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Report to Wordsworth Boey Kim Cheng

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1 Report to Wordsworth Boey Kim Cheng
By B.J. McArthur, A.J. McFarlane and S.H. Patel

2 You should be here, Nature has need of you. She has been laid waste
You should be here, Nature has need of you. She has been laid waste. Smothered by smog, the flowers are mute, and the birds are few in a sky slowly like a dying clock. All hopes of Proteus rising from the sea have sunk; he is entombed in the waste we dump. Triton’s notes struggle to be free, his famous horns are choked, his eyes are dazed, and Neptune lies helpless as a beached whale, while insatiate man moves in for the kill. Poetry and piety have begun to fail, as Nature’s might heart is lying still. O see the wound widening in the sky, God is labouring to utter his last cry.

3 Background on the author
Born in Singapore Moved to Sydney - Boey Kim Cheng was influenced by T.S. Elliot, Keats and Wordsworth. Even though Boey Kim Cheng was born in Singapore, he moved to Sydney in 1996 because he was disheartened at the state of literacy in Singapore. Also Singapore’s rapid growth at the expense of the environment disheartened Cheng and this is reflected in his poems. All the poets who influenced Cheng also wrote about nature and the destruction that man had on its environment. T.S. Elliot believed “that poetry should aim at a representation of the complexities of modern civilization in language” and Keats also wrote the poem On the Grasshopper and the Cricket which is also reinforcing the idea of man and nature.


5 Significance of title Report to Wordsworth
- What significance does the title serve? Literal meaning Who or what is Wordsworth?

6 “You should be here” Wordsworth Appealing to reader
Wordsworth – linking to title, implying that Wordsworth could be part of a solution; linking poem to Wordsworth Appealing to Reader – also talking to reader, saying that it is possible to be part of a solution

7 “Nature has need of you”
Something is wrong It is possible to fix Something is wrong – introducing from start of poem that there is an inherent problem with nature It is possible to fix – introducing theme that this damage is reparable, inspiring reader to take action

8 “Laid Waste” Completely ravaged Destroyed No mercy
Conveys the extent of the damage to Nature – implies that it went from a healthy, good thing to completely worthless

9 “Smothered”, “mute” Silent Unable to protest
Shows how nature has no control. It relies on others to speak for it. No matter how much it is being abused, it cannot do anything

10 “Smothered by the smog”
Sibilance (and sky slowing) Contrast with “flowers” Choking Sibilance adds effect and emphasis Contrast with bright coloured flowers Implies a choking like “smothered” and “mute”

11 “Dying clock”, “slowing”
The process is slow and painful It happens over a long time Implies that time is linked to Nature Process is slow, damage takes a long time (it is still in the process of dying) (dying and slowing not dead or slowed – like RISING, MOVES IN, BEGUN TO FAIL, WIDENING, LABOURING) Things are constantly getting worse

12 “All hopes of Proteus rising from the sea have sunk”
Hope of redemption sinking Getting further and further away We will have to work to get the sea freed – buried deep underwater It is getting deeper and deeper, so harder and harder to free it

13 “Proteus” Able to tell future (knows what will probably happen)
Only answer to someone capable of capturing him Implying that the future is grim – he knows what it holds Our pollution is so great that it can capture him – he’s able to change his shape

14 “Entombed in the waste we dump”
Our rubbish is sealing the fate of our oceans Our rubbish is so much that it can overwhelm god Image of the rubbish pulling the hopes of Proteus rising from the sea down

15 “Smothered”, “dying”, “choked”, “kill”, “last cry”, “entombed”
Death Emphasises weight of issue Gives sombre atmosphere to poem Weight of issue – matter of life and death

16 “Triton’s notes struggle to be free”
Son of Poseidon Conch shell could calm or raise waves Therefore control of storms/oceans Another classical reference Implication that nature is trying its best to get free (struggle) Implication that more storms will follow, seas will become wild – conch shell controls seas

17 Beached whale Helpless At mercy of people I’m beached as, bro
Huge beast but man has power over it Can choose to free it or not

18 “insatiate man moves in for the kill”
“impossible to satisfy” Not content with beaching, must kill it Implies that man is inherently bad Kills innocent creatures

19 “Poetry and piety have begun to fail”
Culture has no impact on people Still hope People have begun to reject God and classical writings Still hope – haven't completely failed yet (move in struggle, Nature has need of you)

20 “Nature’s mighty heart is lying still”
Incredibly powerful Killed by man “mighty” => incredibly powerful Linked to “poetry and piety” – as a result

21 “Wound widening in the sky”
Ozone layer Not completely destroyed Reference to ozone hole Again something can be done

22 “God labouring to utter his last cry”
Religion Crucifixion Hope yet Link to poetry and piety Crucifixion = people killing their savior – think they are doing right but in the end are destroying their own hope Hasn’t died yet

23 Greek and Roman Mythology Allusions
Who are they? What purpose do they serve in this poem? Neptune Proteus Proteus: Greek sea-deity. His name suggests he was the first of his kind. He became the son of Poseidon. Was the herdsman of Poseidon’s seals, and could foretell the future, but changed his shape to avoid doing do wherever possible. From his name comes the adjective ‘protean’, meaning flexible, versatile, adaptable, capable of assuming many forms, and the adjective has positive connotations. Triton: the Greek messenger of the sea, and the son of Poseidon. He is depicted as a merman. He carries a trident, like his father. He was unique for his blowing into a conch shell (hence Triton’s notes struggle to be free”), which sounded such that it put the giants to flight, who imagined that it was the roar of a wild beast. Neptune: Roman (not Greek) god of the sea. Triton

24 References to other poems
Cheng’s poem has clearly been influenced by Wordsworth and the deterioration of Singapore’s natural environment. Three of Wordsworth’s poems have made a bold impact on Report to Wordsworth. They are London 1802, Composed upon Westminster Bridge and The world is too much with us…. William Wordsworth

25 London 1802 England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour; England hath need of thee: she is a fen Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen, Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower, Have forfeited their ancient English dower Of inward happiness. We are selfish men; Oh! raise us up, return to us again; And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power. Thy soul was like a star, and dwelt apart; Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea: Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free, So didst thou travel on life's common way, In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart The lowliest duties on herself did lay.

26 Comparison of Cheng and Wordsworth
Report to Wordsworth London 1802 “You should be here” “Nature has need of you” “insatiate man moves in for the kill” “Nature’s might heart is lying still” “Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour” “England have need of thee” “We are selfish men” “thy heart …did lay” Both poems start in a similar way, and both refer to old poets to restore the problems with current people (in R to W it is pollution, in London, 1802 it is selfishness and stagnation of the people of England), although they are written in a different rhyme scheme: R to W uses the typical Shakespearean ABABCDCDEFEFGG, whereas London 1802 uses the Petrarchan rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA CDCDCD, which is used in Wordsworth’s other sonnets. Gives a more universal appeal to the reader Again applies to more than just England 3) Reinforces the idea that man is ruthless

27 The world is too much with us…
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon, The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers, For this, for everything, we are out of tune; It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea; Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

28 Comparison of Cheng and Wordsworth
Report to Wordsworth The World is too much with us “She has been laid waste” Nature has need of you” “flowers are mute” “Triton’s notes struggle to be free” “All hopes of Proteus” “his famous horns are choked” ”we lay waste our powers” “Little we see in Nature that is ours” “sleeping flowers” “out of tune” “sight of Proteus” “old Triton blow his wreathed horn” Cheng, like Wordsworth, sees nature as being somewhat divine, which explains the allusions to God as well as the classical gods in the poem. All three Wordsworth sonnets we have mentioned were written around 1802, a period where his writing was about “the decadent material cynicism of the time”. Like Cheng, he sees man as being materialistic and distancing himself from nature. Continuation of Cheng’s response to Wordsworth 1) 2) No respect for nature in Wordsworth

29 Comparison of Cheng and Wordsworth
Report to Wordsworth Composed upon Westminster Bridge “Nature has need of you” “smothered in smog” “O see the wound in the sky” - “Earth has not anything to show more fair” “smokeless air” “A sight so touching in its majesty” McFarlane: this is a basic summary of the poem: Wordsworth proposed to his French mistress several years before the poem was written, but was not allowed to go to France because of the possibility of war between their two countries. When the poem was written in 1802, he now wanted to marry a childhood friend, but was travelling to France to make an agreement with his mistress. The coach he was taking stopped on this bridge and Wordsworth was surprised at the beauty of the manmade sight at dawn. Although this poem is

30 Comparison of Cheng’s other poem
Report to Wordsworth The Planners - “O see the wound widening in the sky” - “Poetry and piety have begun to fail” - Cheng expresses that man has changed his values from hundreds of years ago, and are destroying Nature. - "they build and will not stop even the sea draws back and the skies surrender” - “They erase the flaws” - Cheng expresses that, in Singapore particularly, planners are concerned with supersizing-cities, at any cost to the environment. One important link between the poems is how Cheng says that man is destroying the world and Nature, through polluting the seas and the skies, and through building high-rises on originally natural, untouched land. The other major link is that Cheng implies that man is losing all his necessary connections with the past – in R to W this is by disrespecting the classical mythological deities he mentions; in The Planners it is by destroying all the traces of the old buildings which once stood where the modern skyscrapers are now being built. According to him, we have left our traditional beliefs for factories and industry. Cheng believes that the continuous growth of man-made cities, such as Singapore, means that nature will never be able to recover. In general, Cheng (like Wordsworth) values nature highly, and, particularly in his home town Singapore, sees how man is destroying it, and these beliefs are portrayed in both the poems. Also Report to Wordsworth is a summary of all the problems presented in Wordsworth’s and its development in the modern world.

31 Themes Importance of respecting Nature. Callousness of man.
Man’s growing materialism and the change in his values. Man’s destruction of nature and the world. The changing world. McFarlane: Importance of respecting Nature: Cheng, like Wordsworth, has a huge respect for nature, and believes that man has distanced himself from nature, hence losing his necessary connections with it. Almost every sentence in the poem links to this theme. Also, Cheng is someone who believes that at the rate that man is destroying the environment and the world, it will not be able to make any recovery by itself, and evidence in this poem of this are the lines “slowing like a dying clock”, and “God is labouring to utter his last cry”. Callousness of man: “while insatiate man move in for the kill” is the best example of a line in which Cheng’s tone is highly critical of man’s actions, blaming him for being almost consciously destructive. Others are Nature “has been laid to waste”, “entombed in the waste we dump”, and “O see the would opening in the sky”. Man’s growing materialism and the change in his values: Like Wordsworth Cheng believes that humanities have shifted from religion and respect for nature to materialism and profits. The most obvious line describing this is “poetry and piety have begun to fail”, but the fact that Cheng uses the classical allusions that he does (Proteus, Triton and Neptune) and then explains the reasons that each has been destroyed by the modern world also links into this theme. “Smothered by smog” brings a vivid image of today’s factories into the reader’s mind, and this links into the idea of growing materialism and profits. Man’s destruction of nature and the world: line after line are examples of man’s destruction of nature and the world, starting with “She has been laid to waste” and “Smothered by smog” all the way to “God is labouring to utter his last cry”. This belief of Cheng, and the belief that nature will not be able to repair itself alone, is reflected in his other poem The Planners. The Changing World: this links to the previous themes such as Man’s destruction of nature and the world, and is particularly appropriate to the classical allusions, how the previously powerful gods who used to control the world, are about to be effectively killed by modern humanity, which is controlling them. Even the title is relevant to this: Cheng is reporting to an old Romantic poet, who is the only person with the power to restore the natural world.

32 Possible Exam Questions
1 Analyse the importance of the classical allusions in Report to Wordsworth. 2 Discuss the cynicism portrayed in the poem Report to Wordsworth. 3 Explore the ways in which Cheng conveys the impurity of the modern world in the poem

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