"Bells For John Whiteside's Daughter" Essay

1314 words - 5 pages

"The most general thing to be said about John Crowe Ransom is that he is a dualist" (Buffington 1). He believed that man must be content with the duality of all things. A particular topic that ransom felt most comfortable was the duality of life and death. He described it as "the great subject of poetry, the most serious subject" (Brooks 1). In the elegy "Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter", John Crowe Ransom deals with vexation resulting from a pre-adolescent girl's vivacity in life in proportion to her vacancy in death. Before being vexed, we are astonished by the child's death.

Because the occasion of the elegy is given by its title, "Bells for John Whiteside's daughter", the first stanza is freely open to give reason to why her death "astonishes us all" (Bradford 1):

"There was such speed in her little body,

And such lightness in her footfall,

It is no wonder her brown study

Astonishes us all" (Ransom 1)

The "speed" and "lightness" of her "little body" characterize the epitome of a child's physical attributes. Her seemingly endless energy characterizes a child's "tireless heart." Childhood typifies the beginning of ones life. Death is not as accepted in youths; it is more common and accepted in the elderly. Tragedy is set into play by the irony of a lifeless child. Although the death is tragic, the astonishment seems to be elsewhere. "Brown study" is a characteristic strangely dissimilar for the child whom is remembered to "bruit" and "harry" with a rambunctious and "tireless" "speed." The surprise is not in the tragic loss of a child, but in the transmogrification of their quickness to stillness (Williams 1). Since the girl is on both opposing ends of the life/death spectrum in a short period, the severe contrast seems contradictory like a color being both black and white. In this respect, it becomes understandable that a person could become first astonished by the unexpected news and then, "after a moments reflection, the astonishment turns to vexation" (Young 1). The second stanza continues where the first one left off by giving a deeper description of the girl.

After describing her physical features in the first stanza, the second continues to describe the girl's personality:

"Her Wars were bruited in our high window.

We looked among orchard trees and beyond

Where she took arms against her shadow,

Or harried unto the pond" (Ransom 1)

Her childishness becomes apparent in her fantasies of "bruited" "wars" "where she took arms against her "shadow" or "harried the pond." These noisy battles surface memories of either fondness or annoyance. In one aspect, a fond look into the child's psyche musters up feelings of adoration from the sentimental cuteness of pre-adolescent immaturity. This tugging of emotions conjures feelings of lovability. In an opposing aspect, the careless noisiness of her petty foolishness could be cause of unwanted distraction. Her immature inconsideration sparks...

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