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To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn

"When Shakespeare compares his beloved to a summer's day, we know instinctively, even before he catalogs her advantages, that this is way more flattering than being compared to, say, January eleventh."
--How to Read Literature Like a Professor, page 183

I entirely agree with this quote, and yet my argumentative side is getting restless so I need to let him out. While summer is usually a very pleasant season, there are often quite unpleasant things about it. Summers can be full of thunderstorms, tornadoes, and sweltering heat. Winters can quite unpleasant, but they can also be full of cozy afternoons sitting by a fire, sipping hot chocolate. And lest we forget that the very romantic holiday of Valentine's Day is in winter. Most people do automatically associate summer with good and winter with bad, but is this purely out of our experience with those seasons or has it been somewhat conditioned by years of literature helping to create these associations for us? After all, back in Shakespeare's time, they didn't have furnaces, so winter must have really really been unpleasant. (They also didn't have air conditioning, so summers must not have been so great either, so I don't know what they had to look forward to.) Anyway, my point is that we experience winter in a much different way than a lot of the most influential contributors to English literature did. So maybe our association of summer with good and winter with bad is partially due to hearing poems like "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day" over and over again. I don't know. Of course, the fact that we don't have school in the summer is another contributing factor. But still, I think geography and time period are important when considering the implications of seasons; do they tend to have mild winters and harsh summers, or vice versa? How much technology did they have to shield themselves from the elements? I think this also applies to the chapter about geography because you really have to ask where the writer lives and how they might have viewed the north or the south, but I believe I already blogged about that the last time I read this book, so I'll let it pass.

Comments (2)

Alyssa Sanow:

Your blog made me think! As Foster reminds us in the chapter about symbolism, each person will interpret symbols in a different way - or not at all. To some, perhaps, Shakespeare's poem is not a love poem but one of sarcasm. Though I seriously doubt it, there may exist a reader who sees it that way. The result of such obvious differences of opinions is that when discussing literature (or other fields of study) we remain open to other views and ideas even if they differ from our own.

Jennifer Prex:

I agree. I think it is at least partly due to conditioning that we make those associations. You're right. Like everything, the seasons are not automatically always good or bad in life, so it does seem odd that they often are in writing. When it comes down to it, though, we could probably find some literature that challenges this idea. There just isn't much out there that does, though. It is interesting to think about how this came to be.

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