Type out a passage from the poem "Journal" by Billy Collins. Then write a response in which you discuss the passage first from one point of view, and then from another.


Zoe M.

It goes with me

to a gallery where I open: it to record

a note on red and the birthplace of Corot,

into the tube of an airplane

so I can take down the high dictation of clouds,

or on a hike in the woods where a young hawk

might suddenly fly between its covers.

 

I see this passage as a description of things that Collins puts in his journal that are not original. All of the entries mentioned in this stanza are observations not imagined by him. It is fitting that he uses the words "record" and "take down" instead of "write" or "compose"' since the latter two are more creative than observant. When he says "... so l can take down the high dictation of clouds," he means that the clouds are telling him what to say; they inspire him so that he has no choice of what to write. His words do not create the clouds—the clouds create his words. Also, the other subjects like the "birthplace of Corot," "red," and "a young hawk'? are not his inventions, he simply observes them in his journal.

Another thing I see in this passage is the repeated reference to flight and the sky. Beginning with "into the tube of an airplane," he continues this theme by mentioning clouds and a hawk that “might suddenly fly between its covers.” I think that the significance of the sky is that it is limitless, yet he writes here of his attempts to capture some elements of it in his journal. Similarly with flight, things that fly are difficult to catch' though he does so figuratively through observation. In fact, he glorifies the "power" of his journal by saying that he did not even need to catch the hawk—it flew right in. Collins makes his journal seem more important by telling us l about the lofty things that he fits inside.

 


 Chris D.

 

Ledger of the head 's transactions,

log of the body's voyage,

it rides all day in a raincoat pocket,

ready to admit any droplet of thought,

nut of a maxim,

narrowest squint of an observation.

 

One thing I noticed was in the fifth line, where it says 'nut of a maxim.' If I remember correctly, a maxim is a wise saying or something along those lines. The choice of the word 'nut' was interesting, because of all words (bit, lines, hint, moral, etc.), the author chose that word in particular. Nuts, if watered an allowed, grow into trees, which are by far grander than their not yet grown forms. The word 'nut' could symbolize the potential / of a maxim, if used correctly, which kind of also relates to the potential of recording little things in a journal.

Another thing was in the third line. 'Raincoat' sets the mood for rain, water, and storms, in a way. Instead of coat pocket, or jacket or shirt, it had to be raincoat. The theme carries / onto the next line, with droplet. It could be that the author's analogy was that the journal / sits in his pocket, there to receive the thoughts and ideas that are pouring outside.

Another thing I noticed was that the entire passage deals with small things. A 'nut,' 'narrowest squint,' and 'droplet,' all imply that small things go into the journal, though in the first two lines, the journal is said to contain a log of the body's voyage, and to be a ledger of the head's transactions, which contrast from the small bits in the rest of the stanza that go into the journal. As the poem continues, though, it seems that the things that go into the journal get bigger, like things that are caught by nets, pointed out with words like 'giant' ball of string, until they get beyond the writer entirely. It seems like the author tries to say that he made his journal greater than even himself, or that maybe his mind goes through so many things during the course of its voyage that it can't hold everything, which becomes the job of the journal, which grows to monstrous capacities in doing so.

 


Peter G.

 

And there is room in the margins

for the pencil to go lazy and daydream

in circles and figure eights

or produce some illustrations

like Leonardo in his famous codex

room for a flying machine,

the action of a funnel,

a nest of pulleys,

and a device that is pulled by water.

One thing that struck me about this stanza was the way the author, Billy Collins, used the design of the stanza to express the meaning presented by the words. He says that in his journal, there is room for him to draw and experiment with ideas in the margins. This stanza seems something he would put in the margins. While the rest of the stanzas in the poem all are just a list of things that could be written in his journal, this stanza breaks the mold by mentioning that he can draw and explore and test bizarre ideas, like Leonardo da Vinci's inventions. This is interesting because the stanza represents what is being expressed by his words.

Another thing that struck me about this stanza was that it seems to represent the author's personality. By just looking at this stanza, I would assume that the author has a very large imagination, because he seems captivated by inventions and strange machines. It takes a great deal of imagination to be able to create something like what is described in the stanza, such as a flying machine. The author also seems to think in short, creative bursts. This would explain the way that the stanza is put together: a series of short lines, each expressing a different idea. He comes up with an idea, puts it into his poem, and immediately comes up with a new idea to put in.


Chris M.

Ledger of the head's transactions,

log of the body's voyage,

it rides all day in a raincoat pocket,

ready to admit any droplet of thought,

nut of a maxim,

narrowest squint of an observation.

It goes with me

to a gallery where I open it to record

a note on red and the birthplace of Corot,

into the tube of an airplane

so I can take down the high dictation of clouds,

or on a hike in the woods where a young hawk

might suddenly fly between its covers.

 

One thing I noticed in Billy Collins's "Journal," is that Mr. Collins repeatedly describes his journal in terms of metaphors. He wrote that it is the "ledger of the head's transactions." A ledger is a book that keeps track of business transactions; what he is claiming is that his journal keeps track of the ideas that pass through his mind as a ledger keeps track of money. This implies that ideas are a valuable commodity.

A second thing I noticed was that Billy Collins also wrote of his journal as being the "log of the body's voyage." He writes down where he goes so he can keep track of what happened. Why should he want to do this? It's useful for a writer to remember what events happened to him or her; keeping track of what happened can be a great help to a writer when he or she needs to think up new places and events for stories and poems, and such. For instance, in the second stanza, Billy Collins enumerates a series of places he took his journal. It's quite possible that he got the idea to say where he'd taken it directly from the notes of where he'd been that he kept in his own journal.

A third thing that is particularly interesting to me is that in stanza one, he wrote, "it rides all day in a raincoat pocket, /ready to admit any droplet of thought." This stands out, because the point of a raincoat is to keep the droplets (of rain) out... so why would he keep it there if he wants to admit droplets (of thought) to it? Compared with "ledger" to "transactions," and "log" to "voyage," it seems that he did this on purpose; it wasn't an error.

If I were to look at it from a practical perspective, he would have put it there to keep it from getting wet in the rain. Perhaps this implies that his thoughts come in torrents and downpours and that putting too much in will damage the book and the other ideas in it? This is an apparent contradiction of the "any droplet" part; however, it could be considered that he meant "any droplet I wish to add" instead of "any droplet at all." If he flooded his journal all at one time, the ideas in his journal would probably be much closer together; ideas that are far away take more work to connect, but are more rewarding.

To illustrate this, consider finding the connection between pushing a computer mouse and moving the cursor on the screen verses finding the connection between electricity and magnetism. Finding the connection between the mouse and the cursor can let you win a few games of solitaire, whereas finding the connection between the electricity and magnetism produced the digital revolution. Perhaps the rain coat is like this; he metaphorically uses it space out items so that he can make a more rewarding (if more difficult to produce) set of connections later. Red, Corot, and hawks for instance, are much harder to connect than "Red, yellow, green, purple, and aquamarine."

 


Pua C.

(Looking at the William Stafford's "What's in My Journal.")

 

"Evidence to hang me, or to beatify..."

People who write in journals and leave their feelings and thoughts on a page are vulnerable. The journal allows people to write down deep thoughts that might offend others. A journal also inspires people to write down glorious revelations. Therefore, a journal, if lost, can be dangerous. In "What's in My Journal," William Stafford uses irony and opposites in the line "evidence to hang me, or to beatify" to express the power and danger of journals.

"Hang me" suggests that the speaker has committed a crime that is punishable by death. Crimes that are punishable by death have to do with murder. Perhaps the speaker gave away government secrets and is a traitor. "Beatify," according to Webster's College / Dictionary, means "to declare to be among the blessed and thus entitled to specif c religious honor." "To beatify" suggests that the speaker could become a saint. A saint typically saves people. The speaker may have committed a felony, but in doing so, he may have saved many people. There is irony because the line suggests that the speaker ~s both a traitor and a saint. Depending on how people view the "evidence," the speaker can v/ either be a saint, a traitor, or both.

On a personal level, the speaker may simply be referring to intimate relationships. The speaker's confessions in his journal may reveal that he is a traitor of a different kind. Such a traitor could be someone who cheated on a loved one. A traitor could also be a back-stabber—someone who betrayed a friend. The people whom the speaker has betrayed may want to figuratively "hang" the speaker if they read the journal. The journal itself is the "evidence" of the speaker's wrong doing. The journal may also contain evidence of a good deed. A saint is someone who typically sacrifices himself or herself for others. Perhaps, the speaker has taken the blame for his friends. If his friends were to read the journal, they would feel that he deserved to be beatified.

In summary, Stafford uses this line to show how journals are dangerous and people who write in them are vulnerable. This line adds a threatening dimension to the poem.