Showing 51 - 60 of 606 annotations contributed by Coulehan, Jack

Memoirs of Hadrian

Yourcenar, Marguerite

Last Updated: May-25-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Memoirs of Hadrian is a historical novel in the form of a long letter written by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to his young friend and eventual successor, Marcus Aurelius. Alas, Hadrian is "growing old, and is about to die of a dropsical heart." The Emperor begins by describing his recent visit with his physician Hermogenes, who "was alarmed, in spite of himself, at the rapid progress of the disease" (3). In light of his physical deterioration, Hadrian begins to reflect on his life and work, and to share his wisdom with his young correspondent.

Hadrian tells of his early life as the protégé of the Emperor Trajan, his military and political victories, and his eventual adoption by Trajan, a move that guaranteed the succession when his adoptive father died. While Trajan, whose victories brought the Roman Empire to its greatest size, was a military man to the core, Hadrian considers himself essentially peace loving--his personal life devoted to simplicity and harmony; and his public life to prosperity and justice. Nonetheless, he has always recognized that, in order to govern effectively, ruthless action is sometimes required.

Hadrian's marriage to the Empress Sabina was simply a matter of convenience. The love of his life was a beautiful young man named Antinous. The two men were deeply committed to one another, but at the same time the middle-aged emperor had "a certain dread of bondage" ( 177) that kept him from fully giving himself to Antinous with the abandon of youth. They were visiting Alexandria when the despondent Antinous committed suicide in a way that mimicked a religious ritual, essentially sacrificing himself to the deified Emperor.

Hadrian was crushed with grief and descended into a long period of depression. However, he eventually overcame his depression through his love of literature and ideas, as well as his sense of duty to the Empire (no SSRIs being available at the time), although not before attempting to enlist his physician in assisted suicide. Unable to refuse his emperor's request, the physician himself commits suicide rather than violating his Hippocratic Oath.

Hadrian's final military engagements involve crushing Jewish insurgents in Palestine, completing the destruction of Jerusalem, and founding a new Roman city on its site. The aged Emperor reflects frequently on his tolerance for all religions, except for politically disruptive fanatics like the followers of a Jewish prophet called Christ. As to the Jews in Palestine, he cannot understand why they continue to engage in self-destructive rebellion, most recently with Bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiva as their leaders.

In his final years Hadrian adopts Lucius, one of his former lovers (in this account), as his son and heir, but Lucius soon dies, presumably from tuberculosis. Eventually, the Emperor adopts Antinous Pius as his heir and further arranges for Marcus Aurelius to succeed Antinous Pius. At the end of his letter, Hadrian writes, "I could now return to Tibur, going back to that retreat which is called illness, to experiment with my suffering, to taste fully what delights are left to me, and to resume in peace my interrupted dialogue with a shade." [i.e. Antinous, his lost love (271)].

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Mr. Flood's Party

Robinson, Edwin Arlington

Last Updated: Jan-10-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

One night Old Eben Flood is climbing the hill from town to his home. At one point he stops and invites himself to take a drink from the jug he went to town to fill. As he walks the lonely road, he continues to talk to himself, inviting himself to have a drink in honor of his return, and for old time's sake, for "There was not much that was ahead of him, / And there was nothing in the town below -- / Where strangers would have shut the many doors / That many friends had opened long ago."

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The Minneapolis Poem

Wright, James

Last Updated: Jan-10-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A seven-part poem reflecting facets of indigence, homelessness, and helplessness. "How many old men last winter / Hungry and frightened by namelessness prowled / The Mississippi shore . . . ? " This poem enters into the lives of the nameless persons who live in the same place, but not the same world as the "Walker Art Center crowd." The speaker cries out that he "could not bear / To allow my poor brother my body to die . . . . " Even here, in the midst of his desperation, the speaker finds a glimmer of possibility: "I want to be lifted up / By some great white bird . . . . "

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Richard Cory

Robinson, Edwin Arlington

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

To the "people on the pavement," Richard Cory looked like he was on top of the world. The narrator of this 16 line poem (four a, b, a, b rhyming stanzas) tells how Cory was physically good-looking, well-dressed, humane, and very rich ("yes, richer than a king"). Yet "Richard Cory, one calm summer night, / Went home and put a bullet through his head."

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Miniver Cheevy

Robinson, Edwin Arlington

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Miniver Cheevy was a "child of scorn" who regretted his life in the real world. He loved to dream of the past, especially the glorious and romantic past. He loved abstractions, like Art and Romance, but "cursed the commonplace" of everyday life. He "scorned the gold he sought, / But sore annoyed was he without it . . . . " He couldn't DO anything in the world, so he "called it fate, / And kept on drinking."

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St. Francis and the Sow

Kinnell, Galway

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The bud / stands for all things, / even for things that don't flower . . . .

The poet observes that everything flowers from within, if given the chance. Sometimes, however, a being doesn't understand its own loveliness and must be retaught. St. Francis, for example, had to "put his hand on the creased forehead / of the sow . . ." and reveal to her how blessed she was, before she could remember throughout her whole being "the long perfect loveliness of sow."

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Atlantis

Doty, Mark

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

This is a sequence of six poems that form the centerpiece of Doty's book of the same name. The scene is the coast (Provincetown) where the author's companion, Wally, is dying of AIDS: "sometimes / when I put my head to his chest / I can hear the virus humming . . . . " The poet dreams of a dog they don't have. He dreams of saving Wally. Wally tells him of a dream of light and beckoning.

Michael dreams of "helping Randy out of bed" and, suddenly, Randy steps out of his body. Among these coastal dreams of caring and dying, Atlantis emerges "from the waters again: our continent, where it always was / . . . unforgettable, / drenched, unchanged." In the end (and before Wally's end), they do get a new dog who "licks Wally's face" and "bathes every / irreplaceable inch / of his head."

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I Need Help

Hirsch, Edward

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

For all the insomniacs in the world, the narrator says, "I want to build a new kind of machine / For flying out of the body at night." He recounts the images, anxieties, and responsibilities that accrue to those who lie in their beds at night, unable to sleep. He feels the weight of "this enormous night" on his shoulders, but he is unable to lift it alone. He needs help "to fly out of myself."

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Everyman

Roth, Philip

Last Updated: Jan-05-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This short novel is the story of one man’s death, starting with his interment at the cemetery, where his daughter and older brother offer reminiscences over the coffin; and then dwelling on aspects of his life within which the seeds of death germinated and grew. The man himself is unnamed—Everyman—and his death is no different than any other. At the same time, this death is different because the dead person’s narrative voice remains behind to tell the story.

As a young boy in his father’s jewelry store, he fiddles around in a drawer of old broken watches that his father has accepted as trade-ins. The boy is a dreamer, an artist. But he goes into the advertising business to earn a living, rather than pursuing his first love, painting. He marries and divorces three times, becomes alienated from his sons by the first marriage, and winds up spending his relatively affluent, but bleak, retirement years in a New Jersey condo, maintaining at least some contact with his daughter Nancy. Meanwhile, his brother Howie becomes a fantastically successful international businessman still married to his wife of 45 years and close to his loving family.

Everyman’s brushes with death begin when he is still a child admitted to the hospital for a hernia repair and his roommate dies during the night. As a relatively young man, he experiences a close call when he collapses and is found to have a burst appendix and peritonitis. Later, he attends his father’s Orthodox Jewish funeral, where the mourners actively bury the coffin. In 1989 he experiences a massive heart attack, followed by coronary bypass surgery. In 1998 he is admitted for renal artery angioplasty. The next year he requires left carotid artery surgery. The next, placement of coronary artery stents. The next, insertion of a permanent defibrillator. Finally, he learns that the right carotid artery has now become obstructed. During the subsequent surgery, he dies: “He was no more, freed from being, entering into nowhere without even knowing it. Just as he’d feared from the start.” (p. 182)

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Down from Troy

Selzer, Richard

Last Updated: Jan-05-2007
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Richard Selzer’s memoir is subtitled “A Doctor Comes of Age.” The book is structured around childhood memories, interspersed with stories from more recent times. Selzer’s father, a general practitioner in Troy, New York, serves as the focal point for most of his early memories--a commanding figure of warmth and goodness in his son’s life: “If I have failed to describe father… it is because none of his features did him justice. I should have had to mention wings in order to do that.” (p. 152)

While his father brought science into Selzer’s life, his mother represented the world of art. She was an amateur singer with a “small pure soprano voice” (p. 15), as well as being the doctor’s wife. After the doctor’s death from a massive heart attack when Selzer was 12 years old, his mother had numerous suitors, at least some of whom she eventually married. When he went to college, she began a life-long practice of writing her younger son (Selzer has an older brother William) weekly letters, including such advice as “Rise and flee the reeling faun,” “You do not take enough chances” and “You must learn to be absurd.” (p.227)

Toward the end of Down from Troy, Selzer writes of his parents, “Of all the satisfactions of my life, the greatest is that I have at last fulfilled each of their ambitions.” (p. 251) This is in reference to his having practiced both surgery and writing. He goes on to enumerate the many unexpected similarities between the two professions. The book ends with a narrative that brings together narrative and medicine, the story of a retired surgeon who reaches out to help a young man dying of AIDS.

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