-Dr. D. B. Gavani
B. A, III SEMESTER ENGLISH OPTIONAL
Lucy Gray - William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was born in 1770 at Cockermouth in
Lake District. He was educated at and then at Hawkshed Grammar School , St. John’s College . His early poems reflect his love for natural beauty, which he expressed in a unique and artificial style. Some of William’s poems are Lyrical Ballads, Poems in Two Volumes and An Evening Walk. William Wordsworth is also known for his achievements as a critic. Cambridge
Introduction of the Poem
Poem entitled Lucy Gray was written in 1799 and published in the second edition of “Lyrical Ballads.” It tells us the story of a simple tragedy in a cold bleak countryside. The poem has a steady and regular rhythm as a longer lines rhyme together as well as the shorter lines rhyme with each other. The language of the ballad is plain and simple.
Lucy Gray was a beautiful little girl who lived in a wild moor with her parents. Their house was located in the countryside far away from the cities. Nobody neighbored their house and Lucy lived without having any friends and playmates.
In Western countryside, it is said that if the moon is clearly seen during daylight, a storm appears in that area. One-day Lucy’s mother went town for shopping in the . After a while, he father realized that the moon can be seen and predicted a storm in few hours. He quickly told Lucy to take a lantern and go to the town to help her mother. Lucy obeyed her father and was on her way to the city.
Unfortunately, the storm appeared as soon as Lucy left for the town. It started to snow thickly that made it difficult for Lucy to see through. As she was wandering in the snowy atmosphere, she fell in a crevice and died. Her mother somehow returned home at night.
When the little girl did not come back, her parents went out in the snowy mountains shouting for their daughter, but they never found Lucy. On their way home, they found footprints on a wooden bridge in the middle. They concluded that perhaps Lucy Gray fell down and had died.
When we go through the hills, a solitary song is heard in the wind, which echoes in the mountains. Some people think that she died that day while some say she lives as a part of nature.
“Strange fits of passion have I known” – Wordsworth
The speaker proclaims that he has been the victim of “strange fits of passion”; he says that he will describe one of these fits, but only if he can speak it “in the Lover’s ear alone.” Lucy, the girl he loved, was beautiful—“fresh as a rose in June”—and he traveled to her cottage one night beneath the moon. He stared at the moon as his horse neared the paths to Lucy’s cottage. As they reached the orchard, the moon had begun to sink, nearing the point at which it would appear to the speaker to touch Lucy’s house in the distance. As the horse plodded on, the speaker continued to stare at the moon. All at once, it dropped “behind the cottage roof.” Suddenly, the speaker was overcome with a strange and passionate thought, and cried out to himself: “O mercy! If Lucy should be dead!”
The stanzas of “Strange fits of passion have I known” fit an old, very simple ballad form, employed by Wordsworth to great effect as part of his project to render common speech and common stories in poems of simple rhythmic beauty. Each stanza is four lines long, each has alternating rhymed lines (an ABAB rhyme scheme), and each has alternating metrical lines of iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter, respectively—which means that the first and third lines of the stanza have four accented syllables, and the second and fourth lines have only three.
This direct, unadorned lyric is one of the most striking and effective of the many simple lyrics like it, written by Wordsworth in the mid to late 1790s and included in the first edition of Lyrical Ballads. This little poem, part of a sequence of short lyrics concerning the death of the speaker’s beloved Lucy, actually shows extraordinary sophistication and mastery of technique. The sophistication lies in the poet’s grasp of human feeling, chronicling the sort of inexplicable, half-fearful, morbid fantasy that strikes everyone from time to time but that, before Wordsworth, was not a subject poetry could easily incorporate. The technique lies in the poet’s treatment of his theme: like a storyteller, Wordsworth dramatizes in the first stanza the act of reciting his tale, saying that he will whisper it, but only in the ear of a lover like himself. This act immediately puts the reader in a sympathetic position, and sets the actual events of the poem’s story in the past, as opposed to the “present,” in which the poet speaks his poem. This sets up the death-fantasy as a subject for observation and analysis—rather than simply portraying the events of the story, Wordsworth essentially says, “This happened to me, and isn’t it strange that it did?” But of course it is not really strange; it happens to everyone; and this disjunction underscores the reader’s automatic identification with the speaker of the poem.
Also like a storyteller, Wordsworth builds suspense leading up to the climax of his poem by tying his speaker’s reverie to two inexorable forces: the slowly sinking moon, and the slowly plodding horse, which travels “hoof after hoof,” just as the moon comes “near, and nearer still” to the house where Lucy lies. The recitation of the objects of the familiar landscape through which the speaker travels—the paths he loves, the orchard-plot, the roof of the house—heightens the unfamiliarity of the “strange fit of passion” into which the speaker is plunged by the setting moon.
“Kubla Khan” – S. T. Coleridge
The speaker describes the “stately pleasure-dome” built in Xanadu according to the decree of Kubla Khan, in the place where Alph, the sacred river, ran “through caverns measureless to man / Down to a sunless sea.” Walls and towers were raised around “twice five miles of fertile ground,” filled with beautiful gardens and forests. A “deep romantic chasm” slanted down a green hill, occasionally spewing forth a violent and powerful burst of water, so great that it flung boulders up with it “like rebounding hail.” The river ran five miles through the woods, finally sinking “in tumult to a lifeless ocean.” Amid that tumult, in the place “as holy and enchanted / As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted / By woman wailing to her demon-lover,” Kubla heard “ancestral voices” bringing prophesies of war. The pleasure-dome’s shadow floated on the waves, where the mingled sounds of the fountain and the caves could be heard. “It was a miracle of rare device,” the speaker says, “A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!”
The speaker says that he once saw a “damsel with a dulcimer,” an Abyssinian maid who played her dulcimer and sang “of Mount Abora.” He says that if he could revive “her symphony and song” within him, he would rebuild the pleasure-dome out of music, and all who heard him would cry “Beware!” of “His flashing eyes, his floating hair!” The hearers would circle him thrice and close their eyes with “holy dread,” knowing that he had tasted honeydew, “and drunk the milk of Paradise.”
The chant-like, musical incantations of “Kubla Khan” result from Coleridge’s masterful use of iambic tetrameter and alternating rhyme schemes. The first stanza is written in tetrameter with a rhyme scheme of ABAABCCDEDE, alternating between staggered rhymes and couplets. The second stanza expands into tetrameter and follows roughly the same rhyming pattern, also expanded— ABAABCCDDFFGGHIIHJJ. The third stanza tightens into tetrameter and rhymes ABABCC. The fourth stanza continues the tetrameter of the third and rhymes ABCCBDEDEFGFFFGHHG.
Along with “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “Kubla Khan” is one of Coleridge’s most famous and enduring poems. The story of its composition is also one of the most famous in the history of English poetry. As the poet explains in the short preface to this poem, he had fallen asleep after taking “an anodyne” prescribed “in consequence of a slight disposition” (this is a euphemism for opium, to which Coleridge was known to be addicted). Before falling asleep, he had been reading a story in which Kubla Khan commanded the building of a new palace; Coleridge claims that while he slept, he had a fantastic vision and composed simultaneously—while sleeping—some two or three hundred lines of poetry, “if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or conscious effort.”
Waking after about three hours, the poet seized a pen and began writing furiously; however, after copying down the first three stanzas of his dreamt poem—the first three stanzas of the current poem as we know it—he was interrupted by a “person on business from Porlock,” who detained him for an hour. After this interruption, he was unable to recall the rest of the vision or the poetry he had composed in his opium dream. It is thought that the final stanza of the poem, thematizing the idea of the lost vision through the figure of the “damsel with a dulcimer” and the milk of Paradise, was written post-interruption. The mysterious person from Porlock is one of the most notorious and enigmatic figures in Coleridge’s biography; no one knows who he was or why he disturbed the poet or what he wanted or, indeed, whether any of Coleridge’s story is actually true. But the person from Porlock has become a metaphor for the malicious interruptions the world throws in the way of inspiration and genius, and “Kubla Khan,” strange and ambiguous as it is, has become what is perhaps the definitive statement on the obstruction and thwarting of the visionary genius.
Regrettably, the story of the poem’s composition, while thematically rich in and of itself, often overshadows the poem proper, which is one of Coleridge’s most haunting and beautiful. The first three stanzas are products of pure imagination: The pleasure-dome of Kubla Khan is not a useful metaphor for anything in particular (though in the context of the poem’s history, it becomes a metaphor for the unbuilt monument of imagination); however, it is a fantastically prodigious descriptive act. The poem becomes especially evocative when, after the second stanza, the meter suddenly tightens; the resulting lines are terse and solid, almost beating out the sound of the war drums (“The shadow of the dome of pleasure / Floated midway on the waves...”).
The fourth stanza states the theme of the poem as a whole (though “Kubla Khan” is almost impossible to consider as a unified whole, as its parts are so sharply divided). The speaker says that he once had a vision of the damsel singing of Mount Abora; this vision becomes a metaphor for Coleridge’s vision of the 300-hundred-line masterpiece he never completed. The speaker insists that if he could only “revive” within him “her symphony and song,” he would recreate the pleasure-dome out of music and words, and take on the persona of the magician or visionary. His hearers would recognize the dangerous power of the vision, which would manifest itself in his “flashing eyes” and “floating hair.” But, awestruck, they would nonetheless dutifully take part in the ritual, recognizing that “he on honey-dew hath fed, / And drunk the milk of Paradise.”
“To a Skylark” – P. B. SHELLEY
The speaker, addressing a skylark, says that it is a “blithe Spirit” rather than a bird, for its song comes from Heaven, and from its full heart pours “profuse strains of unpremeditated art.” The skylark flies higher and higher, “like a cloud of fire” in the blue sky, singing as it flies. In the “golden lightning” of the sun, it floats and runs, like “an unbodied joy.” As the skylark flies higher and higher, the speaker loses sight of it, but is still able to hear its “shrill delight,” which comes down as keenly as moonbeams in the “white dawn,” which can be felt even when they are not seen. The earth and air ring with the skylark’s voice, just as Heaven overflows with moonbeams when the moon shines out from behind “a lonely cloud.”
The speaker says that no one knows what the skylark is, for it is unique: even “rainbow clouds” do not rain as brightly as the shower of melody that pours from the skylark. The bird is “like a poet hidden / In the light of thought,” able to make the world experience “sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not.” It is like a lonely maiden in a palace tower, who uses her song to soothe her lovelorn soul. It is like a golden glow-worm, scattering light among the flowers and grass in which it is hidden. It is like a rose embowered in its own green leaves, whose scent is blown by the wind until the bees are faint with “too much sweet.” The skylark’s song surpasses “all that ever was, / Joyous and clear and fresh,” whether the rain falling on the “twinkling grass” or the flowers the rain awakens.
Calling the skylark “Sprite or Bird,” the speaker asks it to tell him its “sweet thoughts,” for he has never heard anyone or anything call up “a flood of rapture so divine.” Compared to the skylark’s, any music would seem lacking. What objects, the speaker asks, are “the fountains of thy happy strain?” Is it fields, waves, mountains, the sky, the plain, or “love of thine own kind” or “ignorance or pain”? Pain and languor, the speaker says, “never came near” the skylark: it loves, but has never known “love’s sad satiety.” Of death, the skylark must know “things more true and deep” than mortals could dream; otherwise, the speaker asks, “how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?”
For mortals, the experience of happiness is bound inextricably with the experience of sadness: dwelling upon memories and hopes for the future, mortal men “pine for what is not”; their laughter is “fraught” with “some pain”; their “sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” But, the speaker says, even if men could “scorn / Hate and pride and fear,” and were born without the capacity to weep, he still does not know how they could ever approximate the joy expressed by the skylark. Calling the bird a “scorner of the ground,” he says that its music is better than all music and all poetry. He asks the bird to teach him “half the gladness / That thy brain must know,” for then he would overflow with “harmonious madness,” and his song would be so beautiful that the world would listen to him, even as he is now listening to the skylark.
The eccentric, songlike, five-line stanzas of “To a Skylark”—all twenty-one of them—follow the same pattern: the first four lines are metered in trochaic trimeter, the fifth in iambic hexameter (a line which can also be called an Alexandrine). The rhyme scheme of each stanza is extremely simple: ABABB.
If the West Wind was Shelley’s first convincing attempt to articulate an aesthetic philosophy through metaphors of nature, the skylark is his greatest natural metaphor for pure poetic expression, the “harmonious madness” of pure inspiration. The skylark’s song issues from a state of purified existence, a Wordsworthian notion of complete unity with Heaven through nature; its song is motivated by the joy of that uncomplicated purity of being, and is unmixed with any hint of melancholy or of the bittersweet, as human joy so often is. The skylark’s unimpeded song rains down upon the world, surpassing every other beauty, inspiring metaphor and making the speaker believe that the bird is not a mortal bird at all, but a “Spirit,” a “sprite,” a “poet hidden / In the light of thought.”
In that sense, the skylark is almost an exact twin of the bird in Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”; both represent pure expression through their songs, and like the skylark, the nightingale “wast not born for death.” But while the nightingale is a bird of darkness, invisible in the shadowy forest glades, the skylark is a bird of daylight, invisible in the deep bright blue of the sky. The nightingale inspires Keats to feel “a drowsy numbness” of happiness that is also like pain, and that makes him think of death; the skylark inspires Shelley to feel a frantic, rapturous joy that has no part of pain. To Keats, human joy and sadness are inextricably linked, as he explains at length in the final stanza of the “Ode on Melancholy.” But the skylark sings free of all human error and complexity, and while listening to his song, the poet feels free of those things, too.
Structurally and linguistically, this poem is almost unique among Shelley’s works; its strange form of stanza, with four compact lines and one very long line, and its lilting, songlike diction (“profuse strains of unpremeditated art”) work to create the effect of spontaneous poetic expression flowing musically and naturally from the poet’s mind. Structurally, each stanza tends to make a single, quick point about the skylark, or to look at it in a sudden, brief new light; still, the poem does flow, and gradually advances the mini-narrative of the speaker watching the skylark flying higher and higher into the sky, and envying its untrammeled inspiration—which, if he were to capture it in words, would cause the world to listen.
“Ode to the West Wind” – SHELLEY
The speaker invokes the “wild West Wind” of autumn, which scatters the dead leaves and spreads seeds so that they may be nurtured by the spring, and asks that the wind, a “destroyer and preserver,” hear him. The speaker calls the wind the “dirge / Of the dying year,” and describes how it stirs up violent storms, and again implores it to hear him. The speaker says that the wind stirs the Mediterranean from “his summer dreams,” and cleaves the Atlantic into choppy chasms, making the “sapless foliage” of the ocean tremble, and asks for a third time that it hear him.
The speaker says that if he were a dead leaf that the wind could bear, or a cloud it could carry, or a wave it could push, or even if he were, as a boy, “the comrade” of the wind’s “wandering over heaven,” then he would never have needed to pray to the wind and invoke its powers. He pleads with the wind to lift him “as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!”—for though he is like the wind at heart, untamable and proud—he is now chained and bowed with the weight of his hours upon the earth.
The speaker asks the wind to “make me thy lyre,” to be his own Spirit, and to drive his thoughts across the universe, “like withered leaves, to quicken a new birth.” He asks the wind, by the incantation of this verse, to scatter his words among mankind, to be the “trumpet of a prophecy.” Speaking both in regard to the season and in regard to the effect upon mankind that he hopes his words to have, the speaker asks: “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
Each of the seven parts of “Ode to the West Wind” contains five stanzas—four three-line stanzas and a two-line couplet, all metered in iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme in each part follows a pattern known as terza rima, the three-line rhyme scheme employed by Dante in his Divine Comedy. In the three-line terza rima stanza, the first and third lines rhyme, and the middle line does not; then the end sound of that middle line is employed as the rhyme for the first and third lines in the next stanza. The final couplet rhymes with the middle line of the last three-line stanza. Thus each of the seven parts of “Ode to the West Wind” follows this scheme: ABA BCB CDC DED EE.
The wispy, fluid terza rima of “Ode to the West Wind” finds Shelley taking a long thematic leap beyond the scope of “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” and incorporating his own art into his meditation on beauty and the natural world. Shelley invokes the wind magically, describing its power and its role as both “destroyer and preserver,” and asks the wind to sweep him out of his torpor “as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!” In the fifth section, the poet then takes a remarkable turn, transforming the wind into a metaphor for his own art, the expressive capacity that drives “dead thoughts” like “withered leaves” over the universe, to “quicken a new birth”—that is, to quicken the coming of the spring. Here the spring season is a metaphor for a “spring” of human consciousness, imagination, liberty, or morality—all the things Shelley hoped his art could help to bring about in the human mind. Shelley asks the wind to be his spirit, and in the same movement he makes it his metaphorical spirit, his poetic faculty, which will play him like a musical instrument, the way the wind strums the leaves of the trees. The thematic implication is significant: whereas the older generation of Romantic poets viewed nature as a source of truth and authentic experience, the younger generation largely viewed nature as a source of beauty and aesthetic experience. In this poem, Shelley explicitly links nature with art by finding powerful natural metaphors with which to express his ideas about the power, import, quality, and ultimate effect of aesthetic expression.
To Autumn - john keats
Keats’s speaker opens his first stanza by addressing Autumn, describing its abundance and its intimacy with the sun, with whom Autumn ripens fruits and causes the late flowers to bloom. In the second stanza, the speaker describes the figure of Autumn as a female goddess, often seen sitting on the granary floor, her hair “soft-lifted” by the wind, and often seen sleeping in the fields or watching a cider-press squeezing the juice from apples. In the third stanza, the speaker tells Autumn not to wonder where the songs of spring have gone, but instead to listen to her own music. At twilight, the “small gnats” hum above the shallows of the river, lifted and dropped by the wind, and “full-grown lambs” bleat from the hills, crickets sing, robins whistle from the garden, and swallows, gathering for their coming migration, sing from the skies.
Like the “Ode on Melancholy,” “To Autumn” is written in a three-stanza structure with a variable rhyme scheme. Each stanza is eleven lines long (as opposed to ten in “Melancholy”, and each is metered in a relatively precise iambic pentameter. In terms of both thematic organization and rhyme scheme, each stanza is divided roughly into two parts. In each stanza, the first part is made up of the first four lines of the stanza, and the second part is made up of the last seven lines. The first part of each stanza follows an ABAB rhyme scheme, the first line rhyming with the third, and the second line rhyming with the fourth. The second part of each stanza is longer and varies in rhyme scheme: The first stanza is arranged CDEDCCE, and the second and third stanzas are arranged CDECDDE. (Thematically, the first part of each stanza serves to define the subject of the stanza, and the second part offers room for musing, development, and speculation on that subject; however, this thematic division is only very general.)
In both its form and descriptive surface, “To Autumn” is one of the simplest of Keats’s odes. There is nothing confusing or complex in Keats’s paean to the season of autumn, with its fruitfulness, its flowers, and the song of its swallows gathering for migration. The extraordinary achievement of this poem lies in its ability to suggest, explore, and develop a rich abundance of themes without ever ruffling its calm, gentle, and lovely description of autumn. Where “Ode on Melancholy” presents itself as a strenuous heroic quest, “To Autumn” is concerned with the much quieter activity of daily observation and appreciation. In this quietude, the gathered themes of the preceding odes find their fullest and most beautiful expression.
“To Autumn” takes up where the other odes leave off. Like the others, it shows Keats’s speaker paying homage to a particular goddess—in this case, the deified season of Autumn. The selection of this season implicitly takes up the other odes’ themes of temporality, mortality, and change: Autumn in Keats’s ode is a time of warmth and plenty, but it is perched on the brink of winter’s desolation, as the bees enjoy “later flowers,” the harvest is gathered from the fields, the lambs of spring are now “full grown,” and, in the final line of the poem, the swallows gather for their winter migration. The understated sense of inevitable loss in that final line makes it one of the most moving moments in all of poetry; it can be read as a simple, uncomplaining summation of the entire human condition.
Despite the coming chill of winter, the late warmth of autumn provides Keats’s speaker with ample beauty to celebrate: the cottage and its surroundings in the first stanza, the agrarian haunts of the goddess in the second, and the locales of natural creatures in the third. Keats’s speaker is able to experience these beauties in a sincere and meaningful way because of the lessons he has learned in the previous odes: He is no longer indolent, no longer committed to the isolated imagination (as in “Psyche”), no longer attempting to escape the pain of the world through ecstatic rapture (as in “Nightingale”), no longer frustrated by the attempt to eternalize mortal beauty or subject eternal beauty to time (as in “Urn”), and no longer able to frame the connection of pleasure and the sorrow of loss only as an imaginary heroic quest (as in “Melancholy”).
In “To Autumn,” the speaker’s experience of beauty refers back to earlier odes (the swallows recall the nightingale; the fruit recalls joy’s grape; the goddess drowsing among the poppies recalls Psyche and Cupid lying in the grass), but it also recalls a wealth of earlier poems. Most importantly, the image of Autumn winnowing and harvesting (in a sequence of odes often explicitly about creativity) recalls an earlier Keats poem in which the activity of harvesting is an explicit metaphor for artistic creation. In his sonnet “When I have fears that I may cease to be,” Keats makes this connection directly:
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain...
In this poem, the act of creation is pictured as a kind of self-harvesting; the pen harvests the fields of the brain, and books are filled with the resulting “grain.” In “To Autumn,” the metaphor is developed further; the sense of coming loss that permeates the poem confronts the sorrow underlying the season’s creativity. When Autumn’s harvest is over, the fields will be bare, the swaths with their “twined flowers” cut down, the cider-press dry, the skies empty. But the connection of this harvesting to the seasonal cycle softens the edge of the tragedy. In time, spring will come again, the fields will grow again, and the birdsong will return. As the speaker knew in “Melancholy,” abundance and loss, joy and sorrow, song and silence are as intimately connected as the twined flowers in the fields. What makes “To Autumn” beautiful is that it brings an engagement with that connection out of the realm of mythology and fantasy and into the everyday world. The development the speaker so strongly resisted in “Indolence” is at last complete: He has learned that an acceptance of mortality is not destructive to an appreciation of beauty and has gleaned wisdom by accepting the passage of time.
Ode to a Nightingale - john keats
The speaker opens with a declaration of his own heartache. He feels numb, as though he had taken a drug only a moment ago. He is addressing a nightingale he hears singing somewhere in the forest and says that his “drowsy numbness” is not from envy of the nightingale’s happiness, but rather from sharing it too completely; he is “too happy” that the nightingale sings the music of summer from amid some unseen plot of green trees and shadows.
In the second stanza, the speaker longs for the oblivion of alcohol, expressing his wish for wine, “a draught of vintage,” that would taste like the country and like peasant dances, and let him “leave the world unseen” and disappear into the dim forest with the nightingale. In the third stanza, he explains his desire to fade away, saying he would like to forget the troubles the nightingale has never known: “the weariness, the fever, and the fret” of human life, with its consciousness that everything is mortal and nothing lasts. Youth “grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies,” and “beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes.”
In the fourth stanza, the speaker tells the nightingale to fly away, and he will follow, not through alcohol (“Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards”), but through poetry, which will give him “viewless wings.” He says he is already with the nightingale and describes the forest glade, where even the moonlight is hidden by the trees, except the light that breaks through when the breezes blow the branches. In the fifth stanza, the speaker says that he cannot see the flowers in the glade, but can guess them “in embalmed darkness”: white hawthorne, eglantine, violets, and the musk-rose, “the murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.” In the sixth stanza, the speaker listens in the dark to the nightingale, saying that he has often been “half in love” with the idea of dying and called Death soft names in many rhymes. Surrounded by the nightingale’s song, the speaker thinks that the idea of death seems richer than ever, and he longs to “cease upon the midnight with no pain” while the nightingale pours its soul ecstatically forth. If he were to die, the nightingale would continue to sing, he says, but he would “have ears in vain” and be no longer able to hear.
In the seventh stanza, the speaker tells the nightingale that it is immortal, that it was not “born for death.” He says that the voice he hears singing has always been heard, by ancient emperors and clowns, by homesick Ruth; he even says the song has often charmed open magic windows looking out over “the foam / Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.” In the eighth stanza, the word forlorn tolls like a bell to restore the speaker from his preoccupation with the nightingale and back into himself. As the nightingale flies farther away from him, he laments that his imagination has failed him and says that he can no longer recall whether the nightingale’s music was “a vision, or a waking dream.” Now that the music is gone, the speaker cannot recall whether he himself is awake or asleep.
Like most of the other odes, “Ode to a Nightingale” is written in ten-line stanzas. However, unlike most of the other poems, it is metrically variable—though not so much as “Ode to Psyche.” The first seven and last two lines of each stanza are written in iambic pentameter; the eighth line of each stanza is written in trimeter, with only three accented syllables instead of five. “Nightingale” also differs from the other odes in that its rhyme scheme is the same in every stanza (every other ode varies the order of rhyme in the final three or four lines except “To Psyche,” which has the loosest structure of all the odes). Each stanza in “Nightingale” is rhymed ABABCDECDE, Keats’s most basic scheme throughout the odes.
With “Ode to a Nightingale,” Keats’s speaker begins his fullest and deepest exploration of the themes of creative expression and the mortality of human life. In this ode, the transience of life and the tragedy of old age (“where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, / Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies”) is set against the eternal renewal of the nightingale’s fluid music (“Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!”). The speaker reprises the “drowsy numbness” he experienced in “Ode on Indolence,” but where in “Indolence” that numbness was a sign of disconnection from experience, in “Nightingale” it is a sign of too full a connection: “being too happy in thine happiness,” as the speaker tells the nightingale. Hearing the song of the nightingale, the speaker longs to flee the human world and join the bird. His first thought is to reach the bird’s state through alcohol—in the second stanza, he longs for a “draught of vintage” to transport him out of himself. But after his meditation in the third stanza on the transience of life, he rejects the idea of being “charioted by Bacchus and his pards” (Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and was supposed to have been carried by a chariot pulled by leopards) and chooses instead to embrace, for the first time since he refused to follow the figures in “Indolence,” “the viewless wings of Poesy.”
The rapture of poetic inspiration matches the endless creative rapture of the nightingale’s music and lets the speaker, in stanzas five through seven, imagine himself with the bird in the darkened forest. The ecstatic music even encourages the speaker to embrace the idea of dying, of painlessly succumbing to death while enraptured by the nightingale’s music and never experiencing any further pain or disappointment. But when his meditation causes him to utter the word “forlorn,” he comes back to himself, recognizing his fancy for what it is—an imagined escape from the inescapable (“Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well / As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf”). As the nightingale flies away, the intensity of the speaker’s experience has left him shaken, unable to remember whether he is awake or asleep.
In “Indolence,” the speaker rejected all artistic effort. In “Psyche,” he was willing to embrace the creative imagination, but only for its own internal pleasures. But in the nightingale’s song, he finds a form of outward expression that translates the work of the imagination into the outside world, and this is the discovery that compels him to embrace Poesy’s “viewless wings” at last. The “art” of the nightingale is endlessly changeable and renewable; it is music without record, existing only in a perpetual present. As befits his celebration of music, the speaker’s language, sensually rich though it is, serves to suppress the sense of sight in favor of the other senses. He can imagine the light of the moon, “But here there is no light”; he knows he is surrounded by flowers, but he “cannot see what flowers” are at his feet. This suppression will find its match in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” which is in many ways a companion poem to “Ode to a Nightingale.” In the later poem, the speaker will finally confront a created art-object not subject to any of the limitations of time; in “Nightingale,” he has achieved creative expression and has placed his faith in it, but that expression—the nightingale’s song—is spontaneous and without physical manifestation.
“Tears, Idle Tears” - Lord Alfred Tennyson
The speaker sings of the baseless and inexplicable tears that rise in his heart and pour forth from his eyes when he looks out on the fields in autumn and thinks of the past.
This past, (“the days that are no more”) is described as fresh and strange. It is as fresh as the first beam of sunlight that sparkles on the sail of a boat bringing the dead back from the underworld, and it is sad as the last red beam of sunlight that shines on a boat that carries the dead down to this underworld.
The speaker then refers to the past as not “fresh,” but “sad” and strange. As such, it resembles the song of the birds on early summer mornings as it sounds to a dead person, who lies watching the “glimmering square” of sunlight as it appears through a square window.
In the final stanza, the speaker declares the past to be dear, sweet, deep, and wild. It is as dear as the memory of the kisses of one who is now dead, and it is as sweet as those kisses that we imagine ourselves bestowing on lovers who actually have loyalties to others. So, too, is the past as deep as “first love” and as wild as the regret that usually follows this experience. The speaker concludes that the past is a “Death in Life.”
This poem is written in blank verse, or unrhymed iambic pentameter. It consists of four five-line stanzas, each of which closes with the words “the days that are no more.”
“Tears, Idle Tears” is part of a larger poem called “The Princess,” published in 1847. Tennyson wrote “The Princess” to discuss the relationship between the sexes and to provide an argument for women’s rights in higher education. However, the work as a whole does not present a single argument or tell a coherent story. Rather, like so much of Tennyson’s poetry, it evokes complex emotions and moods through a mastery of language. “Tears, Idle Tears,” a particularly evocative section, is one of several interludes of song in the midst of the poem.
In the opening stanza, the poet describes his tears as “idle,” suggesting that they are caused by no immediate, identifiable grief. However, his tears are simultaneously the product of a “divine despair,” suggesting that they do indeed have a source: they “rise in the heart” and stem from a profoundly deep and universal cause. This paradox is complicated by the difficulty of understanding the phrase “divine despair”: Is it God who is despairing, or is the despair itself divine? And how can despair be divine if Christian doctrine considers it a sin?
The speaker states that he cries these tears while “looking on the happy autumn-fields.” At first, it seems strange that looking at something happy would elicit tears, but the fact that these are fields of autumn suggests that they bear the memories of a spring and summer that have vanished, leaving the poet with nothing to look forward to except the dark and cold of winter. Tennyson explained that the idea for this poem came to him when he was at Tintern Abbey, not far from Hallam’s burial place. “Tintern Abbey” is also the title and subject of a famous poem by William Wordsworth. (See the “Tintern Abbey” section in the SparkNote on Wordsworth’s Poetry.) Wordsworth’s poem, too, reflects on the passage of time and the loss of the joys of youth. However, whereas Tennyson laments “the days that are no more” and describes the past as a “Death in Life,” Wordsworth explicitly states that although the past is no more, he has been compensated for its loss with “other gifts”:
That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more
And all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
Thus, although both Wordsworth and Tennyson write poems set at Tintern Abbey about the passage of time, Wordsworth’s poem takes on a tone of contentment, whereas Tennyson’s languishes in a tone of lament.
“Tears, Idle Tears” is structured by a pattern of unusual adjectives used to describe the memory of the past. In the second stanza, these adjectives are a chiastic “fresh...sad...sad...fresh”; the memory of the birth of friendship is “fresh,” whereas the loss of these friends is “sad”; thus when the “days that are no more” are described as both “sad” and “fresh,” these words have been preemptively loaded with meaning and connotation: our sense of the “sad” and “fresh” past evokes these blossomed and withered friendships. This stanza’s image of the boat sailing to and from the underworld recalls Virgil’s image of the boatman Charon, who ferries the dead to Hades.
In the third stanza, the memory of the past is described as “sad...strange...sad...strange.” The “sad” adjective is introduced in the image of a man on his deathbed who is awake for his very last morning. However, “strangeness” enters in, too, for it is strange to the dying man that as his life is ending, a new day is beginning. To a person hearing the birds’ song and knowing he will never hear it again, the twittering will be imbued with an unprecedented significance—the dying man will hear certain melancholy tones for the first time, although, strangely and paradoxically, it is his last.
The final stanza contains a wave of adjectives that rush over us—now no longer confined within a neat chiasmic structure—as the poem reaches its last, climactic lament: “dear...sweet...deep...deep...wild.” The repetition of the word “deep” recalls the “depth of some divine despair,” which is the source of the tears in the first stanza. However, the speaker is also “wild with all regret” in thinking of the irreclaimable days gone by. The image of a “Death in Life” recalls the dead friends of the second stanza who are like submerged memories that rise to the surface only to sink down once again. This “Death in Life” also recalls the experience of dying in the midst of the rebirth of life in the morning, described in the third stanza. The poet’s climactic exclamation in the final line thus represents a culmination of the images developed in the previous stanzas.
DOVER BEACH - MATTHEW ARNOLD
The Poet, Mathew Arnold is standing by the seashore and watching the gentle waves splashing the sandy shores of the Straits. There is a weak breeze that blows gently and the sea looks calm for the night. The tide is full of potential yet under self control and the moon looks bright as it shines its beams on the quiet sea. From the French Coast across the English Channel to the high sea cliffs of England, the light shines pleasantly and softly, and gets weakened towards the tranquil bay of England.
The poet tells his companion to come to the window of his cabin and enjoy the sweet aroma of the night air. Watching the seashore from this height, one can only witness the waters of the sea that acts as a catalyst when they touch the moonlit blended Colour of the sands. Sometimes they hear the roar of the sea when the pebbles cross over to the high sandy beaches and move back suddenly with the withdrawing waves. This phenomenon continues every evening throughout the night with a slow trembling note and the presence of melancholy is felt.
he poet makes his reference to ‘Sophocles’ a famous Greek dramatist long ago, of the 5th Century B.C. to a passage in his play ‘Antigone’(line-583). Here the same eternal note of sadness can be heard on the ‘Aegaean’: an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea, between Southern Balkans and Anatolia. This brought to the dramatist’s mind the muddy movement of the tide away from the land and its flow, the tide of misfortune that rules human misery. That same similar sound can be heard in the thoughts from the distant sea in the north.
The mighty sea was once a beholder of faith with its vastness that touches all the shores of the earth around the globe, lay folded like a bright girdle cord worn around the waist and rolled up fastened and firm. Yet now, the sounds of the waves in the sea are only notes of melancholy; long drawn; advancing and retreating at the breath of the night wind that blows down the vast yet dull and gloomy edges of the bare shingles of the world. The beaches that are covered with coarse sand and large stones.
The poet finally appeals to his beloved companion to be honest with each other, for the world that they live in, which looks so beautiful and new, and lay before them like a land of dreams, does not have joy, love or spiritual light. There is no certainty for help in times of trouble and peace. All the mortals live in this world in a dark state of mind and the struggle for survival is no less different from ignorant armies that fight throughout the night.
“My Last Duchess” - Robert Browning
This poem is loosely based on historical events involving Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara, who lived in the 16th century. The Duke is the speaker of the poem, and tells us he is entertaining an emissary who has come to negotiate the Duke’s marriage (he has recently been widowed) to the daughter of another powerful family. As he shows the visitor through his palace, he stops before a portrait of the late Duchess, apparently a young and lovely girl. The Duke begins reminiscing about the portrait sessions, then about the Duchess herself. His musings give way to a diatribe on her disgraceful behavior: he claims she flirted with everyone and did not appreciate his “gift of a nine-hundred-years- old name.” As his monologue continues, the reader realizes with ever-more chilling certainty that the Duke in fact caused the Duchess’s early demise: when her behavior escalated, “[he] gave commands; / Then all smiles stopped together.” Having made this disclosure, the Duke returns to the business at hand: arranging for another marriage, with another young girl. As the Duke and the emissary walk leave the painting behind, the Duke points out other notable artworks in his collection.
“My Last Duchess” comprises rhyming pentameter lines. The lines do not employ end-stops; rather, they use enjambment—gthat is, sentences and other grammatical units do not necessarily conclude at the end of lines. Consequently, the rhymes do not create a sense of closure when they come, but rather remain a subtle driving force behind the Duke’s compulsive revelations. The Duke is quite a performer: he mimics others’ voices, creates hypothetical situations, and uses the force of his personality to make horrifying information seem merely colorful. Indeed, the poem provides a classic example of a dramatic monologue: the speaker is clearly distinct from the poet; an audience is suggested but never appears in the poem; and the revelation of the Duke’s character is the poem’s primary aim.
But Browning has more in mind than simply creating a colorful character and placing him in a picturesque historical scene. Rather, the specific historical setting of the poem harbors much significance: the Italian Renaissance held a particular fascination for Browning and his contemporaries, for it represented the flowering of the aesthetic and the human alongside, or in some cases in the place of, the religious and the moral. Thus the temporal setting allows Browning to again explore sex, violence, and aesthetics as all entangled, complicating and confusing each other: the lushness of the language belies the fact that the Duchess was punished for her natural sexuality. The Duke’s ravings suggest that most of the supposed transgressions took place only in his mind. Like some of Browning’s fellow Victorians, the Duke sees sin lurking in every corner. The reason the speaker here gives for killing the Duchess ostensibly differs from that given by the speaker of “Porphyria’s Lover” for murder Porphyria; however, both women are nevertheless victims of a male desire to inscribe and fix female sexuality. The desperate need to do this mirrors the efforts of Victorian society to mold the behavior—gsexual and otherwise—gof individuals. For people confronted with an increasingly complex and anonymous modern world, this impulse comes naturally: to control would seem to be to conserve and stabilize. The Renaissance was a time when morally dissolute men like the Duke exercised absolute power, and as such it is a fascinating study for the Victorians: works like this imply that, surely, a time that produced magnificent art like the Duchess’s portrait couldn’t have been entirely evil in its allocation of societal control—geven though it put men like the Duke in power.
A poem like “My Last Duchess” calculatedly engages its readers on a psychological level. Because we hear only the Duke’s musings, we must piece the story together ourselves. Browning forces his reader to become involved in the poem in order to understand it, and this adds to the fun of reading his work. It also forces the reader to question his or her own response to the subject portrayed and the method of its portrayal. We are forced to consider, Which aspect of the poem dominates: the horror of the Duchess’s fate, or the beauty of the language and the powerful dramatic development? Thus by posing this question the poem firstly tests the Victorian reader’s response to the modern world—git asks, Has everyday life made you numb yet?—gand secondly asks a question that must be asked of all art—git queries, Does art have a moral component, or is it merely an aesthetic exercise? In these latter considerations Browning prefigures writers like Charles Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde.