Illumination of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

I couldn’t find the printed copy of the poem I drew my illumination on so I’m just posting the text.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

By Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.


For starters I chose this poem because for as long as I can remember I’ve known this poem word for word. When I was in elementary school I had to memorize a poem, and I was awful at memorization, so I read this poem about twenty times a day for two weeks until I finally had it down. I did more than just remember the poem for my class assignment, I remembered it for my entire life, and occasionally I look at it again whenever I need to use a poem for some kind of assignment and it seems like every time I look at this poem I notice or think about something I previously didn’t pay attention to. As a kid I obviously just pictured the entire scene of what is being described, the snow-filled woods and the horse that the speaker is riding, and along with that the sounds that Frost describes are easy to imagine. As I grew older and looked at the poem’s language, I noticed that some things really stand out about the poem, specifically the last two lines, “And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep”. As a kid I just thought sleep meant to sleep, but looking at it now it just always reads like Frost is saying death instead, and perhaps that makes the poem look a little more grim but honestly I’m inspired by the conviction that the speaker has to fulfill the promises he has made before he dies.

For the actual illumination of my poem, I selected the scene where the horse stops and the entire image just feels still. I drew the horse in the middle of a snowy clearing with a few trees behind it, because it says “Between the woods and frozen lake”. I didn’t draw the lake because I didn’t really know how to fit it in but if I had the room it’d be a little further off from the rider on the horse. The horse in the picture has its head down and its stopped outside of the patch of trees, and the rider is on the horse staring back into the forest because of the line, “To watch his woods fill up with snow”. The picture I drew itself isn’t really all that detailed, I wish I drew more and I had some ideas to draw the man who owns the woods but I didn’t really figure out a way to incorporate that. That brings me to one thing I’ve never really been decided on when discussing this poem, who exactly owns the woods? The speaker talks like he might know the owner, and that he lives in the village, but after that the owner isn’t mentioned for the rest of the poem. I’m still not sure if that was just some small detail or if the owner of the forest has some deeper meaning, but I’m sure that someday when I look back at this poem I’ll settle on an answer that I like. Robert Frost is one of the more famous poets in the history of the language, and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is just one of his many pieces that I know and love.


Illumination of “9 Wonders Of The World.”

I’m attaching the poem because my illumination is MIA (which means as soon as I post this, I will, of course, find it).


I. Twenty-three years ago a cosmic collision
gave birth to a child of the stars and
somehow after siren songs we discovered
the wonder of your body next to mine.

II. We undress
as your lips play snakes and ladders
down my chest, and this is a miracle.
I breathe summer into you,
and this is a miracle.
You stay despite the fog,
and this is a miracle.
You leave and I wait, and I wait,
and THAT is a fucking miracle.

III. You come home to me for fifty-five days.
Every time you open the door
my heart goes

Doo da-do,
Do do-do da-do,
Do do-do da-do-do!

IV. When I had you I had the sunlight on my fingertips.

We drew portraits in the sky
and spat in the face of anyone
who told us we couldn’t be gods.

V. You pull the moon and I feel it sink
its teeth until my body cracks.

I am a firecracker banging against the cage of your ribs.
You fill me with such light they see
the sunset bleeding out of me.

VI. I put daydreams in your eyes and
in turn you show me seawater and nebulae.

Your skin, it tastes like the edge of a galaxy.
The earth, it spins for you, my love.

VII. My mind is springtime for all seasons;
your room, a bed of roses blue.
We time-travel and three months seem like a year.
We were on the precipice of something great.

VIII. You cascade down my back like waterfalls.
You look at me and I am all
shivers, and want, and yes, yes, yes.

IX. You leave. There is no darkness.

There is music and I am dancing
to the ring of your laughter in
another lifetime. Can you hear it yet?

(Dance with me and feel the sand beneath our feet)

I am okay.

Sade Andria Zabala | 9 Wonders Of The World

I selected this poem for illumination because, one, Zabala is an incredible poet and a lot of her work resonates deeply in my heart and, two, there were a lot of very vivid images in this poem which I had hoped would give me some leverage in picking a few in my process of illumination. What I ended up doing was picking up on the image of the snake because I feel like this poem twists and turns, and not only does it mention the snake but I feel like having a snake wrapped around the border gave a visual for how this poem feels. In that same feeling, and the last lines referencing sand, I debated about using waves of water along the bottom but felt like that would be too much with the blue watercolor sky cascading down from the top right corner. So I found a bunch of silver/coal/gray colors and made a mountain landscape across the bottom with a small moon poking from behind the top peak where the sky could melt from dark blue up into the light blue sky at the top. Then I drew a simple border around 3/4 of the walls of the poem and divided that up into small geometric shapes so I could tessellate the border into earth tones (blues, greens, etc.).

I feel like going with nature themed pictures gave the title more weight with the poem while also trying to stay loyal to Zabala’s references to concepts like “waterfalls”, “blue roses”, and “firecrackers”. She gives the poem such strong visuals that I didn’t want to overshadow the poem by adding more, over the top, images around the words. This entire experience gave me such an appreciation for anyone who has ever drawn anything because wow it is hard to make what you see in your head appear accurately on paper. But I can’t imagine having to have done this without erasers or with an insane pressure of a time/money crunch. I also was able to choose to either incorporate or ignore my partner’s ideas for how to improve upon my illuminations, where as people who did illuminations for a living were not able to just ignore the people paying them. This entire activity really gave me a deeper appreciation for the patience early illuminators must have had for this job.

The Wanderer Illumination

I chose to illuminate the poem “The Wanderer” for this workshop, because it is a medieval poem, and illumination was a medieval practice. I must say, I felt somewhat cheesy for doing this once I realized that the class was working with more contemporary poetry for the most part. However, I am currently translating this poem for another seminar, and so I thought that this choice was apt. I hoped that illuminating the poem might reveal some aspect of it which strictly attending to language would not. The illumination also functions as a translation in its own right, i.e. in illuminating I was attempting to “bring across” some aspect of the poem, albeit for myself — although by illuminating a poem after reading it, one might always be acting in a hybrid reader / writer capacity. I chose a side-by-side translation of the poem, because I wanted to foreground the fact that it has been translated. Similarly, I wanted the illumination to intersect only with the modern translation, as a sort of nod to the fact that I can never get at the original, and will always come up short in my efforts in translation.

As I surveyed the various examples of illumination provided in class, I noticed that motifs of geometric patterns were common — particularly in the older examples. As the dominant images in this portion of the poem are metaphors for internality and the sea, I chose not to illuminate the poem with concrete imagery, such as a man in a boat. Additionally, I am not certain that the speaker in the poem is a man. In fact, part of me wants to leave that a mystery, although there could perhaps be linguistic features which indicate that it is indeed a male speaker. The purple, blue and green wave forms along the side of the piece are intended to reflect the sense of forward movement in the text, represent the dominant images of icy water, as well as, convey the alliterative stress rhythms of Anglo-Saxon poetry. The color palette was also supposed to reflect the cold imagery in the poem. The blueish green was intended to invoke the pervasive emotion of heart-sickness that runs throughout the poem.

I wanted the irregularity of the geometric shapes to reflect the irregularity of the stress patterns. The bits of yellow adorn the negative space within graphemes at the beginning of lines, as well as, the negative space within graphemes that form words regarding the internal state of the speaker such as: “spirit-chest”, “treasure-chamber”, “thoughts”, etc. Halla, who was kind enough to augment my initial illumination efforts, chose to adorn words such as “I” and “one” in blue to reflect the frozen state of the speaker in the poem. The first grapheme is intended to appear like the moon. Because the wave forms run down the side — rather than across — my hope is that the reader might reorient the page to view it as a image. If they did this, the flecks of yellow and blue might then appear as stars and precipitation respectively. The desire for the reader to reorient the page is bound up in the issue of translation.

The illumination activity has confirmed the relationship between image and graphemes for me. Although, if one accepts the post-structural definition of “text” as anything that can be read, then this is not a “relationship” per se — as they are not discreet units of meaning — but unity. There seems to be little to gain from thinking image and graphemes separately. An unforeseen consequence of the project is that medieval illumination practices feel more contemporary than modern print, insofar that in the digital age, hybrid texts are the norm. When one is reading digital native texts in the web 2.0 environment, “text” always means graphemes and images, whether it is the icons associated with the webpage or the task bar at the bottom of the screen. This has been on my mind the entire semester. Moving forward, I want to continue attempting to consider ways which considering medieval practices can inform how I interact with modern texts, and text making practices.

Illumination of “Follower”



The poem that I chose to illuminate for our workshop was Follower, a poem by Seamus Heaney from his collection Death of a Naturalist. Seamus Heaney’s poetry has been in my life for many years, as my grandfather, the son of an Irish immigrant, came to love the poetry, often regarding Heaney as the only poet he could actually tolerate. Follower was a poem that he had read to me once before his death, and because of that, the poem has some sentimental value to me. Beyond my personal anecdote, however, I am also a fan of Seamus Heaney, finding comfort in the way that his poems were written about how the passing nature of our lives and how none of it is ever set in stone.

In my opinion, Follower highlights this very thing, by following the story of a young boy that would, well, follow his father around as he worked the fields. His father did not regard the boy as a nuisance, and for the most part, just seemed to tolerate the boy’s presence. However, the boy is the narrator of the poem, and as he grows older alongside his father, he finds himself complaining about his father’s endless presence, not appearing to see the irony in the fact that the man he once followed endlessly as a boy now relies him as an elderly man. The narrator of the poem comments, “Today / It is my father who keeps stumbling / Behind me, and will not go away.” (Lines 22-24) I took these lines to mean that the narrator does not understand why his father is following him. The word “stumbling” applies that his father is having trouble keeping up with him, which is why I believe him to be an elderly man.

My illumination attempts to reflect my belief that the narrator’s father is an old man by the time the poem is occurring in. To show this, I drew to figures on the page that were both split down the middle. The figure in the foreground is an adult male, split between the appearance of a man that one might associate with being a farmer willing to have his son be following him around the fields and a man dressed in a suit wearing sunglasses that conceal his eyes. I made the second half of the man look this way because I believe it shows that he is indifferent to his father, who can be seen behind him as one half of the character in the background.

The character in the background has been split between the appearance of a small boy that is directly behind the man that appears to be a farmer and an elderly man that is behind the “well-dressed” man. I attempted to use the colors available to make it clear that while these two men are related, the younger of the two has done what he can to distance himself from his father, causing him to not understand why his father is following behind him.

I had briefly considered having there be a third part for these split characters, with a young son for the narrator, to try and display how he may finally come to understand the experience of his father, but I felt that it would not serve to illuminate the poem. I think that the drawings, as they currently are, serve to show that any person is capable of reminiscing about their roots while also failing to grasp the significance they have on their lives in the current day. I also chose to have the second man be in “nicer” clothes in father to highlight the idea that this narrator, the second man, was effectively standing on the foundation provided by his father to improve his own life.

Poem Illumination

For our Poem illumination workshop, I chose “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. My choice was perhaps partially sentimental. It was the first “short poem” I ever had to memorize as a student, and, having read about Kilmer’s life, the negative response his poetry continued to get, and his experiences during WWI, I thought perhaps trying to illuminate it would help me look at thet poem in a different way, outside of its “traditional” context or the context that I was given as a student.

Because I know that the author of the poem was a World War journalist, I have always read the “trees” that the poem describes as a metaphor for other things. Perhaps a metaphor for humanity, or for life itself. My interpretation freed me to “sketch” my illumination in whichever way I wanted. It initially considered having human beings at various stages of their life (children, adults, elderly) to correspond to the changes of the seasons in the poem. Especially since the lines seem to personify trees in their description of how trees touch the “bosom” of the earth, or raise their hands up to the sky to pray etc. However, I ended up deciding to have actual trees (or rather one big tress) in my illumination instead. I thought that nature has always been a great metaphor for the human condition, and since I interpret the poem symbolically and metaphorically then I’d like my illumination to be symbolic as well.

This is when I came up with the idea of having One single large sized tree grow out of the bottom of the page and gradually envelope the poem. I decided to reflect the changes of the seasons by having one side of the tree appear “dead” or dying, leaving falling, brown, crumbly, exposed to clouds and rain while the side of the tree would have green branches and flowers growing out of it. That, I thought, was a way of capturing the cyclical nature of the poem.

I worried briefly that while I might think I’ve done a great job of providing a “symbolic illumination” of the poem, other people who are in favor of a more literal understanding of the poem might also think that my attempt quite simply “illustrates” what the poem says. i.e. reads it as they would, to be literally about trees. I thought for several minutes about this before I picked up my pencil because I realized – from viewing a few of the illustrations shown in class in the past couple of weeks—that illuminations are as much for the “other”; the reader, the viewer, as they are for the author/illuminator. What sits on the page juxtaposed to the text has an influence on how we read perceive and interpret the text. This also made me wonder whether illuminations allow for symbolism as well. In other words, could the relationship between image and text be a two-way interpretative path? Is it possible that my illumination could count as a metaphor that the text attempts to interpret? Or that an illumination would trigger its own illumination in the reader’s mind as the reader attempts to understand it. I remembered then that we’d discussed in class a few illuminations that, upon first glance appeared to have very little to do with the actual text, and might be –for the most part—serving an aesthetic purpose. This freed me from the worry about an outsider’s perception, and I finally settled on my tree idea.

All that was left to do was to complete the illumination. My initial plan was to have the branches of my tree create a “frame” around the text of the poem enclosing it with leaves and flowers. However, after looking through Flowers in Medieval Manuscripts in class, the images that appealed to me most were all images that showed the illumination to be “interacting” with the text. There was no clear boundaries between text and illumination. Sometimes leaves would extend to touch some letters and words, some text had flowers embedded in the blank spaces between its lines. Those text-illumination dynamics seemed to me to be more organic and natural than ones that left a clear space between the two modes of expression, so inspired by medieval aesthetics, I decided I would attempt to do the same thing. (My excitement didn’t account for the fact that I don’t have the same artistic abilities that those illuminators had)

Besides my lack of artistic capacity, I gained an important prespective from this illumination workshop. First, I learned that “text interpretation” is an important tool outside of English classes and in a scope bigger than aspiring academics like me. Artists who work in ekphrasis  illustrators, and definitely medieval illuminators had to have been equipped with the right skills to read and understand text, perhaps they even needed the capacity to anticipate multiple interpretations in order to account for the different ways that text might be read within their one illumination. Second, I realized that a lot less time and effort goes into creating manuscripts and books today. We hardly ever see illuminated books anymore, and when we do they are a lot more expensive and would probably be used for display not actual reading. I wonder if digital media would allow us to “bring back” illumination at as less costly price. With virtual books, e-books, PDFs etc. we can create images (and videos even) that interact with our texts without the price of more paper, color etc. Or have our understanding of book aesthetics changed too far being illumination?


Shakespeare’s Sonnet 106 Illumination

I selected Shakespeare’s Sonnet 106 in part because it is my favorite one of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  Ever since I first encountered it I have really enjoyed the imagery and the subject matter, as well as the beautiful language.  Additionally, I thought that it would be apropos for this assignment given that in the sonnet, Shakespeare looks back on subject matter that was popular in the Medieval Period.  He describes beautiful ladies and chivalrous knights.  For this reason, I thought it would be an interesting poem to illuminate because he is remarking on the type of content that would be in Medieval illuminated manuscripts.  I wanted my illumination to reflect this as well.  When I thought about what I wanted to depict in my illumination of Sonnet 106, I had the illuminations that decorate Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the Cotton Nero A.x manuscript in mind.  The illuminations in that manuscript include images of knights and horses in the depiction of the Green Knight after his decapitation in King Arthur’s hall.  Additionally, there are depictions of chivalrous interactions between knights and ladies in the illumination featuring Gawain feigning sleep and Bertilak’s wife.  These illuminations were part of what inspired me to focus on the line in the sonnet “In praise of ladies dead, and lovely knights” (Shakespeare 4).  This line lent itself to illumination because it allowed me to be inspired by the Cotton Nero A.x illuminations.  I combined the idea of a knight and horse and a chivalrous interaction between a knight and lady  into one image to reflect both the sonnet and the illuminated manuscript.  

I also added a marginal detail of a clock (at the suggestion of my partner) to bring in the theme of passing time in the sonnet.  In particular, I think the clock is appropriate to the line “in the chronicle of wasted time” (1).  I decided to have the clock draped in vines both to capture the idea that a lot of time has passed, and also to reflect the frequent use of floral imagery used in Medieval illuminations.  The clock serves as a reminder that this poem is in part is partially about connecting the past to the present in an attempt to capture the beauty of the woman Shakespeare seeks to describe.  This is also part of the reason why I positioned the knight in a position of giving respect to the lady in the poem.  Although Shakespeare says the poets of the past could not have expressed the beauty of his subject, by including a lady with the knight treating her in a chivalrous manner I hoped to convey the respect and awe that Shakespeare has for his subject.  Also, I outlined the drawings in black ink to reflect part of the illumination process depicted in the video we watched in class.

 This activity made me realize the challenge of attempting to capture the essence of a whole poem in just a few illustrations.  As we learned in class, real illuminators only had a very limited space to work with in many cases, and even without having that restriction, it was still a challenge to decide what type of images would best reflect the content of the poem.  Since Sonnet 106 has several themes and images, narrowing down what I wanted to portray in the illumination was really challenging since I felt like I could have filled pages with illustrations for this poem.  This shows that the relationship between text and image is deeply intertwined, so much so that deciding what parts of this relationship should be depicted is rather difficult.


Drone- Kazim Ali


I selected this poem for illumination because of the author’s beautiful use of imagery to describe a relatively modern concept, the fear of drone attacks, in a way that is purely emotional. In other words, Kazim uses the title of the poem to characterize the subject matter of it, as, without it, the poem could be about a large variety of subjects. Also, I am a large fan of mixing science and poetry, and I believe this particular poem does it very well, as the tone convey’s an emotion behind the science of drone attacks, rather than just explaining that they are a terrifying thing. The final line in the poem struck me in particular, as the author’s fear and uncertainty he feels towards his situation in life is shown in the form of him questioning his place and his identity on this earth.

For my illumination, I wanted to capture the author’s emotional tone of the poem, the authors fear, while still maintaining a science-fiction-esque image. Also, I wanted to keep it relatively medieval in how the illumination looks, which was a huge part of the inclusion of more symbolic imagery, as opposed to more literal imagery. The two faces, one with the eyes covered, and one with the mouth covered is meant to represent the effect of drone technology on humanity, as the blocked eyes represent not being able to see the drones, while the blocked mouth represents the hopelessness of the victims. Between them, and above them, is a sun with a peace sign, a star, and a moon inside of it, and coming from it is a beam shooting down to the bottom of the image. This is meant to represent the sky at any given time, where the drone attacks are coming from. The beam in the middle begins with 1’s and 0’s to represent binary code, or the transmission of that code, which ultimately turns into an explosive beam at the bottom, characterizing the path the drone attack takes. The satellite and radio tower represent both sides of the attack. My reasoning for putting the entire image in a frame was to keep in practice with more medieval illuminations.

Before talking about this subject in class and completing this workshop, I did not really think much on the relationship of text and image. I believed them to be separate from each other, but complimentary towards the other, meaning that they can exist as separate entities, but still have a relationship with the other. My understanding that has changed in that I now see the relationship as a multi-faceted one, meaning that the image and the text can not just be understood one way, but a plethora of ways, ultimately changing how the text and image are understood depending the way they are interpreted. I guess what I am trying to say in short is that the relationship is in the eye of the beholder.


How Is Your Heart? by Charles Bukowski

The original poem I had selected to illuminate for our workshop was “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke because I thought the variety of interpretations symbolized a type of dance style on its own – a style I could then highlight through the illumination. However, the morning of our illumination workshop, I was handed a poem titled, “How is Your Heart” by Charles Bukowski. After reading this poem the first time through, I was sold. I chose to select this poem for illumination because it involved such deep and vivid imagery that I simply couldn’t pass it up. I also felt more connected to this poem that Roethke’s poem – I felt as though I could relate to the imagery that Bukowski was painting and that is why I favored this poem over “My Papa’s Waltz”.

I illuminated this poem in the form of a maze – a maze that had a ball of fire at almost every turn. I chose a maze because my first, second, and even third reading of this poem had me feeling as if the narrator himself were in some sort of maze and everywhere he turned there was a dead end. When you’re in a maze trying to find your way out, you’re constantly hitting dead ends and taking sharp turns, going this way then that way, all just to get out. Bukowski writes this poem as if the narrator were everywhere and no where all at the same time – kind of like how one feels when going this way and that way trying to find the end of the maze. I wanted my illumination to be a depiction of the overall message of the poem, not a literal line for line translation. After all, it was the overall message of the poem that really grabbed my attention. Through my interpretation, I gather the overall message to be: it doesn’t matter how many wrong turns you take through the maze of life, what does matter, is how you go through that maze. Or as Bukowski so elegantly puts it: “what matters most is how well you walk through the fire”.

If you were to look at my illumination before reading the poem, I feel as though the reader would be intrigued to learn more and that is how the image illuminates my poem. Surface level, the image looks like an impossible maze to get through due to there being a ball of fire at every corner. The reader would notice that there is a beginning and an ending to the maze, but would wonder if reaching the end of this maze were even possible. The image illuminates the poem through being the book cover that poems don’t have. Before diving into the reading of any novel, we are always faced first with the novel’s illustrative cover. However, with poems, there typically is no cover unless the poem is in a book of a collections of poems. Therefore, I thought illuminating the image with the overall message and imagery of the poem would suit as a type of descriptive cover for the reader. Also, poems are known for being pretty complex and being someone who reads poetry through this struggling lens, I wanted to perhaps make clear some of the poem for the reader so that they had more time to enjoy it and less time stressing over its meaning.

I always thought of text and image as related, however, this activity showed me just how much they are and can be related to one another. After reading an imagery heavy poem, I started this workshop staring at the page with blank ideas. I wondered: how does this happen? The images are basically falling off the page in yet, I can’t put my pen to this page – why? I realized that I was putting too much pressure on myself to not make a mistake and to produce the perfect image for this poem’s illumination. This weight of pressure that I was experiencing during this activity really changed the way I thought about illuminators and their processing of illuminating a poem. When we analyzed the illuminations from the Canterbury manuscripts, I remember thinking they were elegant but thought they were there as a fancy distraction rather than acting as a story before the story. With this illumination activity, I was challenged to think like an illuminator and that made me realize that these images aren’t just fancy pictures to please the eye or to motivate you to read the story or to distract you from the story, but also,  these illuminations are there to show the audience that there is a story occurring before they even read the story – the story through illumination.

This exercise also helped me to realize that although text and image are related, they are able to relate while displaying different types of messages. When thinking about how to illuminate my poem, there was mention within our class that the illumination could depict the message of the story, it didn’t have to showcase a literal image for each word. Therefore, when I saw words like “jail”, “wrong”, “worst”, “hangovers”, etc, I thought about drawing something that could represent all of those words rather than drawing a jail or someone with a hangover (for example). This idea challenged me to think of the message of the text and portray an image that represents that message. Contemplating how to draw a message rather than describe it was a different form of interpretation that this exercise really opened my eyes to.

The Raven

For this exercise, I chose to illuminate the poem “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe. I chose this poem because it’s one of my favourites and I’m planning to get a tattoo of a raven soon. When I started my illumination, I already had a specific image of a raven in mind, one that I’ve had saved in my email for a while. This poem is so visual, it seemed like a good choice to illustrate. I chose this specific image because it’s grittier than other drawings of the raven. It seems more real to me and with the way Poe describes the scene outside, it fits better in my opinion. With the snow falling and the darkness of midnight, the speaker appears frightened. I have always imagined the raven to be daunting and scary in a way, with unkempt feathers and dark eyes. Poe writes, “And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming.” I tried to highlight the eye, make it darker than the feathers. I think darkness is a frightening image because it is so unknown. For me, that’s what this poem is saying. The speaker continues to ask the raven questions, but “quoth the raven nevermore,” and the bird sits still while the speaker spirals out of control. I’m not great at drawing, but this image is simple enough, even for me. I wanted to put in a moon illustration as well to capture the time. It’s not exactly what I wanted, but like I said, I’m not very good.

              I watched the video on medieval manuscript making and I was struck by the process. I drew this image in 5, maybe 10 minutes with shading. It was nothing compared to the dedication that went into medieval illuminations. There were multiple steps and it took such focus and a steady hand. That made me go back to my drawing and add some details. I re-read the poem and thought about Edgar Allen Poe as a person, who he was and what kind of illumination he would have liked. It turned into a post-modern expression rather than the simple illumination I had started with. I added text to the feathers and darkened the moon and the shading around the eye. I also added the face of Poe in a word bubble coming out of the raven’s mouth. I didn’t add colour because it doesn’t fit with this poem. I would imagine that most illustrations based on this use black, white, and grey. The setting and theme speak to those dark, neutral colours. Contemporary literature is not often accompanied by illumination, except for the book covers. This exercise showed me this is an important way to preserve text in a different way. Some people respond to images rather than words, but if they can still understand the beauty of “The Raven,” even without reading it, I would be happy.

              As I write this, I’m looking at a printed picture my mother gave me that’s taped to my wall. It’s an illumination of Thomas Kinsella’s translation of “The Tain,” a 1st century Irish war epic. It looks like a raven or a black bird. The way it is drawn makes it appear like an ink blot does. The artist, Louis Le Brocquy, is praised for his illumination. Irish poet Aiden Dunn said, “The brush drawings merged seamlessly with the text; stark, fluent images, they expressed with great economy of means an epic breadth, evoking the movement of vast masses of people.” This is what I now understand better about illuminations, their ability to merge with the text so that it becomes a part of the text. It evokes feeling about the text just like the text itself does. It reminds me of our discussion about the manuscripts of “The Canterbury Tales.” The illuminations were not simply an add on, but they became part of the story, physically and textually. When an illumination is that strong, it becomes associated with the text to the “vast masses of people.” The image of a woman staring at a fig tree will be forever connected to “The Bell Jar.” And the drawing of a circle with a triangle in it and a straight line running through the centre will always be associated with Harry Potter. My point is that these illuminations are still relevant even if we don’t notice them right away. This exercise and reading on medieval illuminations has certainly given me a new appreciation for them. I can understand the historical significance as well.


Bluebird – Charles Bukowski Illumination

Samantha Harrison
Professor Alex Mueller
ENGL 606
6 February 2017

Workshop #1: Reflection on Illumination of Poem

I selected Charles Bukowski’s “the bluebird” poem because I have always loved the imagery it invokes in the reader. Bukowski is one of my favorite poets, mostly because of his simplicity and his tendency to write about both the despair and small pleasures of ordinary life. “The bluebird” in particular is one of my favorite poems because I find it to be very visual and heartfelt. The first line (that is repeated throughout) reads “there’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out”, immediately this provides an image of a small, wistful bluebird trying to escape the confines of red beating heart. The colors are striking as is the notion that a bird could exist inside the writer’s chest. One of the other reasons I chose this poem was because it does speak to the idea of a writer: someone who necessarily does not want to share his inner most thoughts with others but can’t drown the tendency to be emotional either. The third stanza says, “stay down, do you want to mess me up? you want to screw up the works? you want to blow my book sales in Europe?” As a writer, Bukowski seems afraid of his sense of sentimentality, as if his writing rests on an idea of controlling his emotions. I imagine from our recent studies in the medieval art of writing that this sense of control was of most important to those few who could write. They held a certain power over those who could not read, and even over those who read their writing. As was discussed in class, their writing itself was even controlled, often being formulaic in nature. Bukowski’s poem is it’s own kind of tug-of-war with the different versions of writing: formulaic or personal.
If I had any sort of drawing skills I would have liked to draw a bluebird trying to escape an anatomically correct drawing of a heart, as that is what I envision when I read the poem. However, my drawing skills are nonexistent so instead I chose to draw two bluebirds on each side of the pages. The bluebird on the left page is more in the forefront of the page so your eye is drawn to it. I think I chose to do this for some subconscious attempt to draw the reader into looking at that page first as that is where the poem begins. To this effect, I think that’s why illustrators of older texts often illuminated the first letter of the first word to appear on the page, to signal that that is where the text begins and to draw the eye there. Another drawing I added was a birdcage on the right page, in the upper corner so it appears to be hanging down, attached from somewhere above the page. I hoped this would make the page seem like it was endless, instead of how borders were typically seen on illuminated texts. The borders, to me, seem like they trap the text in which is very appropriate for formulaic texts, law books as they were, but for this poem it seemed like the page should reflect an openness as poetry is open for interpretation. Other images I added were a whiskey bottle being poured on the bird and a quill writing out one of the lines of the poem. Both of these images were meant to add a feeling of the writer’s influence over the page since he says to be the one who pours the whiskey and the one who is physically writing the poem.
This literal interpretation of the words is what I struggled with for the illumination process. I was stuck on portraying a literal interpretation of the poem in my drawings which seemed to make sense to me as I was sketching but looking at the illuminated poem now I’m not sure if the images add anything to the meaning of the poem that is not already in the words. With that being said, I don’t think adding a border of non-distinct shapes or patterns would add any meaning to the poem either but perhaps that is not the point of illumination, maybe it was not to add meaning but to just serve as decoration to texts that were for wealthy patrons or would be widely circulated. Meaning could have been far from the minds of the illustrators which brings to mind the “Intentional Fallacy” argument referenced by McKenzie in BHR: do we, as readers, interpret meaning from illustrations in books when the illustrator may not have had any particular meaning in mind? The activity has challenged my ideas that the illustrations in books directly add to the meaning of the prose since when I became the illustrator, I was not sure how my images elevated any more meaning than what the words already provided. However, I did see the advantage in having images decorate the pages as it might make it more entertaining for the reader to peruse. After this activity I am thinking of illumination as both interpretation and decorating and the exhausting notion that we may never be sure of the difference.

(861 word count)


Bluebird by Charles Bukowski