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What advantages do you see in presenting the incidents as occurring in a vision ?
3. Give your impressions of Sir Launfal when you first hear of him. What lines near the end of Part First express a thought that he has never had ? Give some modern instance of it. What details in the first two stanzas of Part Second made you have more sympathy for Sir Launfal or more admiration for him than you had had before?
4. How much time elapsed between the two Parts ! What experiences do you suppose Sir Launfal must have had to bring about this great change in him?
5. What lines best express the religion that Sir Launfal has learned? What do you think of this religion as suited to us today? How can one “give himself” to his fellows?
6. Many of the lines in the poem are so condensed in their expression and yet so wonderfully suggestive of beauty and wisdom that you need to ponder them carefully. Ask yourself what situation the poet is trying to suggest, what pictures, what incidents, what thoughts; and then do your best to see what they would mean to you in your own life of today. Neither rare days in June nor knights errant are lacking in our own experience!
7. Select passages that beautifully express what you have previously seen or thought for yourself.
8. Select passages that present as attractive what you have never seen or thought for yourself.
9. What passages are so expressive that you should like to remember them—because of their own beauty or because they express for you thoughts and experiences that are likely to occur again and again?
A frightful thing had just happened. One of the carronades of the battery, a twenty-four-pounder, had got loose. This is perhaps the most formidable of ocean accidents; nothing more terrible can happen to a vessel in open sea and under full sail.
A gun that breaks its moorings becomes suddenly some indescribably supernatural beast. It is a machine which transforms itself into a monster. This mass turns upon its wheels, has the rapid movements of a billiardball; rolls with the rolling, pitches with the pitching; goes, comes, pauses, seems to meditate; resumes its course, rushes along the ship from end to end like an arrow, circles about, springs aside, evades, rears, breaks, kills, exterminates. It is a battering-ram which assaults a wall at its own caprice. Moreover, the battering-ram is metal, the wall wood. It is the entrance of matter into liberty. One might say that this eternal slave avenges itself. It seems as if the power of evil hidden in what we call inanimate objects finds a vent and bursts suddenly out. It has an air of having lost patience, of seeking some fierce, obscure retribution; nothing is more inexorable than this rage of the inanimate. The mad mass has the bounds of a panther, the weight of the elephant, the agility of the mouse, the obstinacy of the axe, the unexpectedness of the surge, the rapidity of lightning, the deafness of the tomb. It weighs ten thousand pounds and it rebounds like a child's ball. Its flight is a wild whirl abruptly cut at right angles.
What is to be done? How can this danger be ended? A tempest ceases, a cyclone passes, a wind falls, a broken mast is replaced, a leak is stopped, a fire dies out; but how can this enormous brute of bronze be controlled? In what way can one attack it? You can make a mastiff hear reason, astound a bull, fascinate a boa, frighten a tiger, soften a lion; but there is no recourse with that monster, a cannon let loose. You cannot kill it—it is dead, yet at the same time it lives. It lives with a sinister life bestowed on it by Infinity.
The planks beneath it give it play. It is moved by the ship, which is moved by the sea, which is moved by the wind. This destroyer is a plaything. The ship, the waves, the blasts, all aid it; hence its frightful vitality. How assail this fury of complication? How fetter this monstrous mechanism for wrecking a ship? How foresee its comings and goings, its returns, its stops, its shocks? Any one of these blows upon the sides may stave out the vessel. How divine its awful gyrations! One has to deal with a projectile which thinks, seems to possess ideas, and which changes its direction at each instant. How stop the course of something which must be avoided? The horrible cannon flings itself about, advances, recoils, strikes to the right, strikes to the left, flees, passes, disconcerts, ambushes, breaks down obstacles, crushes men like flies. The great danger of the situation is in the mobility of its base. How combat an inclined plane which has caprices? The ship, so to speak, bas lightning imprisoned in its hull which seeks to escape; it is like thunder rolling above an earthquake.
In an instant the whole crew were on foot. The fault was the chief gunner's; he had neglected to fix home the screw-nut of the mooring-chain, and had so badly shackled the four wheels of the carronade that the play given to the sole and frame had separated the platform, and ended by breaking the breeching. The cordage had broken, so that the gun was no longer secure on the carriage. The stationary breeching which prevents recoil was not in use at that period. As a heavy wave struck the port, the carronade, weakly attached, recoiled, burst its chain, and began to rush wildly about. Conceive, in order to have an idea of this strange sliding, a drop of water running down a pane of glass.
At the moment when the lashings gave way the gunners were in the battery, some in groups, others standing alone, occupied with such duties as sailors perform in expectation of the command to clear for action. The carronade, hurled forward by the pitching, dashed into this knot of men, and crushed four at the first blow; then, flung back and shot out anew by the rolling, it cut in two a fifth poor fellow, glanced off to the larboard side, and struck a piece of the battery with such force as to unship it. Then rose the cry of distress which had been heard. The men rushed toward the ladder; the gun-deck emptied in the twinkling of an eye. The enormous cannon was left alone. She was given up to herself. She was her own mistress, and mistress of the vessel. She could do what she willed with both. This whole crew, accustomed to laugh in battle, trembled now. To describe the universal terror would be impossible.
The cannon came and went along the deck. . . . The marine-lantern, oscillating from the ceiling, added a dizzying whirl of lights and shadows to this vision. The shape of the cannon was undistinguishable from the rapidity of its course; now it looked black in the light, now it cast weird reflections through the gloom.
It kept on its work of destruction. It had already shattered four other pieces, and dug two crevices in the side, fortunately above the water-line, though they would leak in case a squall should come on. It dashed itself frantically against the frame-work; the solid tie-beams resisted, their curved form giving them great strength, but they creaked ominously under the assaults of this terrible club, which seemed endowed with a sort of appalling ubiquity, striking on every side at once. The strokes of a bullet shaken in a bottle would not be madder or more rapid. The four wheels passed and repassed above the dead men, cut, carved, slashed them, till the five corpses were a score of stumps rolling about the deck; the heads seemed to cry out; streams of blood