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Fear in Cellar Stairs

Fear in Cellar Stairs

Poetry is about emotion — not only the emotion displayed in the many layers

of a poem’s language, but also the emotional layers created in the reader.

Some poetry can be light and happy, other poetry can be ecstatic and ethereal;

and at the opposite extreme, poetry can be dark and downright threatening. Such

a poem is “Cellar Stairs” by the contemporary poet Thomas Lux.

“It’s rickety down to the dark,” states the first line. The poem starts out with

an image of darkness, compounded by the feeling of instability (“rickety”). The

lack of any physical room or area leaves us feeling disoriented and groundless.

All we know is that we are going into “darkness.” The sound of the language

itself contributes to the feeling. Starting with the “ih” sound of the “It’s”

and “rickety,” the vocal frequency itself also moves down, to the “ow” of

“down and “ah” of “dark.” Not only does the line tell us we are moving down,

but the words themselves are moving down, too. Down, of course, is where a

threat lies: the generally accepted location of Hell.

The second and third lines produce a feeling of downright fear.

The skates are hanging (2), which provides us an image of dangling objects,

in the style of the hanging man. Not only this, however, but the skates are long-bladed.

Not short, or curved, but long — threateningly long; the bigger the weapon, the

more the damage. The third line cements the threat: “… want to slash your throat.”

The long blades hanging are now regarded as weapons capable of inflicting specific

bodily harm. The further personification given by …

… middle of paper …

…ge, the way the words sound, the way they feel in

my mouth when I say them — these all contribute to a sense of foreboding, a sense of

fear. Will I make it back upstairs one more time?

This poem exists on two very different levels. On one hand, the speaker is a child, sent to the dark, scary basement for a bag of frozen vegetables. But on the other, more sinister side, the very obvious correlations between the dark basement and Hell are directly meant to terrorize and intimidate the reader. It is not easy, these days, to be scared. This poem does an admirable job of making itself engaging and frightening in less than half a page. The intent is achieved.

Works Cited

Lux, Thomas. “Cellar Stairs.” Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry. Ed. John Frederick

Nims and Charles Mason. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 541-542.

A Comparison of Evil in Richard III, Titus, and Romeo and Juliet

Evil Within and Evil External in Richard III, Titus, and Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s villains seem to fall into one of two categories: those who are villainous of heart (inherently and genuinely evil or Machiavellian) and those who are circumstantially turned antagonists. Richard III’s carefully plotted plans to usurp the throne contrast heavily against Aaron’s (of Titus Andronicus) rambling which contrasts with Aaron’s lack of action. The motivations of these two characters are different however. Richard seizes the opportunity to take over the throne by Machiavellian means when presented with the opportunity. Aaron represents the evil presumed of a “godless moor,” his character being a symbol as much as his skin colour particularly to an audience familiar with the conquests.

Tamora is truly more evil than Aaron. She is the one who commands her sons to rape and cut up Lavinia leaving her dishonoured, with two bloody stumps for hands and no tongue with which to tell the tale. Aaron suggests that he tutored the sons in their behaviour (Act V Scene I Lines 99-111):

Indeed I was their tutor to instruct them.

That coddling spirit had they from their mother,

As sure as a card as ever won the set;

That bloody mind I think they learn’d of me,

As true a dog as ever fought at head.

Well, let my deeds be witness of my worth:

I train’d thy brethren to that guileful hole,

Where the dead corpse of Bassianus lay;

I wrote the letter that thy father found,

And hid the gold that within that letter mentioned,

Confederate with the queen and two sons;

The audience never witnesses Aaron’s supposed teachings however, nor is it likely that if he were to continue living as before that he would commit the acts he pledges himself to as he is to be hanged (Act V Scene I Lines 125-144). Aaron talks of evil and trickery, while Tamora lives its epitome, marrying herself into the queen-ship of the conquering tribe. When presented with his child Aaron does care for it, and only agrees to speak upon the condition that it shall be saved. This insight into his character makes him seem almost a worthier person than Titus who murders his own sons. The villain shows more care for his kin than the hero does for his. This serves to make Aaron a more realistic villain by making him more human.

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