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British Poetry (MEG1) – Notes

Age Period Features Prominent Poets Notes/Comments


Metaphysical Age 17th century John Donne Donne – “The
George Herbert Extasie”
Andrew Marvell Herbert – “Pulley”

Augustan/Neoclassical Early 18th Classical period of John Dryden Dryden – “Mac


Age century elegant literature Alexander Pope Flecknoe”
Pope – “The Epistle
to Dr. Arbuthnot”

Victorian Age 1837-1901 Robert Browning Browning –


D.G. Rosetti “Sordello”, “Fra
Christina Rosetti Lippo Lippi”
Oscar Wilde

Romantic Age Late 18th to Early William Blake Blake – “The Tyger”
19th century
William
Wordsworth

Samuel Taylor
Coleridge

Romantic Age – Same as above Percy Bysshe Shelley – “The


Second Generation Shelley Triumph of Life”

John Keats Keats – “Hyperion”

Modernist Age William Butler Yeats – “Adam’s


Yeats Curse”, “No Second
Troy”, “Easter 1916”

Postmodernist Age

Poet Poem Features


Geoffrey Chaucer The Canterbury Tales Chaucer is regarded as one of the greatest story
tellers in English verse.
About a diverse group of pilgrims who are on
their way to Canterbury; pilgrims spend the
night at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, a
suburb of London to visit the shrine of St.
Thomas Becket in Canterbury, 59 miles
away, and wake up early next morning to set off
on their journey; they wanted to go there to seek

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cures for illness, gain remission for sins and
satisfy their curiosity; before continuing, the
narrator declares his intent of describing each
member of the group. Each pilgrim is to tell 2
tales on the way to Canterbury and two tales on
the return trip to London; tales will be judged by
the Host on their moral value and the winner
will receive a dinner at the Tabard Inn paid for
by the other pilgrims on the return trip. Chaucer
planned to write 124 tales, but could only
complete 24 before his death. The tales have
irony, comedy and satire, used for commenting
on the social problems of the poet’s age,
especially the church’s hypocrisy and
worldliness.
The knight is the noblest of the pilgrims;
mercenary. Only the knight and his son, the
Squire 1 , qualify as true aristocrats, both
inwardly and outwardly.
The Merchant illegally made his money by
selling French coins (a practice forbidden in
England at the time).
The Sergeant of Law made his fortune by using
his knowledge as a lawyer to buy up foreclosed
property for practically nothing.
Clerk has gentle manners and an extensive
knowledge of books.
The craftsmen (specialized labourers) like the
Haberdasher, the Dyer, the Carpenter, the
Weaver and the Tapestry-Maker do not tell any
tale.
Cook is a master of his trade and his respected
by the fellow travellers.
The Shipman has immense knowledge by virtue
of his travels throughout the world.
The Wife of Bath is presented for her
knowledge and deportment 2 and her many
pilgrimages.
The Parson and the Plowman, though poor and
lower class, represent all the Christian values.
The Reeve 3 tells dirty stories and cheats his
trusting young master.
The corrupt Summoner takes bribes.
The Pardoner sells false pardons and fake relics.
Chaucer used the device of pilgrimage to depict
the people of 14th century England; pilgrims
represent 3 sections of the society: the feudal,

1
A man of high social status who owned land
2
The way in which a person stands and moves
3
The law officer in England in the past

2
the ecclesiastical (church) and the urban.

“Woman is man’s joy and all his bliss” – lines


from the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”; voiced by
Chauntecleer while describing Pertelote’s
beauty. It further says that its right that woman
is the source of a man’s happiness because when
it feels the soft touch of Pertelote’s feather
during the narrowness of their perch, it still feels
happy, for it knows that no nightmare or dream
bothers it.

The Canterbury Tales consist of The General


Prologue, The Tales and The Talk on the Road.
The Nonne Preestes Tales (The Tales) cannot be
understood in isolation, as it belongs to the
series of various other tales. The first tale is
being told by the Knight. His is a romantic tale,
which he tells in a heroic manner.

The Miller tells the tale of an Oxford Carpenter


who sits in a tub waiting for the Noah’s flood
and is ready to row.
The monk tells the tale about the fall of a
princess, which is followed by the tale that we
are concerned about, the Nonne Preestes Tale.
The tale is followed by the Wife of Bath’s tale,
which is about a Knight and an old woman
helping him to solve a riddle which has not been
solved before.

This section is mostly dominated by the host’s


talk; we witness different qualities of not only
the host but also of other pilgrims. The Knight
intervenes as a peacemaker in the exchange of
angry abuses between the Host and the
Pardoner. All the quarrels and disputes that we
witness in this section revolve around the ages
old war of the sexes. Apart from the discussion,
quarrels and disputes, we also have some
confessions, which help us in bringing the true
self of the pilgrims to the reader’s notice; they
also provide a background of honesty and
sincerity that is helpful in the spiritual progress
of the text.

A number of stories occur side by side in the


NPT. Some of these are about the dreams which
are told by the cock and the priest. The stories
appear in such a way that it seems that we are
witnessing a story in a story. The dream stories

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are embedded in the fable, the fable in the
widow’s story, the widow’s story in the
priest’s and the priest’s story in the CT. The 3
story tellers of this tale are the cock, the priest
and the poet himself. The first two tellers are
indeed the creation of the third.

Just like Shakespeare, Chaucer too did not


create his own stories. However, like
Shakespeare, Chaucer too was an expert in
providing a new texture to the borrowed
concepts.

One of the most dramatic aspects of the tale is


that we don’t have a single word from the author
directly. We witness the Knight, the Host and
the Priest talking in the prologue to the tale. In
the tales, we see its characters, the priest and the
story-teller talking. The author is almost absent
except in a few phrases.

The only human character who is described to


some length is the widow. We are told that she
lives a simple life by the illustration of her
slender meals.

Irony lies in the core NPT’s structure. It has


been employed mostly by the use of wit. We
have the fox and the cock (rooster) outwitting
each other by turn. The use of irony is perhaps
quite apparent in the character and description
of the priest. His characteristics demand the use
of irony in his criticism against the prioress to
be specific and women in general (which is why
he has been regarded as a misogynist by critics).

One of the most interesting aspects of the tale is


the digression of the dream, which in fact is
more interesting than the central story itself.
Pertelote’s character has been used for creating
a dramatic effect and for reflecting the ‘age-old
war of the sexes’.

Sermon: It becomes somewhat obvious for the


story to be a sermon when we have a story-teller
who is a priest. In the end, we are presented with
the three morals drawn by the three characters of
the story – the Cock, the Fox and the Priest.

The moral drawn by the Cock is that one should


always keep his eyes open. The fox loses the

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game and meets the justification of his act.

Mock heroic: The NPT is told in the form of a


fable, which is defined as a narration in which
animals speak and act like humans. The priest
tells of a rooster in charge of hens, closely
relating his own authority over women. The
fable is a mock-heroic, which is a story that
relates to an epic, taking a trivial subject and
blowing it out of proportions.

Comedy: Chaucer creates much humour in the


NPT’s tale in a variety of ways. Although many
of these may not be so obvious to the readers of
today, in Chaucer’s time, they would have been
more appealing to the people’s sense of humour.
The most common way is his presentation of
characters and the way those characters,
especially when they are animals, represent
human characteristics. Chaucer, being a well-
read man that he was, had obviously studied
human behaviour extensively and it shows in the
way he created comedy in the NPTs and the
whole of Canterbury Tales. His comic methods
are successful as they are based on a close
observation of humans and animals. The trivial
events have been enlarged to look lofty and
grand. For example, the Fox has been compared
to Judas, etc. Similarly, the taking away of the
Cock has been equated with well-known,
historical events of the past e.g. the capture of
Troy, etc.

Dreams are the backbone of the NPT. The story


begins with a dream and ends up in a dream.
Dreams were also present in the source fable but
there the focus of attention was Chauntecleer’s
tale, whereas the dream had a secondary role to
play. On the other hand, in NPT, the dreams
make the basis of the story and the fate of
Chauntecleer is not much important. Here, the
dream is the main source through which a lot of
humour flows. The poem begins with a short
description of a widow having two daughters
and some humble household articles required for
the basic necessities of life. Then, there is a long
and tiresome discussion between Chauntecleer
and Pertelote with regard to the sanctity attached
to the dreams.

While Chauntecleer believes that the dreams are

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true and signify coming events, Pertelote
disagrees to this point of view. They both give
examples to substantiate their viewpoints.
Pertelote quotes Cato, who said dreams are of
no pertinence. Chauntecleer alludes to writers
who were of the view that dreams are true and
signify the joys and troubles of our life. He
refers to two tales from the past to prove the
reality of dreams:

1) Two friends go to pilgrimage. One the


way, they have to stay at separate
lodgings. At night, one of them witness
the friend being murdered in his dreams
and the dream proves true in the
morning.
2) A man is commended in dreams to
refrain from setting sail in the morning
as the ship is going to meet a wreck on
that day. This dream comes true.
Chauntecleer gives several other references
from history to prove his viewpoint. He also
makes dreams a vehicle for discussing issues
like causes of dreams, an ideal man and an ideal
woman, predestination, humour, irony of fate,
pleasures of life, etc. Pertelote is of the view that
we witness horrible dreams due to constitutional
disorders and imbalance of humour. She
suggests Chauntecleer to take some digestives
and laxatives 4 . During the discussion,
Chauntecleer also tells that in the eyes of a
woman, an ideal man is brave, wise and broad-
minded, with emotional self-control and who is
not cruel and miser. He also discusses the
qualities of an ideal woman and her role in a
man’s life, calling her “a man’s joy and all her
bliss”. She has to encourage the man, please
him, uplift him when he is frustrated and
despaired and help him through thick and thin.

We have a very sharp contrast between the


scientific and superstitious points of view (about
dreams) in the tale. Both seem to be true to a
certain extent. It seems that Chaucer himself
was not sure about any of them.

Themes: (1) Attitude of the church towards the


poor and the wealthy.
(2) Contrast of the scientific view of dreams

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A medicine, food or drink that makes somebody empty their bowels easily

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with the popular or superstitious view;
(3) The man-woman relationship;
(4) Contrast between freewill and
predetermination.

The tale: The fable concerns a world of talking


animals who reflect both human perception
and fallacy. Its protagonist is Chauntecleer, a
proud rooster who dreams of his approaching
doom in the form of a fox. Frightened, he
awakens Pertelote, the only hen among his
seven wives with whom he is infatuated. She
assures him that he only suffers from indigestion
and chides him for paying heed to a simple
dream. Chauntecleer then recounts stories of
prophets who foresaw their deaths and dreams
that came true. He is comforted by Pertelote and
proceeds to a great new day. However,
unfortunately, his own dream was correct. The
fox that had tricked his father and mother to
their downfall now lies in wait for him. When
Chauntecleer spots him, the fox plays to his
prey’s inflated ego and overcomes the cock’s
instinct to escape by insisting that he would love
to hear Chauntecleer crow just as his amazing
father did, with his neck outstretched, eyes
closed and standing on his tiptoes. When the
cock sticks his neck out and closes his eyes, he
is promptly snatched from the yard in the fox’s
jaws. As the fox flees through the forest, the
captured rooster suggests that the fox should
pause to tell his pursuers to give up their chase.
The predator’s own pride is now his undoing; as
the fox opens his mouth to taunt his pursuers,
Chauntecleer escapes from his jaws and
proceeds to fly to the nearest tree. The fox tries
in vain to convince the wary rooster, who now
prefers the safety of the tree and refuses to fall
for the same trick a second time.
John Donne Good Morrow Written from the point of view of an awaking
lover who describes his thoughts of waking up
next to his partner; Catholic legend of Seven
Sleepers (7 Christian children who were
persecuted by Roman emperor for their faith);
Donne was a baptised Catholic.
John Donne The Canonisation The poet celebrates the realisation of the
ultimate bliss through love; he likens his union
with his beloved to that of the phoenix. They
burn themselves to be consumed by the power
of love and are regenerated. Donne does not
consider the physical passion as the ultimate aim

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of love, but only a stage of development in the
process of being canonised.
Andrew Marvell To His Coy Mistress Charles I’s execution in 1949 was an
unprecedented event in England’s history, and
Marvell was acutely aware of its political and
spiritual implications. According to the
contemporary “divine right”, the monarch was
appointed not by the people, but by the divine
ordinance of his birthright; thus, any trespass
against the king was a sin against God. The
absolutist Charlest I would take this principle to
an extreme; Only God, he believed, could
overrule his judgment. In the wake of the
Protestant Reformation, the Parliament decided
to execute their king, as a result of long-brewing
discontent with both Charles’s absolutism and
his seeming encouragement of the anti-reformist
practice within the English church.
Marvell, indicatory of this ambivalent historical
moment, supported the antiroyalist Oliver
Cromwell as England’s Lord Protector in the
country’s interregnum government – even
serving as a tutor to his family – yet also penned
a sympathetic description of the executed king.
His speaker in “To His Coy Mistress” rebels
unequivocally against the figure of the monarch.
He engages in hyperbolic 5 reverence for an
elusive woman made famous in the medieval
sonnets of the Italian poet Petrarch. The speaker
then turns his beloved from this immortal, ideal
object of reverence to a possible co-conspirator
against godlike “Time”, which does hold the
power of life and death. Forewarning his
mistress of “Time’s winged chariot”, he gives a
crude description of her dead body in the grave.

The speaker creates an image of chaos and


disorder: worms will violate his beloved and his
“lust” will become ashes. Despite his apparent
sexual bravado with his “mistress”, the speaker
demonstrates an acute consciousness of his own
disempowerment throughout the poem. In the
final stanza, he proposes a subversive
overthrow6 of “Time” itself.

Marvell even suggests a mystical experience:


the soul appears to escape from the body and
transported up into the trees where ‘like a Bird it

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Deliberately exaggerated
6
Seditious

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sits, and sings’. The symbolism of the soul as a
bird is an ancient one, found in various myths,
though Marvell may be describing a real
experience in this simile. The soul is preparing
itself ‘for longer flight’, that is, the journey back
to heaven. We are at the other extreme of
Donne’s love poetry, as seen in The Extasie,
where the out-of-body experience must end by a
return to the body. Marvell would be happy if he
never returned.

Another feature used in this poem is the colour


symbolism. Here, as throughout the poem, green
is the literal colour of the garden, but Marvell
also plays with the other meanings of the word:
mild, jealous, immature, tender, flourishing,
gullible, unseasonal, perceptibly fresh and new.
Andrew Marvell The Garden This poem, which reflects on a beautiful garden
in a way which evokes the lost Garden of Eden,
is generally considered Marvell’s finest work. It
is the poem that most clearly expresses his
pastoralism and Platonism. Greek philosopher
Plato’s philosophy, together with that of
Aristotle, dominated Western philosophy well
into the 19th century. Plato’s philosophy is that
what we would call “ideal”, meaning that the
world of ideas and ideals is more important than
the outward material world. Our soul longs to
return to heaven. It is restless while it is
‘entrapped’ in the body. In general, Marvell is
describing a mystical perception in ‘The
Garden’, though his focus is not on God as such,
but a perception of the divine. The metre used
in ‘The General’ is Marvell’s favourite: the
iambic tetrameter. This is one of the most
perfectly controlled and ordered poems in the
English language.
The poem opens on the theme of ambition.
Human efforts seek recognition. Symbolically,
the recognition is in the form of a crown made
from some tree or shrub – at least that is how the
visitors were crowned in the classical times.
However, to make these crowns, branches have
to be cut down and therefore their life is
shortened. They fade, cut off from their natural
source of life. If left in their natural state, they
would offer people peace and tranquillity.
John Keats Hyperion An epic poem that tells the despair of the Titans
after their fall to the Olympians; the poem opens
with Saturn bemoaning the loss of his power to
Jupiter; the Titans sit and discuss whether they

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should fight back against the conquest by the
new Gods or not.
T. S. Eliot The Waste Land The poet compares modern life to hell;
highlights the “unreal” modern cities,
unsavoury 7 sexual practices and indulgent
lifestyles in the poet’s time; the poet remembers
watching a crowd flowing over the London
Bridge like zombies. The sunken gang and limp
leaves waiting for rain symbolise hope and
optimism for a better future. The black clouds
may be a visible possibility of a better future.
Edmund Spenser Epithalamion Spenser blended renaissance and reformation
perfectly in his poetry; Renaissance brought in
a lot of interesting features to poetry such as an
innovative taste in music, rich imagination, fine
expression and strong patriotic feelings. He
never encouraged the effect of mysticism and
wanted his intellect to rule his thoughts and
works.
No direct mention of class, but it is obvious
from the fusion of different Classical legends,
local folklore and Christian myths that the
poem was inspired by the newly developed
Reformist-Christian ideas; shows the
beginning of a new class – a class not of princes
and nobility but of people belonging to
commerce and trade.
Regarded as Spenser’s most successful fusion of
diverse poetic traditions and styles; platonic and
Christian perspectives combined; an excellent
amalgamation of classical and Christian beliefs.
Poem starts with traditional invocation of
muses, who are asked to join the marriage
ceremony as bridesmaid. He celebrates his love
for Elizabeth Boyle by underlining her virtues –
constant chastity, unspotted faith, comely 8
womanhood, mild modesty and regard of
honour. This poem takes its setting and several
of its images from Ireland, where Spenser’s
wedding with Boyle took place. Spenser’s love
for the Irish countryside is clear through his
vivid descriptions of the natural world
surrounding the couple.
Edmund Spenser Prothalamion Few similarities with Epithalamion, but
different themes. Some of the common devices
are use of pastoral setting, use of river
Thames; use of a couplet at the end of the
first stanza, which is reworked into refrain at

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Morally unacceptable
8
Attractive

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the end of its subsequent stanza. In both the
poems, pagan gods are invoked to bless the
couples.

Epithalamion is highly sensual and consistent in


its themes, whereas the Prothalamion is shorter,
pensive 9and slow in its pace.

In Prothalamion, no attempt to elaborate the


wedding or festivity following the wedding (i.e.
no mention of the wedding night as in the case
of Epithalamion). Poet has instead emphasized
on bridal procession down the Thames, leading
up to Essex House, where the wedding will be
solemnized. Non-religious gods are described to
bless the couples so as to protect them from all
evils.

Poem directly linked to poet’s biography; poem


talks about the difficulties Spenser had to face
due to being an outsider to the court; depicts
Spenser’s anger on the whole patronage system,
which was considered as extremely important
for a poet’s survival in the Elizabethan court;
“Lord” in the poem refers to the Earl of
Leicester, who was Spenser’s patron; more of a
song of unhappiness than the song of wedding.
Edmund Spenser Amoretti The poet compares his beloved breasts with the
autumnal fruit and the legendary golden apple,
respectively. His intention is not to evoke the
sense of eroticism by describing the physical
beauty, rather he is trying to establish a
relationship between physical beauty and the
spiritual virtue. He intends to make a bridge
between eroticism and spiritualism. He clearly
suggests that his beloved is so full of virtues and
religious and moral purity that even the sight of
her breasts can make him appreciate her
qualities rather than simply evoking physical
desire. He also suggests that his beloved herself
is an embodiment of paradise, one where the
sensual and spiritual were not two different
things but one complete whole. By saying so, he
is simply fusing the platonic ideals of love with
the Christian myths and values.
John Dryden Mac Flecknoe Dryden did not just confine himself to the arena
of poetry but also exercised in the arena of
drama and drama criticism. This shows the
diversity of his talent. He began his career in

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Thinking deeply about something, especially because you are sad or worried

11
poetry in the period of civil war. One of his
earliest poems was an elegy on the death of the
‘Protector, Oliver Cromwell was written in
1658. His greatest works are political satires.
Both as a poet and a person, he kept shifting his
loyalties, which causes much of the critical
confusion about his work. As Milton’s poetic
career was affected by the Restoration of 1660,
Dryden’s got affected by the revolution of 1688.
Dryden’s major contribution to English is the
heroic couplet, of which he is considered a
master. Pope, who himself was one of the
greatest masters of heroic couplet in English
verses, said that he learned it from Dryden.
Dryden’s mastery owes to his dramatic
experiment. He is also considered as the father
of English criticism.

Dryden’s success and fame naturally garnered


him enemies. His political satire in 1681 brought
him further favour with Charles I, who was
pleased at this attack against the Whigs10. This
naturally provoked counterattacks, including
Thomas Shadwell’s The Medal of John Bayes.
Dryden in turn responded with Mac Flecknoe,
full of ridicule for Shadwell, perhaps his most
entertaining poem.

Dryden had long grappled with religious


uncertainty, and converted into Roman
Catholicism in 1686, the year after the ascension
to the throne of King James II, a Catholic. In
1687, he published an allegorical fable
criticizing the Anglican church. He suffered for
this almost immediately. The Revolution of
1688, which placed the Protestant William III on
the throne, caused him to be deprived of his
laureateship, and what was worse; he was
replaced by his old enemy, Shadwell.

He was a master of open and thoughtful mind.


He once said: thoughts, such as they are, come
crowding in so fast upon me, that my only
difficulty is to choose or to reject them, to run
them into a verse, or to give them other harmony
of prose.

In his last decade, Dryden was more engaged in


translation of Latin classics. During this time, he

10
The Liberal Party

12
also wrote some of his finest criticism like the
criticism of Chaucer and The Discourse on
Satire, and also some of his best poems. His
creative and artistic power remained constant
irrespective of his growing age.

An attack on bad literature by way of an


excellent use of satire; the chief goal was to
create a lampoon on Shadwell (and hence the
use of rhetoric devices to make the work seem
more believable), the end product is something
more than a lampoon; the opening lines
introduce Flecknoe, who is comparable to
emperor Augustus, who has the power in the
realms of nonsense; giving value to something
that the poet considers valueless; Dryden praises
Richard Flecknoe for his ignorance in the poetic
world; Dryden abbreviates the complete name,
Shadwell, as Sh…; Flecknoe explains that
Shadwell has to be his successor because he is
very weak in poetic expression. Dryden
describes that Flecknoe has never entered the
“nursery”, a London theatre for boys and girls to
study drama; Shadwell’s character elevated to
be belittled as he gets Flecknoe’s crown of
dullness and stupidity; concept of an aging
monarch who now wants to choose a successor
of his thrown; the preparation for coronation is
made and Dryden mockingly describes that,
instead of carpets, there are piles of the limbs of
mangled poets; Flecknoe is on the throne and
Shadwell vows to uphold the dullness so
successfully maintained by Flecknoe; Flecknoe
as a king crowns Shadwell as the heir; Dryden
continuously mocks Shadwell, who has to
advance ignorance and fruitless industry
(referring to his unproductivity as a writer);
Flecknoe advises Shadwell to let dullness come
naturally to him; as an obedient “son”, Shadwell
is to agree with everything Flecknoe advises
him. He forbids Shadwell to associate himself
with their former poet, Ben Johnson as
following in his footsteps will make Shadwell a
great dramatist. The “blood” relationship
between Shadwell and Flecknoe is only
fictitious. According to Dryden, it will be
naturally better for Shadwell just to follow
Flecknoe, who is weak in art, than imitating
Johnson’s greatness; the structure is complex
and needs serious attention in the modern
context; the poem has a grand opening and

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Shadwell’s status is elevated as the new heir of
the Kingdom, but this is, in fact, a mockery as
the kingdom is the kingdom of nonsense.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge Dejection: An Ode11 One of the greatest romantic poems; depicts a
great spirit of romantic revival in its emotional
depth, passionate feeling, intensity of experience
and expression, selection of image, lyrical flow
and structural arrangement; Romantic traits like
the subjective approach that the world is no
more than what we think about it and that is
imagination is the most important thing; another
Romantic trait is the importance given to the
human mind; the theme of the poem is but the
poet’s mood or mental state; the poet says that
he has lost the power to feel, but the entire poem
is about the expression of despair and anguish;
poet seems to be talking about the apprehension
of loss than real loss.
Dante Gabriel Rosetti The Blessed Damozel Rosetti was only 19 when he wrote the Blessed
Damozel. It is a beautiful story about how two
lovers are separated by the death of the Damozel
and how she wishes to enter paradise, but only if
she can do so in the company of her beloved.
One of Rosetti’s most famous poems, it has
been dissected and explicated many times by
many different people; the theme is that
separated lovers are to be rejoined in heaven; his
young vision of love was very picturesque; the
heaven painted in this poem is warm with
physical bodies and beautiful angels full of
love; others say that the heaven was described
so in his poem because he was still young and
immature about such matters and had not yet
seen the ugliness and despair that love can bring
(which he experienced later in his life upon the
demise of his true love Elizabeth).
Poem flows easily from one line to the next,
brimming with symbolism. First few stanzas tell
of how the Damozel is in heaven, overlooking
the Earth and thinking of her lover; there are
few stanzas in the poem where the narrative
jumps to the lover, wherein he is talking about
his beloved. Heaven, its location and the fact of
other lovers reuniting around here as she sits and
watches alone has also been described in the
following stanzas. Then the earthbound lover
describes the sound of her voice like a bird’s
song, which tells the reader that he is not just
thinking about her, but can also hear her and feel

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A poem that speaks to a person or thing

14
her around him. The Damozel doesn’t
understand why she must be miserable in
heaven when all others are with their loved
ones. It is in this stanza that the poet lets us
know that she has not yet entered the heaven;
she is at the outer gates of the kingdom of
heaven. She tells how they will be together
again someday in the heaven and how she will
teach him the songs she sings. She says that the
two worlds separating them can’t keep them
apart in thought, but it is not possible to be
together. Near the end of the poem, she finally
realizes that she can have none of this till the
time comes. She suddenly becomes peaceful and
lets the light take her in.
Rosetti used the ideas of Christian belief to write
his poem; it explores if two lovers or anyone
will be reunited once again in heaven; the poem
is both optimistic and idealistic.
Christina Rosetti Goblin Market An early work considered as one of Rosetti’s
masterpieces; intended simply as a fairy story;
the poem’s suggestive language has caused it to
be practically ignored as children’s literature
and instead regarded as an erotic exploration of
sexual fantasy, a commentary on capitalism and
Victorian market economy and a Christian
allegory about temptation and redemption.
Critics have looked to Rosetti’s life for
interpretive keys. Her love affairs and work with
Oxford Movement, in which she helped to
rehabilitate prostitutes, have helped to achieve a
greater understanding of the poem. Critics rarely
agree about theme as poem suggests a variety of
meanings.
Obvious themes like: “one should be careful of
temptation”, “little girls should not talk to
strange men” and even “sisters should love each
other”; however, the poem is rather complex and
able to support a more revolutionary reading
than such trite 12 ideas. Rather than saying that
“Goblin Market” has a particular theme, it
would be better to put forth the notion that it
attempts to deal with certain problems that
Rosetti recognized within the canon of English
literature, and specifically with the problem of
how to construct a female hero as there were
significant female heroes up to Rosetti’s time.
Female protagonists like Elizabeth in Austen’s
Pride and Prejudice had no outlet for heroic

12
Dull and boring

15
action and their roles were constrained place
upon them by a male-dominated society. Rosetti
did create a basic framework of behaviour in
which the heroine might operate and was
slightly, though not completely, successful in
her efforts.
Throughout the poem, Lizzie remains pure and
actively pursues temptation with the intention of
conquering it. When she sees Laura getting
wasted away, she makes a desperate effort to
save her sister’s life by getting her the fruit.
When the Goblins refuse to sell her the fruit and
attack Lizzie, she forbears temptation and keeps
her mouth closed. Eventually, she saves Laura
by running home and asking her to suck the
juices from Lizzie’s face; the reader is left
confused as to whether she was cured by the
juices or her sister’s love.
Related to a woman’s heroic and self-sacrificing
action (related to Christ’s sacrifice) to save her
sister; but the problems are there as it is a
passive kind of heroism whereby Lizzie does
not attack the Goblin men or weave a spell upon
them; she is rather force to offer herself up to
the goblin’s physical and sexual abuse, which
indicate that Rosetti herself had not reached a
satisfactory conclusion on the subject of female
heroism.
Some critics say that Rosetti’s romantic
relationships influenced the poem.
Sylvia Plath Lady Lazarus Plath was a confessional poet in that her poems
often spoke about personal failures and
breakdowns, and this feeling often gets extended
to the sense of self-destruction; theme of suicide
and death central to their poems; many
confessional poets, including her, were suicidal
in their real life. Her poem Lady Lazarus
expresses her suicidal tendency beyond any
limitations.
In this poem, she speaks of her previous suicide
attempts; although based on her personal
experience, it has been given wider applicability
as the poetess invokes the Egyptian myth of the
Phoenix, which periodically destroys itself and
is then reborn from the ashes. The private
suffering is also equated with the public
suffering (that of the Jews) to give it a bit of
universality; strong autobiographical element
despite her best efforts to conceal them.
Sylvia Plath Daddy The poem is a response to Plath’s complex
relationship with her father, Otto Plath, who

16
died shortly after her eighth birthday as a result
of undiagnosed diabetes. The poem represents
the ambivalent feelings that she expresses
against her dead father; references to her mixed
parental background. The feeling like a foot in a
black shoe reflects the feeling of suffocation.
She has been living that way for thirty years.
John Donne The Extasie My soul is the real “me”, but my body is how I
interact with the world. The poet demonstrates
that the inward union of the body and soul of a
man is achieved through the outward union of a
man and a woman; the soul realizes and knows
itself through the experience of love.
George Herbert Pulley The poet talks about God bestowing all the gifts
to man except one and that would be peace so
that it acts like a pulley to draw man back to the
divine grace; emphasizes the dignity of
humankind, bestowed by a God who is
thoughtful, generous and kind. Although the
poem doesn’t suggest that humankind is
disastrously flawed and impotent, it does show
the limits of human powers and the liabilities of
earthly existence.
John Milton L’Allegro and Il Penseroso Both these poems complement each other
structurally and contain images which are in
specific dialogue with each other, so much so
that it is nearly impossible to understand and
appreciate L’Allegro without also having read
its companion piece, Il Penseroso. Whereas
“L’Allegro” is “the happy person” who
spends an idealized day in the country and a
festive evening in the city, “Il Penseroso” is
“the thoughtful person” whose night is filled
with meditative walking in the woods and
hours of study on “L’Allegro”.

In the Life of Milton, Samuel Johnson states that


“poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth,
by calling imagination to the help of reason”.
Johnson had specific ideas on the use of natural
settings in the poetry, and commented that
Milton, in The Paradise Lose, does not evoke a
true view of the nature. He saw nature through
the spectacle of books. This comment lends
credence to Wordsworth’s criticism of the Neo-
classical poets that they are more concerned
with form and less concerned with substance
and feeling in poetry. Johnson, like
Wordsworth, believed that poetry should be
more than mere pleasure, that is should impart a
moral quality to the reader as well.

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John Milton Lycidas Written to commemorate the death of Edward
King, Milton’s college mate.
William Blake The Tyger Blake’s triadic division of poetry: he believed
that the function of poetry is to recreate the
oneness with life which has been lost. For him,
the 18th century represented the fall, the period
or the age of reason was for him, equivalent to
the eating of forbidden fruit. It seemed that he
was against intellect, for he believed that the
intellectual ways of seeing things have
destroyed the earlier perception about the world,
and poetry is the medium that can restore the
earlier perception in the reviving of the heart.

The poet reminds the readers that a tiger and a


lamb have been created by the same god and
raises questions about the implications of this.
He also puts questions to God asking him
whether he is happy to see his work on Earth.
William Wordsworth The Prelude An autobiographical poem written in blank
verse 13 ; an extremely personal and revealing
work on Wordsworth’s life. He began it at the
age of 28 and continued to work on it
throughout his life. In this poem, he reveals that
a huge hill is moving towards him, as if on its
own will. The poet is taken to another plane
of realisation, which is different from this real
world.
Robert Browning Fra Lippo Lippi The poet talks about Filippo Lippi, a 15th
century real life painter, who faces the conflict
of a religious life committed to the church or a
life of leisure.
Robert Browning Porphyria The poem is one stanza long, written in simple,
conversational style but with a strictly
maintained rhyme. The speaker is apparently a
madman who cites embracing a woman
(Porphyria). He claims to have murdered her the
night before. He says that she came to his
cottage, kindled a fire and then sat beside him
and told him that she loved him. It is suggested
that Porphyria is richer than he is and that’s why
they cannot be together as she is already married
and is richer than he is. The speaker assumes
that if she could, she would want to be with him
forever. He strangles her to preserve the moment
in which she loves him. The poem is a dramatic
monologue.

13
Poetry that has a regular rhythm

18
William Butler Yeats No Second Troy The poet wonders why should blame her (Maud
Gonne 14 ) for his unhappiness and the reckless
manipulation of the emotions of Irish
commoners to rouse political violence. Then he
asks whether it would even have been possible
for her to be a peaceful person. His rhetorical
question is also a warning of an apocalyptic
future “was there another Troy for her to burn”
as he wonders if her fiery brand of nationalism
and the attractions she held for men were
responsible for a revolution that would leave the
city of Dublin in flames.
William Butler Yeats Adam’s Curse The poet describes the difficulty of creating
something beautiful. The title refers to the
Genesis, evoking the fall of man and the
separation of work and pleasure. Yeats relates
his struggle in writing poetry to the struggle
women have in maintaining their beauty. He
believes that it is customary that, once a woman
a woman is born, they must sustain their
appearance. Yeats further implies that women
do not talk about their “labour to be beautiful”
because it is an everyday standard. He traces
back women’s struggles to the fall of Adam. He
suggests that ordinary and simple tasks now
require a great deal of work. This poem
reiterates his traditional ideas and beliefs about
feminine beauty. Yeats frames a philosophical
argument: that because of the curse of labour
placed upon Adam by God when the former
was expelled from the Garden of Eden, every
worthwhile human achievement (particularly
those aimed at achieving beauty, whether in
poetry, physical appearance, or love) requires
hard work. Behind the natural, unsophisticated
feel of the poem, of course, lies a great deal of
hard work and structure – just as the poem’s
speaker says must be true of poetry in general.
William Butler Yeats Easter 1916 This poem is related to the events of the Easter
Rising staged in Ireland against British rule on
Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. The uprising
was unsuccessful and most of the Irish
republican leaders involved were executed for
treason. Yeats is well aware of the common
identity he shares with the people who are
insignificant to him as individuals, but have a
common identity and are all united in a fight for
their homeland of Ireland. According to Yeats,

14
An English-born Irish revolutionary, feminist and actress who was won over to Irish nationalism by the plight of
the evicted people

19
the birth of these people is both terrible and
beautiful because while the fight for
independence will inevitably cause bloodshed
and death, it will also finally unite the people for
the cause of their beloved country. This line is
the theme of the poem. Although Yeats
memorializes the patriots of Easter 1916, he
illustrates the stagnant indifference and
conformity in Ireland prior to the Rebellion
through his description of the leading figures in
the Easter Rebellion. He suggests that the dream
of Irish independence has not yet materialized
because people talked of rebellion and politics,
but before Easter 1916, they obediently
conformed to England’s rule rather than actively
pursuing change. By focusing on their daily life,
instead of their political involvement, Yeats
suggests the humanity of Ireland’s heroes and
indicates that common citizens have the ability
to effect a change in society if they rebel against
obedient conformity and “ignorant goodwill”.
He implies that the figures of the Rebellion
should be respected for their participation in an
event that will evoke change in Ireland.
Evaluated on their individual merits, the
participants of the Easter Rebellion are one of
the many insignificant figure shouting to be
heard until “their voice grew shrill”. Through
their efforts to instigate change in Ireland, these
figures establish their own coming of age. Yeats
emphasizes that by rebelling against the
established ruling class, the martyrs of the
Easter Rebellion overcome their former
weaknesses and establish their memory as
heroes.
A stone represents an inanimate object that stays
the same. The state of constancy is the important
aspect of this world. The stone will forever be a
stone, as will the deaths of those mentioned
earlier. The stone, whose purpose is “to trouble
the living stream”, hinders the flow of water.
This entire stanza has a motif15 of nature.
He leaves this poem as a legacy and memorial to
all those people who are united by their
dedication to the heroic dream of giving Ireland
everything they could. Yeats continues to say
that wherever the spirit of Ireland lies,
represented by people wearing the colour
“green”, those people will be forever changed.

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Theme

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The “terrible beauty”, dying for this beautiful
dream, has been born.

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