens and the Beatles are interested in changing the world with poetry. The latter expresses this desire through the implementation of transcendental themes, such as ascending from the universe, within their songs, whereas the former does this through the concept of Supreme Fiction, wherein one embraces the artifice of ideas like God or poetry and believes in them regardless. In particular, Stevens uses the poems “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman”, “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour”, “Angel Surrounded by Paysans”, and “Anecdote of Men by the Thousand” as a magical attempt at altering the world into one where love and artifice reign forevermore. Given this, “Across the Universe” would have been Wallace Stevens’ favorite Beatles song.

ii. Do You Believe in Magic by The Loving Spoonful
When Aleister Crowley was coining the term “Magick”, he wanted to differentiate the term from magic (i.e. stuff like pulling rabbits and cutting people in half) from the serious magic. Specifically, Magick “…may be defined as any event in nature which is brought to pass by Will” (Crowley, 127) meaning that anything we do that affects the nature of the universe is, in of itself, a magical act. There is no specific way in which one becomes a magician; however, one can use magick if one understands oneself fully.
One such method of obtaining this understanding is known as Transcendental Meditation. This practice requires a person to meditate twice a day for fifteen to twenty minutes with one eye closed while repeating a mantra. The aim is to provide the practitioner with a feeling of nirvana, as if ascending from the universe while remaining still. Its connection to “Across the Universe” comes both from the imagery of lines like “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup/They slither wildly as they slip away across the universe” which evokes the feeling described of Transcendental Meditation, the repeated mantra of “Nothing’s gonna change my world” which can be used as a calming mantra to show that the person is still in control of what is going on around him, and the fact that The Beatles were known to be practitioners of Transcendental Meditation. This can be seen in the song with the other mantra repeated throughout “Jai Guru Davi”. The line roughly translates to “All glory to Guru Dev”, a phrase typically spoken by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who taught The Beatles about transcendentalism, in relation to his teacher Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, a major leader of the Hindus who earned the nickname of Guru Dev: “divine teacher” (Wood).

iii. Giorgio by Moroder by Daft Punk feat. Giorgio Moroder
Late one evening in 1967, a thought came into the mind of Beatles member John Lennon as his then wife Cynthia Lennon was going on and on about something or other. As he thought more and more about this idea that had invaded his mind, the words “…turned into a sort of cosmic song rather than an irritated song, rather than a "Why are you always mouthing off at me?"... [The words] were purely inspirational and were given to me as boom! I don't own it you know; it came through like that” (Sheff, 265; 267). The line in question was “Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup” which continues throughout the song with the unspoken indication that all the pools of sorrows, waves of joy, and shades of life are based out of these words; that these words are the source of all things.
One might recognize this summation of “Across the Universe” in Steven’s concept of Supreme Fiction, a more postmodern reaction to the failings of religion. These failings are heavily explored in Steven’s poem “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman” which invokes the concept of Supreme Fiction via its first line: “Poetry is the supreme fiction, madame”. The poem itself is a satirization and rejection of organized religion through the usage of Christian iconography. One example of this is the term “nave” used in the second and third lines wherein Stevens suggests to the Christian Woman “Take the moral law and make a nave of it/And from the nave build haunted heaven”. The word “nave” refers to the part of a church where the congregation sits to listen to the religious leaders perform their sermon. However the term can be punned into being “knave”, meaning a dishonest person. This indicates that the “moral law” created by those who wish to abuse them for their own ends. Next, there’s the line that follows “The conscience is converted into palms”. By using the term palm (which, in Christianity, is meant to symbolize peace, victory, and eternal life) in this stanza, Stevens is indicating that those who follow the dogma of this belief system are giving up their awareness of what is around them in exchange for the promise of a paradise that Stevens is wary of from naves. After several more invocations of Christian iconography, Stevens then proceeds to contextualize it with a universal system similar to that described in “Across the Universe” through the use of the phrase “Squiggling like saxophones”. Given the previous line’s expansion of the critique to a cosmic scale, the word “squiggling” refers to a squirming motion, implying a fluctuation within the universe via the music as connected via the usage of the word “saxophone”.
The key word from the poem’s last line “This will make widows wince. But fictive things/Wink as they will. Wink most when widows wince” is “fictive”, which refers to things originating from the imagination. Thus the poem ends as it began, with the conceit of Supreme Fiction: unlike the atheistic movements that popularized the modernist era that rejected the concept of gods because they did not exist, Supreme Fiction embraces the artifice of fictional ideas and believes in the idea regardless. This is further highlighted in the poem in the “jovial hullabaloo” the widow’s unable to see. The word “jovial” comes from the word “Jove”, another term for the roman god Jupiter indicating that Stevens’ critique, despite the title, goes further back into history than mere Christianity. Whereas the fictional truth is able to “Wink most when widows wince” indicating its superiority.

iv. Atom Heart Mother Suite by Pink Floyd
In order to get into a transcendental state, wherein one enters the realm beyond the real, one must repeat an idea. For Stevens, this idea can be found in one of his later works fittingly titled “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour”. Given that the “paramour”, a lover in a forbidden relationship, is described as “interior”, the poem could be referring not to a specific person in forbidden love, but the idea of forbidden love within us. This soliloquy can be seen as a form of recognition of this; the acceptance of this love as seen through the eyes of the one who feels it. But who does the poet love, why can’t they be together, and what is the next step?
The answer is, as with all stories, within the tale being spun. And this tale opens with “Light the first light of evening, as in a room/In which we rest and, for a small reason, think/The world imagined is the ultimate good”. There are two keys within this stanza in understanding the answers to the questions posed. The first comes from within the first line. Or, to be more precise, within the first word “Light”. The light is an image that is seen throughout the poem as “…a warmth, /A light, a power, the miraculous influence”. That last part ties in with the other key to the poem “The world imagined is the ultimate good” as we return to the idea of Supreme Fiction. The idea of Supreme Fiction is continued beyond those two lines with quotes like “It is in that thought that we collect ourselves, /Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:” (the thing being implicitly stated to be the light), “We say God and the imagination are one…/How the highest candles lights the dark” (wherein Stevens explicitly connects the ideas of Supreme Fiction and the light), and the implied moment of transcending the world around them in “Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves./We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,/A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous./ Within its vital boundary, in the mind”. But what words did Stevens say to transcend? What is the light?
The specific answer does not come directly from “The Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour”, but rather from an idea within the margins of the soliloquy. The Beatles on the other hand made it, arguably, one of their most famous lyrics.
In the song “Across the Universe”, there is mention of light such as in “Images of broken light, which dance before me like a million eyes” which invokes eyes in relation to a dance, typically preformed on a stage upon which a soliloquy is delivered. There is also talk of the importance of ideas such as in “Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box”. The usage of letter is a pun on “leather”, which implies the importance of letters, words, and poetry. But Supreme Fiction isn’t directly involved within the form of the words, but the belief in the words being spoken. But it does help us find those words within the soliloquy. Throughout the Interior Paramour’s final words on the matter, paramour refers to himself with the pronoun “we”. “It is in that thought that WE collect ourselves… a single shawl/Wrapped tightly round US, since WE are poor… WE forget each other and ourselves. /WE feel the obscurity of order… WE say God and the imagination are one…” etc. As such, there really is only one thing he could be saying to transcend.
But first, there is one last “we” in the poem that we must address in order to understand what Stevens’ mantra is. It comes from the final stanza: “Out of this same light, out of the central mind, /We make a dwelling in the evening air, /In which being there together is enough”. All three of the ideas toiled within the poem come together in this stanza. The source of the light comes from a specific part of that imagination: the part that feels love, the part that doesn’t need more than just being with the other person. The undying love that, while unobtainable, is still there. There is even a line from “Across the Universe” that describes this feeling that Stevens is expressing: “Limitless undying love which shines around me like a million suns”. And thus, there is only one thing Stevens could be saying to transcend. One simple five-word phrase:
“All You Need Is Love”

v. God by John Lennon
To add to Stevens’ idea of Supreme Fiction as being a belief in God while accepting the artifice of it, there is his poem “Angel Surrounded by Paysans”, a piece of dialogue between a countryman and the angel of Reality. Many elements in this poem confirm my previous arguments, including the Supreme Fictional nature of the angel who talks as if in the transcendental state described in “Across the Universe” saying things like “Rise liquidly in liquid lingerings/Like watery words awash…” whose “L” and “W” sounds evoke the lilting and swooning tempo of the Beatles song. But why else is this poem a key to my argument?
The answer comes from near the end of the poem and reads “…like meanings said/By repetitions of half meanings. Am I not, /Myself, only half of a figure of a sort, /A figure half seen, or seen for a moment”. Obviously, Wallace Stevens is dead. He died before he could hear any of the Beatles work or most of the magical ideas I’m claiming he’s using. All things considered, given Stevens’ Supreme Fiction, the quote is referring to the margins of a work. The things not quite seen within their time, we only notice the connections in hindsight.

vi. The March of the Sinister Ducks by The Sinister Ducks
Much like “Across the Universe”, “Anecdote of Men by the Thousand” is about a moment of transcendence.  Much like “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour”, the mantra is not included. But unlike the Soliloquy, the Anecdote is not about getting to that moment, but rather the moment itself.  So what does it feel like to transcend reality?
Much like a drug trip, the feeling depends on whom you ask. If, for example, you ask The Beatles, then you would get something like “Across the Universe”. The song itself has a soft melody, like a frozen moment in time that will never end. It is a peaceful moment with details believed seen only from outside what we know as reality: the dance of stars, the flow of words, the shades of life, the eternal shine of love, and many others. This feeling is further highlighted by the decision to use mostly string instruments in its production and the tone of John Lennon’s voice as he sings the song, which is akin to that of a lullaby. The lyrics themselves are full of “Ll” and “Ww” sounds like “Words are flowing out like endless…” and “They slither wildly as they slip away…” which gives off the felling of a serine wind caressing a person’s face. The song doesn’t really end so much as fade out of existence, like the end of a dream.
While Stevens does not have the luxury of musical accompaniment to extenuate the feeling he gets when he reaches nirvana, the prose is nonetheless helpful. Much like “Across the Universe”, “Anecdote of Men by the Thousand” also uses “Ll” and “Ww” sounds, indicating a similar tone in both pieces. However another sound used in the Stevens poem not used as frequently in the Beatles song is the “Ss” sound. This can be seen within the lines “There are men of the East, he said/Who are the East” and “The dress of a woman of Lhassa,/ In its place,/ Is an invisible element of that place/Made visible” which both highlight the serine feeling one gets outside of their body. However, given the additional “Ss” sound, Stevens is implying a dreaming to his nirvana experience given that “Ss” is akin to a snore.

vii. The End by The Beatles
In their song “Across the Universe”, The Beatles claimed that “Nothing’s gonna change my world”. Conversely, Wallace Stevens seems to view the concept of a single vision of the world to be patently absurd and has embraced the notion that love can save us all. Given these too conflicting ideologies, we must decide which one is true and which one is false. For we can’t believe in things we know are false, that would be absurd. As such, when looking at the world as it is today, The Beatles are right. We are mere drops in the ocean of the universe. We can change ourselves and parts of what surround us certainly, but we can’t change the universe. There's nothing you can do that can't be done, no one you can save that can't be saved. Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time.
It's easy.
(…2, 3, 4)

Works Cited:

Bravo, Lizzie, Gayleen Pease, and John Lennon. By John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Perf. George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Across the Universe. The Beatles. George Martin, 1969. CD.
Crowley, Aleister, Mary Desti, Leila Waddell, and Hymenaeus Beta. Magick: Liber ABA, Book Four, Parts I-IV. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Lennon, John, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. By John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Perf. Ringo Starr. All You Need Is Love. The Beatles. George Martin, 1967. CD.
Sandifer, Philip, Jerry Snook, Chris O'Leary, Jack Graham, Anna Wiggins, Josh Marsfelder, Jed A. Blue, Andrew Hickey, Allison J. Campbell, Abigail Brady, Unnoun, Caitlin Smith, Richard Jones, Jill Buratto, and James Taylor. "A Mild Curiosity in a Junkyard (Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead)." Philip Sandifer: Writer. Blogger, 9 Feb. 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
Sheff, David, Yōko Ono, John Lennon, and G. Barry. Golson. All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2000. Print.
Stevens, Wallace. The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York: Knopf, 1954. 51-52; 59; 496-497; 524. Print.
Wood, Elaine. "Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; Founded Transcendental Meditation Movement." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles
...The Music of the Universe...
In which I analysis the work of Wallace Stevens through the lens of Magick and The Beatles
“This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin (published in August of 1971 in the New Humanist) is a three-stanza poem about the effects society and family have on a person, which cynically concludes that no one should live in this mad world of silly men in weird old hats. Whereas “Peeled Pencil, Choke” by Gertrude Stein (published in 1914 in Tender Buttons in the Objects section) is a three-word poem in which the author uses a blatant masturbation pun to highlight the dissonance between the societal opinions of sex at the time and her own desires. When contextualized by each other (and, briefly, the other poems in Tender Buttons: Objects), they can be seen as shaping each others worldviews, be it the latter poem highlighting the cynical nature of the former, or the Stein poem providing a more optimistic alternative to the final stanza of the Larkin poem.

But before we get into discussing the recontextualized meanings of the Larkin and Stein poems, let’s discuss the way in which their prosody collides with one another. To begin, both poems use first person narration (for the purposes of the readings of the recontextualized poems, we shall assume the speakers of the poems are the same) and mostly uses single syllable words to express their ideas. However, the Larkin poem uses a rhyme scheme of ABAB (“dad… do… had… you”) and iambic tetrameter (“they FUCK you UP, your MUM and DAD”). Conversely, the Stein poem, even when using its title to give the poem a second line (and a rhyme scheme of AA (“Choke… coke”)), appears not to have any cohesion in terms of accentual-syllabic verse. The title line has a stressed two syllables beat (“peeled PENcil, CHOKE”) whereas the poetic line has only one stressed syllable (“rub HER coke”). In addition, the sentences in the Larkin poem are grammatically accurate and not fragmented (in terms of length, the poem is not a one sentence per line) or run on in the style typically found in Stein’s work. Stylistically, the Larkin poem looks and reads like one would expect a poem to. Whereas the poems by Stein found in Tender Buttons: Objects use a style more akin to prose writing than poetry. So what happens when we combine these two incongruent styles of poetry? Without the context of the meaning, not much beyond what was done in this paragraph, i.e. contrasting stylistic differences. But when contextualized with the poem’s meaning, well, there’s the rub. (Cont. on pg 3)

Which brings us nicely to the recontextualized meanings of the poems. To start with, when contextualized by “Peeled Pencil, Choke” the cynical nature of “This Be The Verse” takes on a different, but equally cynical, meaning. For example, the second stanza of the poem reads “But they were fucked up in their turn/ By fools in old-style hats and coats,/ Who half the time were soppy-stern/ And half at one another’s throats.” When contextualized with Gertrude Stein’s anxieties about her sexuality (a peeled pencil is blatantly a phallic object and choke is a disgusted reaction to said pencil but the word coke is clearly a pun on the word cock but the rubbing (which is a euphemism for masturbation) is meant to be done on HER coke thus highlighting a cognitive dissonance between her personal feelings and the feelings of the culture (late 19th/early 20th century America) she grew up in), this section of the poem can be read as referring to the religious nature of her anxieties. Growing up, Gertrude Stein was raised Jewish and, much like Christianity, the Jewish doctrine has some less than favorable things to say about homosexuality (Leviticus 20:13 “And if a man lie with mankind, as with womankind, both of them have committed a detestable act: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”). And thus the description of fools in old-style hats and coats is recontextualized from being about a religious figure in Christianity, into being about a Rabbi who, much like the two original contexts, offers saccharin platitudes in an authorial voice while condemning an entire group of people due to their differences. This, in turn, highlights the cynical nature of the poem by making the speaker of the poems a member of the groups condemned and attacked (“and half at one another’s throats”) by the fools in old-style hats and coats.
But the poems don’t align perfect. For, when contextualized by both “Peeled Pencil, Choke” and the rest of Stein’s poetry in Tender Buttons: Objects, there comes a dilemma with the conclusion to the Larkin poem. In it’s original context, the lines “Man hands misery to man./ It deepens like a coastal shelf./ Get out as early as you can,/ And don’t have any kids yourself” provide a solution to the terrible world, mainly by escaping it. But how does one escape the large world? Simple, by dying; you can’t have any kids when you’re dead, so this seems like the only good option left, right? No. Not only does that not solve the problems listed in the poem (in particular, the first two lines of the final stanza), it heightens them, for any death makes those who care about the deceased miserable. In addition, there’s the Objects described by Gertrude Stein. She describes all those mundane things one doesn’t think much of in so many interesting ways (be it describing a leaf as “In the middle of a tiny spot and nearly bare there is a nice thing to say that wrist is leading. Wrist is leading.” or paper as “A courteous occasion makes a paper show no such occasion and this makes readiness and eyesight and likeness and a stool.” or even a box as “Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle. So then the order is that a white way of being round is something suggesting a pin and is it disappointing, it is not, it is so rudimentary to be analyzed and see a fine substance strangely, it is so earnest to have a green point not to red but to point again”) that one can’t deny being fascinated in this strange and intriguing world and having a desire to see what happens next. Which makes it all the more cynical: you know you should escape from the world, but you can’t because, much like a car accident on the highway, you just can’t look away. So what do you do? How can you live in a world that you know is not good?

Which leads nicely to how “Peeled Pencil, Choke” can be reevaluated after reading “This Be The Verse”. Given the cynical nature of the Larkin poem and its issues with the concept of nurture and society (the iconic opening line, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”, is expanded upon in the rest of the stanza to refer to the way in which people affect one another and make one another terrible. The next stanza suggests that mum and dad, and by extension their children, were fucked up by the system in which they existed in. This reading is based on references to men in old-style hats and coats (which most likely refers to a Christian leader) who were soppy-stern (a compact word derived from words meaning “lacking spirit and common sense” (the UK definition and most likely intended use given Larkin was English) and “(of a person or their manner) serious and unrelenting, especially in the assertion of authority and exercise of discipline” respectively) one minute and at other peoples throats the next. The final stanza concludes with the sentiment that, because of the fucked up way we treat each other, it would be best if we tried to escape the world/system we live in and not put anyone else through its horrors), the Stein poem can be read as offering a less cynical alternative to the options in the Larkin poem.
In the context of the previous poem, the title of the Stein piece “Peeled Pencil, Choke” is perhaps the only sensible reaction one could have towards the phallic nature of the peeled pencil: revulsion that one would decide to bring a new life into this world. In particular, the section of the Larkin poem it references are the lines “Get out as early as you can,/ And don’t have any kids yourself.” But, as we’ve discussed before, you can’t just leave the world as Larkin suggests in his final stanza, for the world is too interesting to escape and that solves nothing. So what can be done? The answer, as provided by the Stein poem, is love. It can be read as being a little contradictory to the meaning of the Larkin poem, but it remains a valid response. For the love expressed in the poem refers to the feminine (the poem, in it’s entirety, reads “Rub her coke”) rather than the masculine. As such, it can be read as a different form of escape than the one suggested by the Larkin poem. Mainly by escaping (i.e. rejecting) the cultural norms of the world of man via consummating a homosexual relationship; a kind of relationship whose physical nature cannot result in bringing any kids into the world.

And thus concludes the paper on the collision between “Peeled Pencil, Choke” by Gertrude Stein and “This Be The Verse” by Philip Larkin. Now, when presented with the readings above, one might ask, “Why, out of all the poems to clash together, did you pick these two?” Well, (Cont. from pg 1) To start with, “This Be The Verse”, at its core, is about society, which, by its nature and much like the Larkin poem, is structured in specific ways that affect the things that reside in it (be it the people who are fucked up by society or the sentences fragmented by the iambic tetrameter of the poem). Alternatively, “Peeled Pencil, Choke” is, at its core, about love, albeit in the physical sense. And love, even in its physical form, is a very chaotic beast. Sometimes, like the stressed syllables of the Stein poem, people in love don’t quite fit together. Other times, as symbolized by the rhyme scheme, the love comes together in perfect harmony. Which brings us back to the question: what happens when we combine these two incongruent styles of poetry and contextualize them with their meanings? Simple, it contextualizes the meanings of “This Be The Verse” and “Peeled Pencil, Choke” as being both diametrically opposed and having a symbiotic harmony. For the chaotic nature of the Stein poem can never be ordered like the Larkin poem. But, without the context of order of society, the chaotic love is just babbling gibberish in the aftermath of an explosion of meaningless color. And without love, society is just a cold and cruel place where no one should ever be.
The Dance of Larkin and Stein
A Short contrasting of the Works of Philip Larkin and Gertrude Stein
Jaques: All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwilling to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big, manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange, eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
(As You Like It II.vii. 138-165)

The soliloquy opens with the line “All the world’s a stage” (II.vii. 138). The line can be read as a pun in relation to the Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare preformed many of his plays, including the play the quote is from, As You Like It. More fittingly for this paper, it can also be read as referring to the actual world. Given this, and the rest of the speech, it can be read that Shakespeare is using the metaphor of the play to highlight the similarities and differences that make up the human experience.
The next section follows with
“And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.” (II.vii. 139-143)
This is unabashedly about the mechanical nature of the metaphor, i.e. the players and structure of the play. The first line places the role of people into the role of actors, which implies many things about the men and women we meet in our lives. One reason this is interesting is that acting is a profession in which people pretend to be other people. This implies that all the people who come and go (be it to the grave or stage right) into the story of our life are not showing their true selves to us. Rather, they are showing a part of themselves that they (consciously or otherwise) think would be best for that moment in their story, be it villain, lover, or fool. But sometimes, perhaps often depending on the actor, a part of their real self shines through. Sometimes it’s because of something going on outside the play, other times the actor is terrible and the other actors can tell that the façade is the true self. Of course, there are other times in which the role is so personal for the actor that it becomes indistinguishable from their true self. But there is another aspect of this line that is interesting, and that would be the use of the word “merely”; via the use of the metaphor of the play (specifically it’s relation to narrative), a question naturally comes to the audience of As You Like It. The word “merely” implies that the men and women are just actors, ergo there is something missing, or rather, someone missing. And thus, the question must be asked: who is the mastermind behind the scenes? Who is the puppeteer who pulls our strings and makes us dance? Who is the writer of our play?
The next line, “They have their exits and their entrances”(II.vii. 141), can be read as referring to the people one can meet in a lifetime. Sometimes, they crash into our narrative already in the middle of theirs, with their own plots and arcs to deal with, and we never see them again. For other characters, they come and become part of the story and the audience sees them grow with the hero. Sometimes they love each other, sometimes they hate each other, but always the characters exit the play with a dance, even if not seen. For we all dance the Danse Macabre eventually.
The section concludes with “And one man in his time plays many parts,/ His acts being seven ages” (II.vii. 142-143). The first line can be read as implying the story being told requires the players to play multiple parts in one play. This is supported by the fact that both the line that follows and the remainder of the speech claim that it is meant to be read in terms of one actor playing multiple parts in the same play. As such, the parts are not different characters as one might assume from the literal definition of the term “part” but rather the same character recontextualized both by the context the player finds himself in and the previous acts in which he starred.
After we are given the mechanics of the play, the soliloquy continues with a description of the seven acts of man. The first two acts are
“At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwilling to school”(II.vii. 143-147).
This section describes the entirety of a person’s early years, from birth to young adult. The two parts are intertwined via the use of similar language/iconography to highlight their connection. One example of this is the use of the connection between “Mewling” and “Whining”.  The word “Mewling” is synonymous to the word “Crying” which can be used in the act of whining to get what one wants. As such the specification of these terms shows a growth from baby to child in that the former cries based on internal needs whereas the latter can use the crying to his advantage. In addition, there’s the term “shining morning face” which adds another changeover from baby to child: where the baby doesn’t have to work to make his face shine, partially because of the newness of his skin, but mostly because others wash his face for him. The child, on the other hand, must work to make his face shine. Finally, there’s the “creeping snail.” Not only can these words be read in terms of the child’s unwillingness to go to school, but also the imagery of the slug evokes the image of a baby crawling on the floor. In addition to referring to the speed the child moves, the word “creeping” means to move prone on the ground, much like a baby does before learning how to walk.
The acts continue with “…the lover,/ Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad/ Made to his mistress’ eyebrow”(II.vii. 147-149). When experiencing this, one is presented with imagery that one would not expect for this comparison, and yet they fit perfectly. For example, according to the footnotes, the phrase “Sighing like a furnace” refers to the lover emitting sighs like a furnace smoke. This is strange given that smoke tends to cause coughing fits to those who are close to it and thus is not a feeling one would like to have. And yet, the furnace, much like the feeling one has when in love, is warm and the smoke an effect of that warmth. Next comes the phrase “woeful ballad” which is strange that a lover would sing a song of melancholy rather than one of love. And yet, given the next line, it can be seen that the lover is a fool in his quest for love, and we should pity. Finally, there’s the line “Made to his mistress’ eyebrow”(II.vii. 149). On its own, the line makes no sense. But when combined with the previous line, it highlights the absurd nature of love with the lover making an ode to his source of affection’s eyebrow, and thus how foolish and pitiable the lover is.
Given that there is no section within the seven ages directly on being a father, it could be read that the lover decided to become a soldier, as the next act describes
     “Then, a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth”(II.vii. 149-153).
The first four words of the second line can be read to imply a level of uncertainty with the military, given that “strange” refers to an unsettling and weird feeling one gets about something. The phrase “Bearded like the pard” is used to compare the moustache of a soldier to the whiskers of the leopard, implying the predatory nature of the soldier. The next three lines can be read as soldiers valuing honor and status as being more important than their personal safety to the point where they will go up against an opponent without regard to their situation. This claim is based on the phrase “Jealous in honour” which, according to the footnotes, means being vigilant in the matters of honor (i.e. he looks for opportunities to gain respect); “sudden, and quick in quarrel” (II.vii. 151) implying the soldier is not only easily aggravated, but will also act without a moment’s notice; and “Seeking the bubble reputation/ Even in the cannon’s mouth” (II.vii. 152-153) suggesting the soldier will take large risks for the flimsiest of reputations (for it is easy to burst one’s bubble).
The play continues to highlight stages of this man’s life with
“And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part”(II.vii. 153-157).
Examples of the man’s nature are found in the opening words of the second line, “In fair round belly” (II.vii. 154), implying that the man has grown fat shortly after his military career and that he has become decadent in this status. According to the footnotes provided, the phrase “good capon” refers to a bribe for magistrates, ergo the man who previously would do anything to get a higher status is now willing to do anything to keep his new rank. And of course, there’s the last line “And so he plays his part”(II.vii. 157). Within Shakespeare’s descriptions of the seven acts/ages, there is no direct mention of the play metaphor that opened the speech. The reference to the artifice of acting reveals a truth about this act: this is not the age of wise old men who deliver wise advice to those who ask. It is not the age of Justice in terms of the idea. This is the age where the man who wanted power has power, and thus reveals himself to be decadent, degenerate, and rotten to the core.
Of course, just because one holds a high status that allows him to be corrupt, doesn’t mean he’ll keep that position as
“The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big, manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound”(II.vii. 157-163).
This is the part where the man’s position from the last stage is altered. No longer the justice, the man is a fool (the footnotes claim pantaloon refers to a figure in Italian comedy). The man has lost the energy he had when he was a younger man; his voice softer and broken, like that of a child. His body has shrunk to the point where he finds himself being too small to fit into his old clothes (hose was a form of stocking worn at the time). The man who wanted to be powerful (be it through the military or in the halls of justice), now finds himself needing glasses. This is a man nearing the end of his life.
And with that, the soliloquy ends with the final act of man concluding with the
“Last scene of all,
That ends this strange, eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”(II.vii. 163-165).
It is in this reuse of the word “mere” that we get the answer to the question hidden in the second line: “Who writes the play of our life?” For the answer, and cause of oblivion and the loss of all things, is time. Throughout the play, the protagonist as aged from baby to child to adult to old man, playing his different roles. And through that, there has been a bell curve like structure to the physical nature of the lead. From weak infant and child, peaking at the strong soldier, and returning back to weakness in old age. And with that bell curve, we also see that there is more specification in the middle three acts than in the opening and closing two acts of the metaphorical play. Of the ages described in this soliloquy from As You Like It, the shortest is the first age describing the infant, one and a half lines. For all infancies are, mostly, the same. The next age, childhood, is slightly longer at two and a half lines, but still relatively short. This can be read as representing the lack of awareness a child has when growing up. The next three acts have about four lines each, symbolizing the lead’s growing awareness of time and thus have to make time to live in different types of stories, be they romances, wartime or courtroom dramas. The sixth act is the longest of the ages described in the soliloquy at six lines. Given the structure of the bell curve, this is the peak of the awareness the lead has on time. And yet, it is also the time when one has the least amount of power to do anything about time. The strength of youth goes away and, as the final act of one scene and three and a half lines shows, we return to the position of power on time we held in childhood, and can’t do anything to stop our time from ending. Everything decomposes and rots. The play ends, the curtains close, and we all dance the Danse Macabre. So all we can do with the life we have is make it a good one.
“All Bette's stories have happy endings. That's because she knows where to stop. She's realized the real problem with stories — if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death.” –Neil Gaiman, June, 1989
As You Like It and The Fictional Nature of Life.
A look at a speech within the Play As You Like it
How are you doing?


sean j. dillon
Artist | Student | Literature
United States
Current Residence: America
Favourite genre of music: Classic Rock
MP3 player of choice: i pod
Personal quote: Aww Fuckballs.

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SmudgeThistle Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2015  Hobbyist
Thank you very much for the favourite on my drawing of the Penguin, "Fine Feathered Friend"! :D
vampirelovers2000 Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thx for the fav 
CicisArtandStuff Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for the fav~ Nem HEHE 
Joey-GB-316 Featured By Owner Jul 18, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the fave
MasonJouclas Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2015   Traditional Artist
Thanks for the fave!
HarlequiNQB Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you, as always, for the fave.  This time for Grant Morrison :)
deathchrist2000 Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2015  Student Writer
Not a problem, I look forward to your cover for the 5th/6th Doctor Books.
HarlequiNQB Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Just one book covering them both, as their tenures were relatively short. Working on it now :-) hope it lives up to the expectation.
bulldog21 Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2015
Thanks for the gave
TheWolfheart89 Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2015  Student General Artist
Vaf eht rof sknaht
Cloudyh Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2015  Professional Filmographer
thanks for the fav c:
SmudgeThistle Featured By Owner May 28, 2015  Hobbyist
Thank you very much for the favourites on my drawings of the Doctor and Batgirl! :D
ryedward Featured By Owner May 27, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
Thanks for the fave, as always!
bobfarias Featured By Owner May 21, 2015  Student General Artist
thx for the fav , much appreciated  Heart Heart 

vctrwpn Featured By Owner May 20, 2015  Professional Interface Designer
Hello :) thanks for the fave!
SmudgeThistle Featured By Owner May 20, 2015  Hobbyist
Thank you very much for the favourite on my drawing of Mr. Spock! :D
Wishiwasahobbit Featured By Owner May 14, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for the fav!! :3
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PalulukanMakto Featured By Owner May 4, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thanks for the fav!
RidleyLitton Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2015  Professional Digital Artist
Thanks for the Fav :D
NickStarwind89 Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for the favourite :D

Have a great day!

Shono Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Professional General Artist
Catty Clan Girls by Shono  

Just like what WarAngel said: Thanks for the faves!

If you enjoy my comics, you can read the latest issue at

If you’re not interested, that’s cool too, I really appreciate the faves and the support!

mrAlejoX Featured By Owner Apr 20, 2015  Student Digital Artist
hey pal! thanks for fav! check out my gallery if you have the time! (:
Micha-vom-Wald Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2015
Thx for the fav !I am a dummy! If you got the time, feel free to check out my gallery !
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Thanks for the fave!
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