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Brooks Popwell Sep 2011
I've scanned a star-strewn sky before
With land-shapes bathed in inky white
And swept by chilling, thrilling winds--
What oft I've seen, I taste tonight!

For countless open founts would yield
A quenching draught; I'd go my way--
But from my Jewelly-arboured springs:
Joys twice-inspired! Oh, may I stay?

(For J.B.)
Brooks Popwell Sep 2011
Glory in music.
Shadowless light
Slicing through purposeless night.
Weak thing, and nothing,
Vapor of sound,
Dashing doubt's heights to the ground.

Glory in people.
Images worn
Mirrors of heaven when born.
Falling as flowers,
Brief joys to give,
Dying to rejuvine love.

Glory in story.
Star-points of grace
Spreading through temporal space.
Clouded as sapphire
Black-streaked with pain,
Flashing out mercy again.

Hear now the glory?
Singing sublime
Flowing through gods in their time?
Now legions drown it;
Soon all will ring:
Blazing acoustic of transfigured things.
Brooks Popwell Sep 2011
When showers of fresh blessing soak my life,
Reviving savors of forgotten love,
Unveiling myriad ceaseless wonders 'round
In which like unseen air I daily move;

When I then stretch my narrow mind behind
Where every sovereign stage did stage the next
And grace displaced self's strangling undertow
To surge me toward eternally fixed shores;

When stories all around reveal the web
Of other lives weaved in a master plan,
Composed of strands which singly sing with life,
Yet strengthen all the others where they touch;

And when my straining gaze lights on the Light
Of Life, the depthless Fountain-head, and Sea
Where skeptic souls all thirst to drown,
Its pulse the how and why for all that is;

When Joy—behind, before—assaults my view,
My song, once numbed by fear, again rings true:
Leap up, dead one!  This hour demands my all—
The world resounds; I can't resist the call!
Brooks Popwell Sep 2011

First, I note a few surface details.

- Rising action – Keawe buys the imp and later sells it
- Crisis – Keawe again buys the imp although he doubts he can sell it
- Resolution – a sailor buys the imp from Keawe

The story centers on possession of the imp (primarily by Keawe, as noted above).  The full progression of ownership follows:

- Old man
- Keawe
- Keawe's friend
- Unspecified others
- Keawe
- Kokua
- Sailor
- Keawe (attempted; sailor refused)

The motivations of the owners varies:

- Old man, Keawe (first), Keawe’s friend, others – reward
- Keawe (second) – reward
- Kokua –love
- Sailor – reward
- Keawe (attempted) – love

Note the relationship between these motives and the story arc.  Reward drives Keawe’s first two purchases (rising action, crisis), but love drives the third (before resolution).  Observe also the twin kinds of reward compelling the early purchases.  The first reward: obtaining prosperity; the second reward: preserving prosperity (including Kokua).


The story’s specifics (ownership and motivation) stage these events:

- Desire can reward (Keawe seeks prosperity and love and is satisfied.)
- Desire can curse (In his quest, Keawe uses the imp.)
- Reward brings uncertainty (Banishment threatens all Keawe’s gains.)
- Love absorbs curse (Kokua buys imp from Keawe.)
- Curse will destroy (Someone must bear imp’s damnation.)

These dichotomies follow:
- Reward is tarnished without the curse (by uncertainty) or with the curse (by destruction).
- One can avoid the curse but not uncertainty.+
- Love can deliver from the curse but cannot escape from the curse.

(+Note: This is because Stevenson portrays Keawe’s desire as a constant from the story’s beginning.  His unavoidable desire leads him to navigate the other events of the story.)

Two final questions:
- Does Stevenson present an ideal choice to resolve the story’s dichotomies?
- Does the imp simply represent the curse or something more?

First, would Stevenson moralize?  I presume the possibility, considering his dramatic shift from a Victorian upbringing to a life of travel and ensuing love of the islander lifestyle (the backdrop for the short story). First, recall the two motives (reward or love) and the consistent negative conseqeunces (uncertainty, curse, destruction).  All of these occurred both with or without a connection to the imp.  Keawe pursued the good life before meeting the imp’s owner and in the period of freedom from its grasp. Likewise, his love for Kokua began without connection to the imp and continued long after.  I summarize all these possible combinations in the following chart:


1. Without imp: uncertainty
2. With imp: curse

3. Toward the cursed: destruction
4. Toward the uncursed: no destruction

The story progresses from a focus on reward (first half) to a focus on love (second half).  The last option (love without destruction) is ideal; every other option entails some loss.  Even Kokua’s and Keawe’s choices to love each other by taking back the curse is bittersweet.  Each one’s sacrifice removes the other’s greatest source of happiness, an end that could have been avoided if Keawe had never bought the imp.  The implied lesson?  Avoid choices now that will sabotage love’s good intentions later.

The surprise ending may add an additional message.  If the story warns against complicating love, why does it provide an escape hatch, the drunken sailor who accepts damnation and buys the bottle?  Stevenson could simply be softening the blow of his cautionary tale.  If so, why did he include the elaborate curse that necessitated such an ending? I think the injection of a supernatural temptation portrays real life: wild possibilities coupled with high consequences.  The ending modifies the imaginary scenario to convey another reality: though love cannot erase a damning past, somehow, escape is possible.

If the supernatural elements comment on life, the imp itself may also have a specific meaning.  The unusual law of the imp (sell for less or receive damnation) makes it a constantly growing threat.  Its sinister descriptions (“dark,” “fiery,” etc) and concealed evil (glancing in the bottle stuns the owner with horror) also portray the imp as a potent living force.  Perhaps Stevenson portrays imperfection and evil in humanity as this palpable reality, present in the world and available as a means of man’s advancement and destruction.  As an advocate of Semoan rights who lived in the islands during multiple colonial power-struggles, he vividly observed evil’s corrupting power.  He knew that the world often suffers when people allow the end to justify the means.  And when those people are us—the otherwise kind-hearted Keawes—Stevenson knew that the fiend within us doesn’t have to win in the end.

— The End —