October 20:  Adopt a Literary Character Day

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On this day in 1833, the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) completed his great dramatic monologue Ulysses.

The voice of the poem, or its persona, is Ulysses, the Latin name of the Greek hero Odysseus.  In writing this poem, Tennyson adopts the character Ulysses from Homer, the author of the Greek poems The Iliad and the Odyssey.  The Odyssey is the epic narrative that follows Ulysses’ 10-year struggle to return home after the Trojan War.  Once home on Ithaca, Ulysses faces another challenge: to outwit the suitors vying to win the hand of his wife Penelope.  Displaying brawn but also brains, Ulysses defeats the suitors in a contest, slaughters them, reunites with his wife, and once again becomes king of Ithaca.

The poem Ulysses imagines the hero years after he has returned to the throne.  In the tradition of the dramatic monologue, we hear only the voice of the old king as he reflects on his past, on his relative idleness as King of Ithaca, and on his desire to once again set out on a bold adventure.  The understood audience of the poem is the crew of his ship, the men who will join him on his new journey.

In the poem’s opening lines, we hear the voice of a king, weary of his kingly duties on Ithaca and restless to return again to sea:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name; (1)

Willing to give up his throne to his son Telemachus and to leave his wife, Ulysses looks forward once more to bold adventures and seeing “a newer world.”  Rather than staying put and rusting, Ulysses wants “to shine in use!”  It is appropriate then that the poem ends with a string of parallel action verbs:

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Like much of the verse of William Shakespeare, Ulysses is written in blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Today’s Challenge:  Stay In Character

What fictional character from literature or film would you adopt for a dramatic monologue?  Brainstorm some interesting characters from either books or films.  Like Tennyson did for Ulysses, imagine the life of the character after the work you know them for is over.  What would the character be thinking about and what would the character be saying — and to whom would he/she be saying it.  Write a dramatic monologue considering the speaker, the situation, the audience, and the tone.  Try to capture the distinctiveness of your character, impersonating his/her voice so that it can be understood by your reader. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Ulysses. The Poetry Foundation. 1833. Public Domain. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45392/ulysses.

 

October 19:  Letter of Advice Day

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On this day in 1860, Abraham Lincoln, in the final day of his run for the U.S. presidency, wrote a letter to an 11-year-old girl from Westerfield, New York, named Grace Bedell.  Four days earlier, Grace had written to her favorite candidate with the following specific advice:

I am a little girl only eleven years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you won’t think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brother’s and part of them will vote for you any way and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you   you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband’s to vote for you and then you would be President.

Lincoln’s response to Grace’s letter was brief, yet its words showed that he had read her letter and was considering her advice regarding facial hair:

October 19, 1860

Springfield, Illinois

Miss. Grace Bedell

My dear little Miss.

Your very agreeable letter of the 15th is received.

I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters. I have three sons — one seventeen, one nine, and one seven, years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family.

As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now? Your very sincere well-wisher

  1. Lincoln (1)

As reflected in Grace’s letter, Lincoln was, in fact, clean-shaven before he became president.  However, by the time he took the oath as the 16th president, Lincoln had grown the beard that he wore throughout his presidency.  In fact, prior to taking the oath on March 4, 1861, he made a stop in Westfield, meeting his young campaign advisor.

Today’s Challenge:  Take My Advice

If you were to write a letter of advice to a public figure, to whom would you write and what kind of advice would you give them? Brainstorm some possible public figures to whom you might write letters of advice:  politicians, celebrities, professional athletes, etc.  Select one and write an open letter of advice.  An open letter is a letter that is written to an individual but is intended to be published publically and to be read by a wide audience. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Abraham Lincoln Online. Letter to Grace Bedell. 1860. Public Domain. http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gracebedell.htm.