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Revisiting the Prologue:
Reconstruction in Poetry and Prose

was specifically designed to keep the wood blocks from deteriorating, with a higher altitude with ample ventilation. 

In 1995, the temple has become a UNESCO Heritage Site. in 2000, after painstaking work, the Tripitaka went digital! And, the monks are making a copper version as back-up. Lesson learned from history!  We have heard of several cases where AI is used to help preserve and analyze ancient religious documents, which previously required monks an entire lifetime and could be lost if the specialists died.


The Ugly Little Boy is a short story by American writer Isaac Asimov, also known as ‘the father science fiction’.  It was initially published in 1958 in the popular magazine Galaxy Science Fiction under the title “Lastborn.” The protagonist is a Neanderthal boy that scientists of Stasis Inc. bring to the present. Stasis hires an "unaware" nurse named Edith to take care of him and originally even though he is considered "ape-like" and "ugly" and has lower intelligence by modern humans, Edith grows to love him. She names him "Timmie" and gives him the best education she can and finds out he is smarter than she expected. Finally, the scientists want to return him to his time, but Edith refuses and helps him escape. Something happens and both Edith and Timmie are returned to his time.  

There is no clear ending and leaves readers guessing if the now "more modern and intelligent" Timmie cause the path of time and human development to completely change. It also urged readers to question the concept of "ugliness" as it is based on the judgement of the people making the claim and not really the real case.  

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Now in 2023, I think even though our perceptions of beauty have changed, but maybe we are still prejudiced. For example, some may care more about Timmie's socialization skills or judge him based on his athleticism.  If it is up to me, I will let him decide if he wants to stay in this world or return to his own time. Giving him the choice at least respects him as an individual

This novel is super interesting: steampunk, sci-fi, alternative history and spies all rolled into one. Set in Victorian England, according to the novel's Supersummary cite, "The novel is about three characters: Sybil Gerard, the disgraced courtesan daughter of an executed Luddite rabble-rouser; Edward Mallory, an explorer and paleontologist; and Laurence Oliphant, an actual historical character who uses his job as a travel writer as a cover for his work as a spy. The prize that everyone wants is a box of Engine punch cards—while they are rumored to be a program that would allow gamblers to win bets, in the end, the cards prove Gödel’s Theorem. You can read the full plot at the site and also at Wikipedia too.

The inciting incident is when Charles Babbage an entrepreneurial inventor succeeds in inventing a mechanical computer in 1824. This sets about dramatic social change: Britain becomes a superpower, suppression of anti-technology supporters, global colonization goes haywire with America being several countries and the Irish famine was avoided. 

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WSC asks us to read a short excerpt and from the passage, you will immediately fall into its intricate description and vivid characterization of Sybil meeting one of her father's followers (her father was a Luddite - people who are against technology).   Interestingly, at the end of the book, the time travels to 1991 and we find out the narrator is a computer who has achieved self-awareness. 


I think if people in the 1800s had access to modern technology, it would cause huge social changes, some for the worse and some for the better. With less political systems and establishments for human rights, I predict a lot of wealthy people taking advantage of the system for their own interests, but I also see some cases where social hierarchy would be disrupted as the lower-class have access to ways to achieve financial success. I think people from the 2000s would have a tough time going to be the 1800s, a time without computers and phones. Information sharing, learning, researching, processing information would be very slow and tedious. People would need to learn to be a lot more patient and resourceful. 

Steampunk is a fascinating genre of science fiction that retro-futuristic technology that focuses on the steam engine machinery. They are often set in the Victorian era or the Wild West and feature an alternative history. They often feature anachronistic (out of time order) technology, such as the Nautilus submarine from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Although steampunk literature has been around since the 19th century, the term became popular in the 1980s with other terms such as cyberpunk. If you haven't read a steampunk novel, definitely pick one up. The Difference Engine is a good choice that is on the Top 10 List. 

Across a tapestry of over a dozen novels, the Canadian writer Guy Gavriel Kay has built a past almost like our own, but just a bit more fantastical. It also has an extra moon. His method: to respect the beliefs of the people who lived in any given era. "If I write about a time inspired by the Tang Dynasty and they believed in ghosts, I will have ghosts in the book," he says. "If I write about Celts and Anglo-Saxons and Vikings in the time when they believed there were fairies in the woods, I will have fairies in the woods." His hope is that it allows us to see the past through the eyes of those who lived in it. Read this excerpt from his most recent work, All the Seas of the World, then check out the interview here. Pay special attention to his answer eight minutes in—on his efforts "to tell the stories of people whose stories tended not to be told". Discuss with your team: how different are the roles of an historian and of a writer of historical fiction? Can the latter help fill in gaps left by the former—and, if so, should they?

WSC loves this guy. He was in last year's curriculum too! Kay is a fantasy master who sets his stories in historical times. His most notable works are "The Fionavar Tapestry", a trilogy set in King Arthur's time and "Tigana" set in a world similar to the Renaissance Italy. His novels range from Spanish Reconquista to Tang Dynasty China - an interesting range.  They are full of mythology and legends, which link our understanding of historical times with a world of imagination through dynamic characters and vivid stories.  Here is an interesting interview with him talking about writing style and aspirations.

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Set in the same Renaissance Mediterranean-inspired world as  Children of Earth and Sky and A Brightness Long Ago, Kay's new novel follows Rafel ben Natan and Nadian Bint Dhiyan, merchants and privateers on a mission to assassinate the khalif of Abeneven. The page-turning excerpt introduces the young assassins and their conflicted history, stuck between religious war and culture of Middle East and Europe. 

A historian's responsibility is to report history as truthfully as possible, with facts and interpret first-hand accounts. There should be no bias and the purposes are educational and informative. A historical fiction writer adds a story that links the facts together or tells a side of the story often forgotten. In that sense, the fiction writer does fill in the gaps or inspires us to reflect on the conditions through a personal lens. However, as the purpose of the novel is to entertain, no matter how accurate the setting or historical events, the truth could be twisted or exaggerated to attract and appeal to the readers, such as more action, romance, and complicated relationships.


Master storytellers do this seamlessly, linking the fiction and history together for a deeper artistic appreciation. Check out his interview about how he comes up with amazing

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characters and plotlines.  He explains how historical fiction starting in the 1950s began to cover minorities (people often less covered by history, written by mostly White men), meaning female roles and lower-class citizens.  To get information on these characters, authors would search historical records and other uncommon means to find clues to build out their story. He gave the example of discovering that tailors had higher status than other craftsmen because they were able to enter the homes of aristocracy and he decided to set his main character's father as a tailor who would someone by coincidence find favor for his son.  

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A Dog Has Died was written by Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. This poem celebrates the dog of the poet who was reserved yet joyful.  In fact, in the poem joy was repeated 3 times to show how the poet envied the dog's ability to find happiness. The poem was written originally in Spanish and translated into English. It goes from being a simple statement of death to a reflection of friendship and life's special memories. 

This very short poem makes fun (sadly) of the dodo, it extinction is the only reason it is remembered. It describes the dodo's poor evolutionary adaptations against men and hunting, hinting at men as the enemy of nature's imperfect animals. Henry Carlile is a contemporary American poet and his poem captures the "uselessness" that all of us feel sometimes. 

This is an even shorter poem also lamenting the lack of respect the dodo received. This version was written in 1896 and just describes the dodo's extinction, without clarifying men's role in causing the extinction. 

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This is a cautionary poem about the dangers of unintentional accidents and kids just playing. It describes a mother busy baking and children playing trying to reenact a science experiment. Although the poem ends before the "electrocution" we assume the child is injured or dies. The happy and idyllic tone makes the tragedy all the more surprising. Yet, it seems like an excuse, instead of remorse.

"Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, And say my glory was I had such friends." This is the closing lines of this eulogy/poem that describes Yate's experience going through the Municipal Gallery in Dublin and seeing all the historical figures and recalling how they lived. It is full of nostalgia and thankfulness for the friends he had over the years.


"VI. (An image out of Spenser and the common tongue). John Synge, I and Augusta Gregory, thought All that we did, all that we said or sang Must come from contact with the soil, from that Contact everything Antaeus-like grew strong. We three alone in modern times had brought Everything down to that sole test again, Dream of the noble and the beggar-man. VII And here’s John Synge himself, that rooted man, ‘Forgetting human words,’ a grave deep face. You that would judge me, do not judge alone This book or that, come to this hallowed place Where my friends’ portraits hang and look thereon; Ireland’s history in their lineaments trace. Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, And say my glory was I had such friends."

Yeats is considered one of the most influential poets of the 20th century and he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923. 

In this short one stanza sonnet (lower left), Milton seeks to honor the man Shakespeare was but more importantly the contributions of this literary giant. As it eulogizes Shakespeare's life, it is also an epitaph (words of memory or phrases inscribed on a tombstone). In terms of poetic structure, the poem uses a heroic couplet scheme, meaning that each two lines rhyme. Each line follows an iambic pentameter structure which is also something that Shakespeare used often. In case you are not familiar with iambic pentameter: a rhythmic pattern that consists of 10 syllables per line with alternating stressed and unstressed syllables. The pattern sounds like: da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM da-DUM. 

Milton describes how a great man like Shakespeare would not be satisfied or need a fancy tomb, for his legacy extends beyond the physical. The final four lines are truly magical, summing up how Shakespeare's tomb is in our memories and the passing of his words from generations, a tomb that even kings would envy: 


"Then thou, our fancy of itself bereaving,

Dost make us marble with too much conceiving; 

And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie,

That kings for such a tomb would wish to die."

John Milton is one of the most influential English writers ever, after Shakespeare. He was born in the 1600s and produced many great works, most notably, "Paradise Lost" - according to Britannica, is the greatest epic poem in English.

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Robert G. Ingersoll was a politician and prominent orator. He made an astonishing $3,500 a night for his brilliant and witty speeches exposing orthodox (religious) superstitions. His very cool 3 stanza poem talks about going to the grave of Napolean and imagining the former glory of this military genius. In paragraph one he describes a "gold and gilt tomb - fit almost for a dead deity." Then in stanza 2, with a series of 13 "I saw him -" he captures Napolean's achievements and failures.  "I saw him walking upon the banks of the Seine, contemplating suicide. I saw him at Toulon—I saw him putting down the mob in the streets of Paris—I saw him at the head of the army of Italy—I saw him crossing the bridge of Lodi with the tri-color in his hand—"

In the final stanza, he reflects about Napolean's personal losses of love and how his acts resulted in widows and orphans. He compares Napolean to country peasants who enjoy nature and dies loved by his family and children. In the final lines he exclaims how all that glory is worthless - "I would rather have been that man and gone down to the tongueless silence of the dreamless dust, than to have been that imperial impersonation of force and murder, known as 'Napoleon the Great."

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This poem is short yet instantly nostalgic. According to TheFamousPeople, "Matsuo Basho was a 17th century Japanese poet, considered to be the greatest master of the haiku—a very short form of poetry. The most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan, he was much acclaimed during his lifetime and his fame increased manifold over the centuries following his death." The poem is a very short haiku and in the emptiness the reader can imagine the aura the poet hopes to express.  This powerful poem shows how even just a simple sound can bring back memories. 


Toa Payoh is a town in Singapore and one of the places to go through a dramatic transformation from village to urban center in the last 100 years. Koh Buck Song is a prominent Singaporean poet, popular columnist, and political writer with many achievements.  Many of his poems talk about Singapore unique culture and modernization. In this poem he seems to eulogize the loss of the "good old days" and how it is hard to keep up with the pace of development. 

‘Kubla Khan’ by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a poem that describes the poet’s dream of visiting the palace of Kubla Khan, a Mongol emperor who ruled over the ancient Chinese Yuan Dynasty.  The whole poem feels like it happened in a state of a daydream - actually the poet wrote it after an opium induced 'high'.   Click here for a detailed analysis and modern reading of the poem

In the poem Kubla Khan orders a fantastical, beautiful palace to be built in along the scared river of Aph, in Xanadu. In the palace, they indulge in singing and pleasure. Because he spends so much time on pleasure instead of military conquest he hears, "Ancestral voices prophesying war!" One Abyssinian maid sings of homesickness and Kubla Khan says, ”I would build a dome in air".  The poem is one that describes the beauty and ecstasy, like a dream and fantasy of the past.  The themes are pleasure versus violence, and creativity and limitations to creativity. 

According to, Norman Dubie is a "poet's poet" and one of America's best kept literary secrets. While many contemporary poems are written in a confessional style, a few of his poems are written from the point of view of famous people in history.  Here is the link to the Encyclopedia article that gives a summary of the powerful poem. The poem takes the point of view of Nicholas II, who addresses his mother, Maria Fyodorovna Romanova. He is the heir of the Romanov family and the last Czar of Russia.


The setting is after the royal family is being held by the Bolshevik revolutionaries. The narrator describes Ilya an imaginary character who assembles a "choir of mutes". This is an oxymoron and symbolizes the Czar's powerlessness during the revolution and subsequent World War I. In the poem the Czar regrets Russia going to war with Japan because Ilya dies and was lost to the family. His account humanizes Nicholas II,  as later he proclaims his newfound happiness now that he is not Czar.  He finds happiness in reconnecting with his estranged wife and teaching fractions to school children. The end of the poem foreshadows the execution of the Czar's family, hinting that this may be their last letter.  

The theme of the poem shows how the idea of class is as much a psychological as a social structure and how people’s perception of class is ingrained in their behavior. There are many conflicts in this poem that strike at your heart, from the revolutionary soldier calling the Czar "Great Father" to the Czar's daughter flirting with the soldiers and he sees nothing wrong with it. The paradoxes fill us with confusion and reflection.

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