Poetry by Millie Niss
These poems represent Millie's early work, prior to 2002.
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Text of the Day
Prolegomenon for a Critical Approach to Cervantes' Don Quixote
Through the Study of Two Sentences
(with Primary Emphasis on the First Sentence)
in the Penguin Classics Edition on Page 137
a research proposal
We consider the following passage in the J. M. Cohen translation:
"'The only thing that I can hear,' replied Sancho, 'is a great bleating of rams and ewes.' And that was the truth, for the two flocks were getting near." (p. 137)
In this telling passage of dialogue, we see into the depths of Sancho's character, his soul, as it were, if we may adduce such religious terminology in an author whose Essential Genius was of the secular variety, for here, Sancho tells us what he hears, and to a man in a pre-literate society (as Sancho was though Quixote emphatically was not, as you certainly know given that the excessive reading of romances about the Age of Chivalry was the cause of Quixote's unusual cognitive style, viz. windmill duels) the auditory sense is primal. Sancho, in this passage, hears "a great bleating of rams and ewes." While some critics dabble in arcane explanations of the obvious, it suffices here, for the sake of argument, to tell you that, by writing, "a great bleating of rams and ewes," Cervantes meant that Sancho heard a great bleating of rams and ewes. But what, one may ask, does a ram sound like, and how does that differ from the call of a ewe? You may be forgiven if you think this veterinary question to be of little relevance to our inquiry, but we must point out that if Cervantes thought that rams and ewes make the same sound, he would have written
"'The only thing that I can hear,' replied Sancho, 'is a great bleating of sheep [emphasis mine].' And that was the truth, for the two flocks were getting near." (p. 137)
"'The only thing that I can hear,' replied Sancho, 'is a great bleating of rams [emphasis mine].' And that was the truth, for the two flocks were getting near."
because the ewes, being of the female persuasion, would hardly be worth mentioning to someone as enmeshed in the system of patriarchy as Cervantes.
In this critic's personal holiday experience - we eschew critics who believe that the critic's personal life is to be deposited outside his or her criticism like a wet umbrella during a storm - in the Lake District of Northern England (since ravaged by mad cow and foot-and-mouth-disease) the red-stamped Chernobyl-contaminated sheep baaed in the contentment of their ostracism from the food chain. Thus we conclude that sheep say, "baa." However, on that holiday occasion this critic did not carefully examine the genitalia of the thousand or so sheep that blocked her path, thus it was impossible to determine whether the rams spoke in a different dialect from the ewes. Indeed, some sheep were heard to say, "baa," while others, more expansive in their nature, said, "baaaaa" or even "baaaaaaaaaaa."
Thus we may preliminarily conclude that Sancho heard the sound of a 'b' followed by some number of 'aa' sounds. However, we must not be too confident in this very preliminary, most preliminary, result of our study, because Sancho's rams and ewes were Spanish sheep, and this critic observed only English sheep. Perhaps sheep speak differently according to their nationality, geographic origin, ethnicity, religion (the UK sheep were strict C of E by and large, although some were Chapel-going since they were up North), and even ... gasp ... sexual orientation. Needless to say, this author was unable to determine which sheep if any had homoerotic leanings.