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The Chaise of Enlightenment
At age 11, I was a child inside of the “box.” Not to say I was physically immured in a box, but I was one who worked inside of guidelines, barely making minimum requirements. I was in a metaphorical “box,” never wondering and always lazy. My reading level? Magic Tree House chapter books were my swag. What did I care for when I was 11, other than a cozy blanket and light book? I’ll tell you: nothing. That is until my mother finally sat me down and, yes it’s true, taught me how to read at age 11.
She had been sitting on the fancy mahogany chaise in the small library, blinking often under the bright lights as she flipped pages. She turned to me.
“What are you reading?”
“Same old,” I replied, bored.
She stared at me, scanning my face blankly with her questioning brown eyes.
She gestured to the flowered yet worn carpet below the chaise.
I rolled my eyes as I stepped forward. She flipped madly through the pages, eyeing and muttering at the flashes of words engulfing the pages. After several moments, her eyes dilated as she fingered the top of the page. Mama then smiled, saying in a low voice, “Evo ga.”
“Here it is.”
I peered to the side, wrinkling my nose in disappointment.
There were no pictures.
I looked at her, and then back at the piece. It was The Haunted Palace by Edgar Allen Poe, a seemingly daunting and difficult writer. I read it aloud once.
“What do you make of it?” Mama asked.
“Do you see any visual elements perhaps, or some symbols?” she hinted.
I shrugged. “Huh?”
“Read the poem and try to visualize what it’s saying. See how it has these words that make an impact on you? Each has a different reaction. Look how this one is ‘gold’ and this one is ‘dark’? What do you visually see through his diction?”
I thought a minute. “I see a beautiful palace. One with ‘golden banners’ and a royal king.”
She nodded enthusiastically.
“I guess that the house fell apart because of…” I stopped to glance at the text. “Because of some ‘evils’.”
“Merima, I want you to listen to me now.”
I looked at her, somewhat tiredly and afraid.
“You see the truth and the facts presented as is. But listen to me. You can read alright—but you are summarizing. That is the basic knowledge of this poem. That is what is given. But now, Merima, ?eri, I want you to look beyond the given. I want you to look into the message of the poem and what the writer is trying to express. There is a difference between the written word and the meaning or context of that written word. That is the beauty of language, there is a whole new meaning to it, waiting to be discovered,” she said breathlessly.
Curiously, I peered again into the text. What message could there be?
“Ok. Look at it again. Read aloud the first sentence.”
I read slowly, “ ‘In the Greenest of our valleys…. Once a fair and stately palace… reared its head…’ ”.
“AHA!” Mama fiercely said. “Do you see?”
I looked at her sadly and shook my head.
“Think, the poem uses ‘it’ when describing a ‘fair’ and ‘stately’ palace.”
My eyes broadened.
“Is it a girl?”
Mama jumped, quickly nodding her head. “Yes, yes, that’s it! Now look at this stanza.”
She pointed to a new stanza.
“ ‘Banners yellow, golden, and glorious…’ ” she read. “If the palace is a girl, then what does that stanza mean?”
I blinked in amazement. “Hair.”
Mama laughed happily, clapping her hands.
“It’s not that hard, you see. Now, reread the poem to yourself”.
As I reread the poem, a new message blossomed forth, revealing a different and unexpected flower with bright colored petals.
Mama began again. “So when he says ‘…through two luminous windows saw spirits…’.”
I interrupted, “He means her eyes. Her eyes could see. Maybe not even eyes. ‘The windows are the door to the soul.’ Maybe it was her clear and free soul.”
I pointed my finger down the paragraph. “He says that she was fine, until she got sick.”
I grew excited. Mama watched me curiously as I began to talk faster, exclaiming at bits and pieces of fragments.
“So he’s describing the palace as a human being in order to show the eventual degradation of her. He uses it because it makes a much more vivid picture, doesn’t he? It says something about a loss of an ‘Estate.’ So maybe she lost money or land or someone that occupied her heart like an ‘estate,’ and became mentally sick since the ‘windows’ were no longer clear?”
My mother grinned happily.
“You got it. Now go do your homework.” She then put her hand against my shoulder kindly.
“The right way”.
This had been the push I’d needed. From a girl trapped inside her own box of ignorance came a girl who was oddly fascinated by the power of words and its secret meanings. I became more of an individual with confidence, no longer shirking from difficult tasks. And oddly enough, my hunger for literature grew as I learned to apply myself with diligence.
I had taken a leap of faith, and although at times I struggled, shouting, “It just DOESN’T make sense!” I continued onwards. I began to understand the two branches of literature: those with words, and those with meaning or power. I learned to unlock this “power” in order to progress and open a new part of myself- a new individual part that I had never before known. I had decided to apply myself more and more to writing in order to achieve my new-fangled goal: to write to the world with words powerful enough to move and change others; to give spark to the words on the page and let them grow, one by one. I had, in other words, become a writer: one that had been born because of her dear mother who had simply sat with her in a little bright library and read to her with patience and diligence.
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