United States Naval Academy

 

 

 

HE302, Forms of Poetry

Spring 2009

 

                                    Texts

Fussell, Poetic Meter & Poetic Form (PMPF)

Gioia, 100 Great Poets (100 Great)

Milton, Paradise Lost (PL)

                            

 

P  O  S  T  I  N  G  S

1.  Course Policies, Goals, and Assignments  (click)

2   Assignment for Paper #1--Explication (click)

3.  Sample Full Explications (click)

4.  Quizzes and Sample Answers (click)

5.  Directions for Poetry Reading Assignment (click)

6.  Assignment for Paper #2--Multiple Options (click)

7.  Practice versification test (click)

8.  Versification Test and Answers (click)

9.  Sonnet writing and workshop guidelines (click)

10. Context Exercise (click)

11. Gallery of Sonnets (click)

12. Successful Papers on Assignment #1 (click)

13. Study Guide for the Final Exam (click)

14. Grade Table (click)

15. Sample paper on "The Truth the Dead Know" (click)

Schedule of Readings, Assignments and Activities

A Note on the Organization of the Course

The activities and readings in this course will unfold in a recursive way:  we will read poems and discuss them and also read about versification, poetic language and poetic forms, even though those two activities will not unfold as a step-by-step narrative.  We will allow ourselves to read and discuss assigned poems as thoroughly as we can, dealing with their themes and symbolism, say, even if they are assigned at a place in schedule that highlights a particular concern, such as meter.  We will allow ourselves to return to poems for further looks in light of what we have studied.  And all along, we will be using terms about which we will not necessarily have read, terms such as personification, context, metaphor, etc., that apply as readily to passages of prose as to poetry.  This is the most ‘technical” course in the English Department and so part of what you will learn in this course is a specialized vocabulary, the basic words of which appear in the far right column of the syllabus in an order, I must emphasize, that does NOT necessarily correspond to our sequence of readings.  When we use and discuss one or more of these terms during a class session, I will "turn it on" by changing its font from black to red, by which signal you will know that you are responsible for understanding and being able to use it.  More on course requirements at the bottom the following syllabus.

                 

                                Date                                                                Readings                                                                   Topics and Activities                                         Terms of the Trade

  

WK  1

Jan  7

Introduction to the Course

Discuss "The Man He Killed" (click)

Note:  by the end of the course, you ought to be able to define, recognize and provide an example to illustrate the following terms.  I will change the terms to red font as soon as we have discussed them.  Make sure to insist that we revisit anyone of them along the way if it has become “code red” and you still don’t understand it.

For short, reliable definitions of most of these terms go to this Bedford Books sponsored glossary of literary terms (click).

 

Metrics

prosody

stress

scansion

foot

meter

iamb

anapest

trochee

dactyl

spondee

pyrrhic

line

monometer

dimeter

trimeter

tetrameter

pentameter

hexameter

accentual verse

syllabic verse

accentual-syllabic verse

enjambment

caesura

free verse

blank verse

 

Sound Effects

rhyme

off-rhyme

alliteration

assonance

dissonance

cacophony

euphony

onomatopoeia

 

Structural Conventions

stichic

strophic

stanza

couplet

quatrain

ballad stanzas

elegaic quatrain

stanza

sonnet

terza rima

tail-rhyme

 

Thematic Forms or Types of Poems

sonnet

villanelle

epigram

limerick

ballad

dramatic monologue

elegy

ode

epic/heroic form

mock heroic

pastoral

lyric

 

Figures of Speech and "other"

epithet

poetic diction

 

 

 

 

 

Jan  9

PMPF: Ch 1

100 Great: Frost, 302-303; Rich, 504; Yeats, “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad” (click)

"Strict and loose iambic"; what is poetry?

 WK 2

Jan 12

PMPF: Ch 2

100 Great:  Owen, 377-78; Reed, “Naming of Parts” (click); Roethke, 435; Coleridge, 156-58; Keats, 170; Byron, 163

Scansion practice metrical analysis; Quiz on meter (click)

 

Jan 14

100 Great: Blake, 128 & 129-30; Frost, “Out, Out” (click); Eliot, “Journey of the Magi” (click)

The whole experience

 

Jan 16

PMPF: Ch 3, first half

100 Great: Arnold, 233; Hecht (click); Yeats, 284 & 286; Marvell, 82-83

Scansion--hands on; tension/opposition

WK  3

Jan 19

No Class--King's Birthday

R&R

  Jan 20

PMPF: Ch 3, second half

100 Great:  Hopkins, 269; Tennyson, 204

Recognizing and analyzing metrical variation; Quiz

 

Jan 21

PMPF: Ch 4

100 Great:  "Her Kind," 501; "Stopping by Woods . . .," 302;

Sexton video:  click

Historical conventions and meter; Practice versification test (click)

 

Jan 23

PMPF: Ch 5

100 Great: Whitman, 220; Pound 324 -327; Whitman, 228-31 ; Blake, "Tiger, Tiger," 129

Free verse: in class readings (Matt Baldwin, Trevor Byrne)

WK 4

Jan 26

PMPF: cont.

100 Great:  Williams, 314-18; Stevens, 306; Hayden 445; Wright 499; Stafford, “Traveling through the Dark” (click)

Free verse, cont. ; in class reading (Becky Roper)

 

Jan 28

Open

PMPF: Ch 6100 Great: "An Irish Airman," 284; "Introduction to Poetry" (click)

Criticism and metrical analysis

 

Jan 30

Open Test on Versification

WK  5

Feb  2

PMPF: Ch 7

100 Great: Shakespeare’s sonnets 35-41; "Counting the Beats," 389

 Forms of poetry—the sonnet ;  in class readings (Patty Cooke);

 

Feb  4

100 Great:  Donne, 50-52; Milton, 73; Wordsworth, 153; Shelley, 164; Keats, 168-70; Rossetti, 238; Frost

Sonnets (click)

Sonnet, cont.; in class reading (Ashley Asdal)

Quiz on Sonnet

 

Feb  6

100 Great: Ransom, 372; Millay, 373 & "What Lips My Lips," 376; Owen, 377; cummings, 381 & 385; Kees, 450; Brooks 460; Lowell, 464; Wright, 498; Hill, 520-21; Hap, 260-61

Sonnet, cont.; in class readings (John Grace)

WK  6

Feb  9

Open (Bring Completed sonnets to class)

Sonnet workshop (click)

 

Feb 11

Sonnets from Romeo and Juliet (click); the sonnet's "narrow room" (click)

Sonnet workshop, cont. 

Sonnet Due

Feb 13

PMPF: Ch 8 127-31

100 Great:  Chaucer, 8-9; Frost, “Nothing . . .,” 302; Jonson, 52-54; Yeats, “Adam’s Curse” (click) Marvell, 82-83.

Couplets; Discuss Context Exercise

WK  7

Feb 16

No Class—Presidents’ Day

 R&R

  Feb 18 100 Great: Owen, 379-80; Stevens, “The Emperor . . .,” 305-6; Jonson, “Inviting . . .” (click); Herrick, “Delight . . .,” 60 Couplets

 

Feb  20

100 Great: Pope, 103-7 (Compare Job 38  click); "The Toys" (236)

Heroic couplets; epigram.  in class readings (Maryanna Sheck)

 WK  8

Feb  23

PMPF: Ch 8, 131-33

100 Great: Frost, 303-304; Herrick 60; Pound, “In a Station,” 327; Wilbur, 473 ; "Supermarket in California" (click)

Tercets and triplets; in class readings (Drew Knowles, Jacky Jordan,)

 

Feb  25

PMPF: Ch 8, 133-34

100 Great: Dickinson, 240-41; Keats, 170-72; Robinson, 288-89; “Sir Patrick Spens” (click); “Lord Randall” (click); The Three Ravens” (click); “The Twa Corbies” (click) Bonny Barbara Allan” (click); Randall, “Ballad of Birmingham” (click); Auden 418-19

Ballad

 

Feb 27

Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (click) ; "Cross," 401

Literary Ballad; Scanning passages (click)

in class readings (Alana Abernathy)

 

WK  9

 

Mar  2

PMPF: Ch 8, 134-39;  Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (click), cont.

100 Great: Milton, 68-71

Elegy

Paper 1 Due

Mar  4

100 Great: Gray, 108-111; Longfellow, 185-87; Tennyson, 206-7; Housman, 271; Roethke, 435-36; Auden, 420; Heaney, “Mid-Term Break” (click);

Elegy; in class readings (D.J. Green)

 

Mar  6

PMPF: Ch 8, finish

100 Great:  Burns, 135-36; "The Weary Blues," 403

Elegy;

WK 10

Mar  9

100 Great:  Wordsworth, 145-51;

Elegy & Ode; in class readings (Ashley Taylor)

 

Mar 11

100 Great:  Keats, 172-79; Salter, “Home Movies: A Sort of Ode” (click);  (American Football - Poem by Harold Pinter )

Ode;   in class readings (Jack Hale, Scott Reider)

  Mar  13 100 Great:  Shelley, 165; Frost “To a Moth Seen in Winter” (click) Ode

WK11

Mar 16-Mar 20

No Class--Spring Break

R & R

WK 12

Mar 23

Limerick (click;), epigram (click), haiku (click) (also Daily Haiku click)

Short Forms

 

Mar 25

100 Great:  Tennyson, 202-3; Browning, 210-11; Frost. 298-99

 (Dramatic) Monologue; in class readings (Andrew Mays)

 

Mar 27

  100 Great:  Eliot, 344-48

 (Dramatic) Monologue

WK 13

Mar 30

PL, BK 1

Blank verse and epic conventions

 

Apr  1

PL, BK 2

Blank verse and epic conventions

 Context Exercise Due

Apr  3

PL, BK 9

Blank verse and epic conventions

Here we begin our “free” reading:  I assign two authors for each class meeting; you read them and one poet of your choice.  We’ll thereby approach the poems outside of a directed “forms of poetry” format and practice recognizing conventions from the ground up and use those skills to build upon our personal interests. You should come to class having at least provisionally decided on each poem’s form, its verse, its tone, and one example at least of its meaningful use of form and/or versification.

 

WK 14

Apr  6

100 Great: cummings and Herbert

in class readings (Nicholas Reynolds)

 

 

Apr  8

100 Great: Langston Hughes and Rich

 

  

Apr 10

100 Great: Frost and Pound; "Ego" (click)

in class readings (Emily London. Carissa Guthrie)

WK 15

Apr 13

100 Great: Williams and Stevens

in class reading (Corey Sheeron)

 

Apr 15

100 Great: Hardy and Herrick

 

 

Paper 2 Due

Apr 17

100 Great: Dickinson and Blake

 

 

WK 16

Apr 20

100 Great: Dylan Thomas and Roethke

Villanelle; in-class readings Dave Parker

    

Apr 22

100 Great: Levertov and Simpson

in class readings (Griff Griffith)

 

 

Apr 24

100 Great: Ginsberg and Whitman

 

WK 17

Apr 27

Conclusions

 

WK 18

 May 5

  7:55

Final Exam   (Sampson 002)  ( Click her for Study Guide)

 

                                                                            

Goals, Policies, and Requirements

1.  Goals. To improve your ability to appreciate, understand, and intelligently criticize various forms of poetry written during different periods and to help you advance your ability to write coherent, organized, and thoughtful essays.

2.  Instruction.  Mainly discussions; occasional, informal lecture; short student presentations and readings; plenty of announced and unannounced in-class writing, quizzes and exercises.  My aim also is to use the syllabus as instruction by providing models of successfully and imaginatively completed assignment and papers and by displaying successful student work.

3.  Assignments and Grading.  

Assignments, Rationale, and Grading

 

                                        Assignment                                                                                              Rationale                   Grade

exercises and quizzes.  The exercises will involve practice with prosody, with literary language, and with forms; the quizzes combine practice of skills with an assessment of how well you have read the day’s assignment, which will involve short answer questions along with identification and discussion of quotations from the readings.  Click here to see the quizzes and exercises we will have done.

“Use it or lose it”-- practice and feedback

about

15%

1 versification test.  A chance to see how well you can scan verse, understand the poets’ uses of the line, and recognize metrical variations and their functions. 

Can you use what we’ve practiced?

about 10%

1 poetic composition: sonnet.  Click here to see a discussion of standards for grading and also acceptable practices for the workshop session on the sonnet.

“Takes one to know one” (aka “teamwork”)

about 10%

1 in-class, oral reading of a poem (14-20 lines) accompanied by a page-long explanation of what aspects of the poem the reading tries to capture and what problems it tries to clarify (choose from poems in 100 Great).  We’ll have a lottery of reading dates in the second week of classes—pick a date from a “cover.”  For a further explanation of the assignment click here.

Reading as interpretation

about 10%

2 essays, about 4 pages each.

One (click here for the assignment):  complete explication of a short poem

 

Two  (click here for the full assignment):

a) an analysis of a very specific poetic issue as it cuts across a number of poems—

b) a comparison of the relative "success" of similar poems--which I will assign--in achieving their ends;  c) an examination of how a poet took a draft to final version, and what he/she produced in the way of expressive force through that process; or

a small portfolio of four poems you write during the semester.

chance to do something “real” and coherent with what we’ve been practicing

about 35%

Final exam:  half objective definition of terms and half application of versification, literary language and structural elements studied in the course.  The syllabus and all exercises and handouts amount to the “study guide” for this project.

another opportunity for you to excel and me to assess—let’s face it!

about 20%

 

"Standards" for paper grading are described in HE111&112 Guidelines.

4.  Due Dates.  Expect me to be capricious (totally arbitrary and unpredictable) in dealing with late papers.  Papers are due during the class period, not anytime during the day.

5.  Re-writes.  On an ad hoc basis, but generally I want you to rewrite papers before handing them in. I am happy to look at early drafts, opening paragraphs, sections, etc. of papers and assignments, or to help you brainstorm if you're having trouble getting started. 

6. Quiz/In-Class Exercise Policy.  No make up of missed quizzes--grade will be prorated.  You will need to make up missed in-class essays and other exercises and presentations.

E.I. Policy.  I give E.I. willingly during my office hours and by appointment.  With e-mail you will not have any trouble reaching me to schedule a session.

8.  Plagiarism.  I encourage collaboration--talk with classmates about readings and assignments, read each others' work, help each other learn!  Just do not present others' words and thoughts as if they were your own.  See USNAINST 1610.38 and the discussion of plagiarism in HE111&112 Guidelines.

9.  Marking and Grades.  I use letter grades on papers and numbers such as 7.5/10 on other assignments.  Ninety percent and above is an A of some sort ; 80% and above a B of some sort; and so on.  An F is 50%; no hand-in is a 0.  If you do not want me to put grades on your essays, let me know.  Important: you must hand in all assigned work in order to pass the course.
 

 

 



 
 
 
 
 

 


         The Man He Killed

       "Had he and I but met
        By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
        Right many a nipperkin! 

        "But ranged as infantry,
        And staring face to face,
I shot at him and he at me,
        And killed him in his place.

        "I shot him dead because – 
        Because he was my foe, 
Just so – my foe of course he was; 
        That's clear enough; although 

        "He thought he'd 'list perhaps, 
        Off-hand like – just as I – 
Was out of work – had sold his traps – 
        No other reason why.

                  "Yes, quaint and curious war is!

                  You shoot a fellow down

            You'd treat if met where any bar is,

                    Or help to half-a-crown

 

 

                                                            Thomas Hardy

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Frost Sonnets 

The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

 

The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.
 

Putting In The Seed

You come to fetch me from my work to-night
When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see
If I can leave off burying the white
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea);
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a Springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for that early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.
 
 

The Vantage Point

If tired of trees I seek again mankind,
  Well I know where to hie me—in the dawn,
  To a slope where the cattle keep the lawn.
There amid lolling juniper reclined,
Myself unseen, I see in white defined
  Far off the homes of men, and farther still,
  The graves of men on an opposing hill,
Living or dead, whichever are to mind.
 
And if by noon I have too much of these,
  I have but to turn on my arm, and lo,
  The sun-burned hillside sets my face aglow,
My breathing shakes the bluet like a breeze,
  I smell the earth, I smell the bruisèd plant,
  I look into the crater of the ant.

 

Range-Finding

The battle rent a cobweb diamond-strung
And cut a flower beside a ground bird’s nest
Before it stained a single human breast.
The stricken flower bent double and so hung.
And still the bird revisited her young.
A butterfly its fall had dispossessed
A moment sought in air his flower of rest,
Then lightly stooped to it and fluttering clung.
 
On the bare upland pasture there had spread
O’ernight ‘twixt mullein stalks a wheel of thread
And straining cables wet with silver dew.
A sudden passing bullet shook it dry.
The indwelling spider ran to greet the fly,
But finding nothing, sullenly withdrew.

 

Design

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth—
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
 
What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?—
If design govern in a thing so small.
 
 
 
 
n White—Frost’s Early Version of Design
 
A dented spider like a snow drop white
On a white Heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of lifeless sating cloth--
Saw ever curious eye so strange a sight?
Portent in little, assorted death and blight
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth?--
The beady spider, the flower like a froth
And the moth carried like a paper kite.
 
What had that flower to do with being white
The blue prunella every child’s delight.
What brought the kindred spider to that height?
)Make we no thesis of the miller’s plight.)
What but design of darkness and of night?
Design, design!  Do I use the word aright?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To a Moth Seen in Winter
 

 

 

Here's first a gloveless hand warm from my pocket,
A perch and resting place 'twixt wood and wood,
Bright-black-eyed silvery creature, brushed with brown,
The wings not folded in repose, but spread.
(Who would you be, I wonder, by those marks
If I had moths to friend as I have flowers?)
And now pray tell what lured you with false hope
To make the venture of eternity
And seek the love of kind in wintertime?
But stay and hear me out. I surely think
You make a labor of flight for one so airy,
Spending yourself too much in self-support.
Nor will you find love either, nor love you.
And what I pity in you is something human,
The old incurable untimeliness,
Only better of all ills that are.
But go. You are right. My pity cannot help.
Go till you wet your pinions and are quenched.
You must be made more simply wise than I
To know the hand I stretch impulsively
Across the gulf of well-nigh everything
May reach to you, but cannot touch your fate.
I cannot touch your life, much less can save,
Who am tasked to save my own a little while.

Robert Lee Frost

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?
			W.B. Yeats
 
Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                     Grading Standards for Sonnets and Poetry Portfolio and Workshop Decorum

 

1.  Grading of Portfolios.  I will look largely at the extent to which the poems fulfill all the formal requirements of their particular types and, because I want you to hand in drafts with the final copies, the extent and worth of the revisions.  At the same time I will prize work that shows artistry and takes successful risks in diction, imagery, subject, voice, etc.  See Professor Cone's very helpful, "Writing Sonnets & Villanelles--A Few Notes" for details about graceful handling of rhymes and lines (click).

2.  Responsibilities in the Sonnet Workshop.  Bring enough copies of your sonnet for the entire class to review.  The purpose of the workshop is to critique and understand your classmate's sonnet on its own terms.  In offering criticism be civil, be honest, but be sure to explain helpfully and clearly about how it could be improved, even offering an example if possible.  The author of the sonnet discussed should avoid making comments until the discussion ends; the workshop will, accordingly, not pose questions directly to the author.  The poem needs to stand on its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


                                                                                                        Three Sample Explications of Poems

 Who Killed the Man?

 

        Perhaps as dangerous as bullets for a soldier is imagination, imagination that can put him in his enemy's place, feel the humanity beneath the opposition's helmet.  Something of that danger occurs in Hardy's "The Man He Killed,"  which stages a soldier's unsuccessful attempt to come to terms with having shot another man.  In doing so it uncovers the arbitrariness of war and the different kinds of death that occur as a result of that experience and reflections upon it.  At the center of the poem lies a tension between uncertainty and certainty, between sympathy and coldness, and between community and impersonal regimentation.  And the poem itself enacts this tension through its structure; through details of versification, some obvious and others subtle and sophisticated; through the oppositions in the speaker’s diction; and through its manipulation of pronouns and thus point of view.

        The poem's structure expresses oppositions relevant to the human experience of war.  On the one hand the poem embodies regularity, even regimentation.  Each of its five stanzas has an abab rhyme scheme and a pattern of two iambic trimeter lines followed by one iambic tetrameter line and a return in the fourth line to iambic trimeter.  In addition, sixteen of the poem's twenty lines are end-stopped, a procedure that emphasizes the rhymes and thus regularity.  These features of the poem's structure highlight values prized in the military:  order, regularity, discipline, dependability.  The only variation from this order occurs in the out-of-place third line of four feet.  In fact the poem’s stanza form itself, with its strong features of regularity and dependability but also its out-of-place third line, suggests the kinds of tension between order and disruption of that order that emerge more strongly from other features of the poem.

            Generally the poem’s lines unfold as expected for accentual-syllabic verse.  The first two stanzas, notably, go merrily along their way with no caesurae interrupting their

 


 

flow and by implication nothing to slow the progress of the speaker’s pat notions about what happened.  The only possible exception occurs in the last line of the second quatrain: “And killed him in his place.”  Though the overriding cadence of the poem dictates that the stresses in this trimeter line fall regularly on “killed,” “in,” and “place,” demoting “him” to an unstressed syllable, “him” still competes for that stress in this line and thus anticipates the wholesale disruption of order, even if not of the syllabic stresses, of the next two stanzas.  In those stanzas what emerges is an intriguing combination of end-stopped lines with the continued regular iambic feet of the verse, and even an enjambment of the last line of the third stanza and the first line of the fourth. This enjambment, in fact, suggests a disruption of the orderly segmentation and regimentation of the poem’s stanzaic structure, and so gives the impression that these two staccato-sounding stanzas form a sort of alternative unit and another attitude, if you will, to the recalled event.  The disruption of the lines’ cadence in these stanzas begins with the dash at the end of the third stanza’s first line, a comma at the end of the next line, a colon after the first foot of the third line, a semi-colon at its end and another before the last foot of the fourth line.  This disruption gains even more force through an emerging, chaotic internal rhyme or repetition of sound, as the “cause” in “because” occurs twice and a line later anticipates in a slant rhyme the “course” in “of course.”  Not only does “my foe” get repeated, but it also rhymes with “so” in the stanza’s third line; and even “enough” and “although” create a sight rhyme that contributes to this rivalry between the poem’s overriding sound system of comforting end rhymes and an internal outbreak of rhymes. 

            In the second of these disruptive stanzas, four dashes divide in half the middle two lines; and the first and last lines are stopped by a comma and a period.  These disruptions quite effectively suggest hesitations in the speaker’s thought and highlight the silence as much as the words, as the pauses indicated by the four dashes rival in length

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the four, almost independent, abrupt utterances involved with them:  “Off-hand-like—just as I–– / Was out of work—had sold his traps––.”  However, the tension between these hesitations on the one hand and the underlining tendency of the lines to maintain a largely regular iambic cadence does more than the hesitations alone to enact the drama within the speaker.  In other words, the pauses expose an almost mechanical, inhuman power in the verses’ otherwise pleasant and attractive regular feet. 

            As the poem moves to its last stanza, only a remnant of this hesitation remains.  That stanza begins with the fully stressed “Yes” and a semi-colon, producing a caesura in the last of the poem.  The poem then returns to its regular cadence but with two enhancements that in fact heighten the sense of pat, insensitive thinking implied by the cadence of the first two stanzas.  First, though, notice this stanza’s opening line:  its struggle to fall back in line with that regular pattern of the poem’s opening emerges in its excessive feet, with  “Yes,” “quaint,” “curious,” and “war” all receiving stresses in what should be a trimeter line.  But with the end of that first line comes a subtle but effective introduction of a feminine rhyme shared by this first and the third lines:  in “war is” and “bar is” the stress falls on the first syllable.  Though feminine rhymes can sometimes suggest a sense of loss because of the breath falling away at the end, most often such feminine rhymes add a sense of lightness, even a comic effect to verse, as well as a heightened musical quality in that the rhymes involve twice the syllables.  Along with the return of absolute regularity of meter in the second and fourth lines of this final stanza, this introduction of the feminine rhyme, it seems to me, turns what was at the first of the poem the speaker’s merely pat sounding reflection into an almost cold glibness, producing a horrifyingly light verse about war. 

            So far we have examined the ways in which the poem’s structure and versification contribute to the poem’s staging of a passing threat of self-examination on the part of the speaker.  These features of the poem include of course punctuation such as dashes and the like, which visually give us cues of hesitation.  This punctuation also

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 includes the quotation marks repeated at the beginning of each stanza so as to remind us steadily that we are overhearing the speaker’s words in some dramatic situation.  And the connotation of these words themselves do much to reinforce the threat of self-examination enacted in the poem.                   

      Littering the speaker’s attempt in the third and fourth stanzas to really comprehend his act are words implying logic and reason:  "because--Because," "Just so," "of course," "That's clear enough," "reason."  The emptiness of these conventional, cold, "regular" explanations becomes clear in two ways.  First, as we have seen, they appear in lines that unfold hesitantly.  This halting speech creates a sense that the speaker does not entirely believe what he tells himself, despite all the words that suggest the reasonableness of what he says.  Second, the emptiness of these words emerges from their contrast with the familiarizing details he uses to describe his foe:  in the first stanza he refers to himself and his foe as "we," a pronoun that certainly undermines the notion of enemy; at the end of the first stanza, "nipperkin" ("kin" within this word emphasizing kinship, connection) and later the description of the foe as having enlisted because he "Was out of work--had sold his traps" both emphasize the commonality of the two soldiers rather than their difference.  Moreover, the rhyming of “kin” with “inn” adds greatly to this sense of community and sharing: the inn’s “ancient” quality and suggestion of human hospitality implies established custom, friendship, sympathy, and sharing. This commonality is at odds with the simplicity of the "either or structure" of war--friend vs. foe--especially as depicted in the second stanza with the images of regimentation, opposition, and exclusive positions:  “ranged as infantry,” “staring face to face,” and “in his place.” 

            Even with the presence of this diction related to commonality, it doesn't seem as though the speaker completely gives in to his human side. Certainly he concludes that war is strange, that it causes you to shoot someone with whom you would act as a friend in any other circumstance.  However the easiness and glibness of his conclusion amounts almost to a resumption of the cold orderliness that had held in check the

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humanity expressed through the hesitation in the third and fourth stanzas.  Moreover, that he sees this arbitrariness of who is friend and who is foe as "quaint and curious" rather than horrifying and inhumane, for instance, indicates a return to a more inhumane, superficial vision of his having killed his enemy, a vision that, as we have observed, is underscored by the subtle, but effective feminine rhymes in lines one and three of the final stanza.   

            The feature of the poem that we have neglected, the first person narration itself, is also important in several ways.  First, it represents a modest assault on the military mind-set:  the cliché "there is no 'I' in team" recurs often in organizations that value selflessness.  The "I" in this poem opens up the possibility of independence of thought that can get in the way of "organizational unity," as "they" say.  The first person point of view, moreover, takes us into a single human's mind as the vantage point on war.  Individuality and intimacy, then, can surface from this first person point of view.  Underscoring the involvement of the poem’s mere pronouns in its meaning, the “I” gets lost in the critical last stanza.  As the speaker pulls away from his dangerous consideration of his foe as a friend, with the frequent use of “he,” “his,” and “him” in the third and fourth stanzas, he distances himself from himself, in a sense, by resorting to the second person pronoun:  “You shoot a fellow down / You’d treat if met . . .” (emphasis added).  In this way Hardy’s manipulation of point of view also dramatizes the soldier's inadequate attempt to explain--while relying on conventional terms--his killing of another human.  

            This manipulation of point of view becomes even clearer when we notice the contrast between the perspective of the title and that of the poem.  As third person point of view, the title seems to function as Hardy's voice commenting on the speaker's situation of ruminating about his similarity to "the man he killed."  Like most titles, this one functions as an afterthought, a kind of conclusion about what has unfolded in the poem,

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even though it precedes the poem.  Because of the speaker's pronounced attempt within the poem to explain away the action of killing a fellow human in terms of cold logic, the "man" in the title could represent the speaker himself, specifically the speaker's humanity, which he had to kill in order to fight in the war and which he has to suppress in order to be able to live with his actions.  Ironically the very pronouns display him becoming the very man he killed; he becomes the “he.”  This indeed is the “other” kind of war casualty that the poem’s versification, structure and diction not only tell about, but also, in a real way, enact. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6

 

Loss and Longing in Tennyson's "Break, Break, Break"

 

        The word "break" works in various, almost contradictory ways in our language.  At work you "take a break"; at a party you say something to "break the ice," or if you are a bearer of bad tidings you "break the news" to someone"; and when you are putting the dishes away you "break a cup."  Interruption, expression, destruction--in "Break, Break, Break" (204) by Tennyson that word conveys all these meanings.  And that word gets plenty of support on the one hand from positive images of communication, connection, and safety and on the other hand from negative descriptions suggesting emptiness, separation, and loss.  All of these details, along with a strategically varied meter and an interesting variation in the repetition of the first and last stanzas, build a powerful expression of the narrator's feeling of loss, apparently the loss of a loved one.

       Strangely enough this poem about loss and separation is littered with descriptions of successful expression, connection, and safety.  The "fisherman's boy . . . shouts with his sister at play" (emphasis added); "the sailor lad . . . sings in his boat on the bay"; and "the stately ships go on/To their haven under the hill."  All three of these descriptions involve something--people and ships--doing what they are meant to do.  The boy plays; the sailor lad is appropriately in his boat; and the ships sail to their destinations--no "breaks," no interruptions or destruction.  Two of the images depict successful expression--shouting with and singing.  And all three activities include a sense of safety:  the boy and his sister exist in a realm of play (as opposed to reality); the sailor lad is on the bay, obviously a region of protection; and the ships sail to protection of "their haven under the hill."

        All of these images would produce an indisputably happy poem if it were not for the fact that the narrator describes these things longingly, as if he were entirely separated from them.  Thus these images emphasize what he lacks--connectedness with someone, expression, and a sense of being in a haven, being home rather than alienated from the world around him.  The narrator cannot, at least at the beginning of the poem, express himself:  "I would that my tongue could utter/The thoughts that arise in me." Moreover, he cannot hear "the sound of a voice that is still."  Like expression, connectedness is also foreign to him:  he will no longer feel "the touch of a vanished hand"; and the past, in which apparently he shared his life with his friend, "[w]ill never come back to [him]."  Evoking the sense of youth that we saw in the descriptions of the sailor lad and sailor's boy and sister, the word tender in "tender grace of a day . . ." adds to all the details of a now unfulfilling existence the sense also of a lost youth.  Of course the almost non-verbal "O," that sigh of despair occurring five times throughout the poem, adds to this grief; but it does so not just as an audible expression but as a visual one as well:  resembling a zero it emphasizes loss, emptiness.  In yet another way it depicts what emerges from the word "vanished," a word whose etymology is also relevant:  it comes from the Latin vanus, meaning "empty."

        The image of the sea connects all of these other images in the poem.  Curiously, the speaker does not address his lost loved one.  He speaks to the sea.  In the first stanza, he parallels his situation with the action of the sea.  The image of the sea's waves breaking on the "cold gray stones" of the shore amounts almost to a form of expression that the narrator wants to achieve:  "And I would that my tongue could utter/The thoughts that arise in me."  Just as the sea swells with water and releases its rising waves upon the shore, so does the narrator want to release his thoughts.  In a sense, the narrator achieves this aim through the poem:  he does express his thoughts.  However, by the time he divulges them in the form of the imagery we have seen, that successful expression has brought him not the relief that perhaps he sought, but rather an intense feeling of separation even from the sea with which he has identified himself in the first stanza.

        Since the thoughts he has expressed concern someone from whom he is forever separated, expression itself is no longer enough.  He wants reunion but will never get it.  Thus, at the very end of the poem, the breaking of the sea's waves, even in so inhospitable a place as "the foot of. . . crags," amounts to completion, return home, a meeting of land and sea; "But the tender grace of a day that is dead/Will never come back to [the speaker].

Death as Security in "To an Athlete Dying Young" (p.269)

        In many ways Housman's "To an Athlete Dying Young" (271) is a typical attempt at consolation. It depends on euphemisms to describe death and recalls the dead person's most notable accomplishment.  As expected, also, the poem turns the athlete's death--what we in our culture tend to think of as a failure--into an even greater victory than the one he achieved in life.  Whether these dependable methods work or not in this fictionalized situation is impossible to know, of course, but they at least give the survivors a sense of meaning in an event which seems to lack sense. But Housman's poem goes beyond these common "softening" techniques:  several of its images turn the readers themselves, the mourners, into the more deserving objects of pity.

        To the ear the most notable qualities of the poem are its regular, almost monotonous lines and the rhymed couplets.  Though the response to these traits may vary from reader to reader, generally, they give the poem an unexpectedly light tone, a surprising wittiness.  At the same time, however, this regularity of rhythm and especially the rhymed couplets give the poem a sense of the unchangeable, definite nature of the event. The rhyme of "cheers" and "ears" in the forth stanza, for example, is both witty in that it surprises us and definite in that it so thoroughly closes off the sentence and thus so plainly suggests the finality of death.

        This duplicity in the sound of the poem echoes through its diction and imagery.  These poetic elements work in two ways:  they soften the sense that the athlete's death is a failure and they turn upon the living as the ones who are likely to suffer.  As I said earlier, euphemisms for death--"the road all runners come," "threshold," "shady night," and "shade"--drop a blanket of disguising snow over the fact.  We do not hear of "black night," "corrupting worms," or even "nothingness."  With the exception of the surprising "earth has stopped the ears," "the strengthless dead" is the closest the poem comes to the fact of death.  Developing this euphemistic tone even further is the extended comparison between the dead athlete being carried to his grave and his being chaired home after winning the race.  In a sense this comparison itself is a euphemism.  Even in death, the young man remains victorious:  again the imagery depicts him in the admirers' eyes as standing in his doorway ("sill," "lintel"), holding up his "still-defended challenge cup." Moreover this comparison makes death active.  It presents him as controlling his destiny:  he has smartly "slipped betimes away" from the vagaries of life and he is told to "set . . . The fleet foot on the sill of shade" and to "hold" up his cup.  By addressing him directly in this way, the speaker implies the boy's conscious presence, a fact which takes the euphemistic bent of the poem to its extreme.  In this extreme development of its consolation, one that makes the dead youth almost a presence, the poem at the same time offers almost a macabre parody of the corpse, a parody that emphasizes all the more clearly the difference between the active living athlete and the mere dead body.  Again, then, the duplicity of the poem's method emerges.  The poem soothes but also disturbs.  In this sense, the apparently surprising harshness of "earth has stopped the ears" is not so surprising after all.

        In capturing the athlete's death as a kind of victory, the speaker finally relieves the speakers of the burden of mourning the youth's departure.  And this effect arises not so much from the euphemisms I have pointed out (these lead, really, to a vision of their own hollowness) as from the profound and convincing view that life, not death, is the realm of unavoidable failure.  The life from which the lad escapes has "fields where glory does not stay"; it is, moreover, the place where the "laurel grows" quickly, but "whithers quicker than the rose," where "eyes" have to see records broken and ears record the difference between cheers and indifferent silence.  By dying the lad remains separated from the ordinariness suggested by the term "rout"; by dying he enters a realm in which he will remain a victor.  Thus in entering him into the grave--euphemistically just another door to a welcoming home--the mourners send him away from the possibility of ever failing.  They are the ones left to perform that indignity.  By turning loss into gain and life into a region of inevitable failure and disregard, the speaker of the poem effectively requires us to envy the lad, who has returned to a realm of security, and to lament our undistinguished, unsure lives.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


                                                                                    Quizzes and Successful Answers

1.  Quiz on Meter

2.  Quiz on Metrical Variation

3.  Quiz on Fussell and the Sonnet

4.  Paragraph on Couplets in "A Strange Meeting" or "The Emperor of Ice-Cream"

5.  Ballad Quiz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


In-Class Poetry Reading

Instructions

1.  Pick a poem in 100 Great, and if possible one on the syllabus assigned close to the time of your reading.

2.  Tell me ahead of your reading date what poem you will read so that I can let your classmates know.

3.  Bring to class on the day you read a well-developed paragraph of about a page explaining what your aims are in the reading.  See the following sample on "The Road Not Taken" as an example.  You will read this paragraph before reading the poem.

 

Grading.  In grading your performance I will give equal weight to three elements:

1.  Your adherence in the reading to the syntax and punctuation of the poem--that is, the extent to which you read the poem "correctly."

2.  The focus and coherence of your written paragraph.

3.  The extent to which your reading achieves the aims you identify.

 

Sample Explanation of Purpose to accompany poetry reading.

 

    In reading this well-know poem by Frost, I would like to try to do two things:  1) emphasize the equality of the roads; and 2) capture what I think is the self-promoting, self-congratulatory tone that the speaker, in the last stanza, knows he will take when telling about his choice some years hence.  In some ways this poem slipped out of Frost’s control:  when reading it to audiences, he began to feel the need to warn listeners that they should pay careful attention because it’s a tricky poem.  We see something of that trickiness—and his having lost control-- anytime we encounter a bumper sticker, a t-shirt, an Apple computer ad on the Super Bowl, or even a movie (“Dead Poets’ Society”) that offers some version of the line:  “I took the one less traveled by.”  Often it appears “the road less traveled,” or “I took the one less traveled.”  This often repeated celebration of the poem’s next-to-last line as an inspirational pep-talk ignores the earlier sections of the poem that clearly describe the two roads as equal in terms of how much traffic passed over them.  Readers ranging from football coaches to English Professors have neglected the way in which the last three lines of the poem contradict the eleventh line, for instance.  The only way in which I can understand this contradiction is to regard the poem as designed, in fact, to make fun of that very inspirational tendency and to display even the speaker himself predicting that he will inevitably celebrate himself as having chosen the road that fewer take--even when he knows his choice was actually between equally traveled paths.  So I want to capture some of this “chest-pounding” at the end, but I also hope to emphasize the lines describing the equality of the roads so as, at least, to make you pause at this final sense of certainty despite the contradiction.  If I don’t end it by giving a sense that you might get when hearing a “grad” bragging to mids that he/she, back in the eighties, say, took the risk that few others would take by coming to USNA and that that was the most important thing he did in his/her life, I have failed.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Assignment #1--Explication of Poem

Due:  2 Mar

 

Length:  about 4 pages

 

Audience:  you classmates and instructor

 

Purpose:  to help your audience understand HOW the poem works to express its particular theme.  Your emphasis should be on the how part, not on what the poem says.  The aim is to isolate the several important ways in which this poem communicates it's particular "take" on a theme. 

 

Scope:  pick a poem from 100 Great (please don't use the same one you read in class)

 

Sample Explications

 

I've developed three samples for you to look at so that you can get a sense of what I'm asking you to do.  Notice that all samples avoid the one pitfall of explication--that is, the tendency to start describing the poem from beginning to end.  I want you to strive to organize your paper, as do these samples, around your controlling idea (aka "thesis) about how the poem works. To see them click here. Here's another sample on a poem by Anne Sexton (click).  You ought to strive for the thoroughness of the first sample on "The Man He Killed."

 

The Explicator (click).  If you want to saturate yourself in this genre of explication, look over the articles in this journal. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

                                                                                                                     Assignment #2 --Due April 17th   

 

                                                 Select ONE of the following options (essays should be about 4 pages) .        

 

Options for Assignment #2

1) An analysis of a very specific poetic issue as it cuts across a number of poems—tone, line endings, titles, defamilarizing use of words, word echoes, pronoun reference, last lines, the Shakespearean sonnet's couplet, what happens when a poem observes a picture or object?, etc.

 

2) A comparison of the relative "success" of similar poems (listed below) in achieving their ends (click here for a sample opening paragraph on such a paper) :

 


Pairs

--"Miniver Cheevy" (288) and "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" (504)

--"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (302) and "Traveling through the Dark" (click)

--"Western Wind" (click) and "The River-Merchant's Wife" (328)

--"To His Coy Mistress" (82)and "To the Virgins to Make Much of Time" (61)

--"Naming of Parts" (click) and "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (302 )

--"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant" (244) and "The Cool Web" (386)

--"The Sick Rose" (129) and "Spring and Fall" (269)

--"Nothing Gold Can Stay"(302)and "Spring and Fall" (269)

--"The world is too much with us" (153) and "Dover Beach (233)"

--"The Road Not Taken" (301) and "Ulysses" (202)
 

3) An analysis of the difference between the early draft of one of the following poems and its final version.  Your purpose is to explain to your classmates and me the "theme(s)" of these changes; that is, the purpose of them and how they give a sense of what the author seemed to be reaching for in making them.

a) Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" (click);  early draft (click)

b) Dickinson's Safe in "Their Alabaster Chambers" (click); early draft (click)

c) Blake's "London" (100 Great, 128); early draft (click)

d) Lawrence, "Piano" (100 Great, 320); early draft (click)

e) Frost, "Design" (click); early draft, "In White" (click)

 f) Owen, "Dulce et Decorum Est (100 Great, 377); early MS draft (click and click)

 

4)  A small portfolio of four poems you write during the semester, which is to include a) the sonnet; b) a short form such as limerick, epigram, or haiku; c) a short lyric; and d) a traditional form of about 20 lines).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Charge of the Light Brigade

 

1

Half a league, half a league,

   Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

"Charge," was the captain's cry;

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs but to do and die,

Into the falley of Death

   Rode the six hundred.

 

2

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

   Volley'd and thunder'd;

Storm'd at with shot and shell,

Bodly they rode and well;

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell,

   Rode the six hundred.

 

3

Flash'd all their sabres bare,

Flash'd all at once in air,

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army, while

   All the world wonder'd:

Plunged in the battery smoke,

Fiercely the line they broke;

Strong was the sabre-stroke:

Making an army reel

   Shaken and sunder'd.

Then they rode back, but not,

   Not the six hundred.

 

4

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

   Volley'd and thunder'd;

Storm'd at with shot and shell,

They that had struck so well

Rode thro' the jaws of Death,

Half a league back again,

Up from the mouth of Hell,

All that was left of them,

   Left of six hundred.

 

5

Honor the brave and bold!

Long shall the tale be told,

Yea, when our babes are old--

   How they rode onward.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


London

 

I wander thro' each dirty street,

Near where the dirty Thames does flow,

And see in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

 

In every cry of every man

In every voice of every child

In every voice, in every ban

The germane links I hear.

 

But most the chimney sweeper's cry

Blackens o'er the churches' walls

And the hapless soldier's sigh

Runs in blood down palace walls.

 

But most the midnight harlot's curse

From every dismal street I hear,

Weaves around the marriage hearse

And blasts the new born infant's tear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Piano

 

Somewhere beneath that piano's superb sleek black

Must hide my mother's piano, little and brown, with the back

That stood close to the wall, and the front's faded silk both torn,

And the keys with little hollows, that my mother's fingers had worn.

 

Softly, in the shadows, a woman is singing to me

Quietly, through the years I have crept back to see

A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the shaking strings

Pressing the little poised feet of the mother who smiles as she sings.

 

The full throated woman has chosen a sinning, living song

And surely the heart that is in me must belong

To the old Sunday evenings, when darkness wandered outside

And hymns gleamed on our warm lips, as we watched mother's fingers glide.

 

Or this is my sister at home in the old front room

Singing love's first surprised gladness, alone in the gloom.

She will start when she sees me, and blushing, spread out her hands

To cover my mouth's raillery, till I'm bound in her shame's heart-spun bands.

 

A woman is singing me a wild Hungarian air

And her arms, and her bosom, and the whole of her soul is bare,

And the great black piano is clamouring as my mother's never could clamour

And my mother's tunes are devoured of this music's ravaging glamour.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers

 

Safe in their Alabaster Chambers--

Untouched by Morning

And untouched by Noon--

Sleep the meek members of the Resurrection--

Rafter of satin,

And Roof of stone.

 

Light laughs the breeze

In her Castle above them--

Babbles the Bee in a stolid Ear,

Pipe the Sweet Birds in ignorant cadence--

Ah, what sagacity perished here!

 

1859

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

In White (1912)

 

A dented spider like a snow drop white

On a white heal-all, holding up a moth

Like a white piece of lifeless satin cloth—

Saw ever curious eye so strange a sight?—

Portent in little, assorted death and blight

Like the ingredients of a witches' broth?—

The beady spider, the flower like a froth,

And the moth carried like a paper kite.

 

What had that flower to do with being white,

The blue prunella every child's delight.

What brought the kindred spider to that height?

(Make we no thesis of the miller's plight.)

What but design of darkness and of night?

Design, design! Do I use the word aright?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 
Here's a sample opening paragraph.  I've used red font to identify the controlling idea, which lays out the criteria by which I will show how cummings' poem does not measure up to Shelley's.

     Every time I read cummings' "[Buffalo Bill's]" I find myself taking it as a satire of human vanity.  I guess I want it to be another version of Shelley's"Ozymandias."  And yet nothing's that easy, particularly poems.  Though it entertains us with its wit and humor, ultimately cummings' poem falls short of the vision of human effort and failure in Shelley's poem.  It lacks the fully explored display and perhaps even dramatization of human endeavors as both enduring and brittle in "Ozymandias," and it also lacks both the seriousness and timeless qualities of that earlier poem.  If I were stuck on the proverbial deserted island with just one of these poems, then, it would be Shelley's--and not just because of the description of "lone and level sands."

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


             Writing Sonnets & Villanelles- A Few Notes                 

                                                                                        Professor Temple Cone

 

What follow are a few simple ideas to get you moving on the sonnet or villanelle.  In general, I urge you to approach your work “catch-as-catch-can”: that is, I want you to approach the sonnet form with flexibility and creativity, to understand the rules and violate them when necessary.  Your goal is, of course, to produce a Shakespearean or Petrarchan sonnet, but that doesn’t mean that your poems should sound like Shakespeare or Petrarch wrote them.  You are 21st century writers with 21st century ideas, concerns, images, speech patterns, and voices.  Think of these formal poems as ways of finding and focusing those elements.

 

Writing with rhyme

AVOID “June/moon” rhymes—i.e. sing-songy, easily predictable rhymes.  Instead, try to surprise the reader with full rhymes that make unexpected connections (e.g. “wind/ thinned,” “sand/ ampersand,” “sun dims/ spinning rims”) or with slant rhymes that defeat the ear’s expectation of a chiming rhyme (e.g. “June/ Cajun”).  Because Hallmark and the modern music industry have filled our ears with saccharine rhymes, it is sometimes worth NOT rhyming at all, just so you can focus on other elements of the sonnet or villanelle (like the stanza structure).  While I want you to try to rhyme these poems, if your rhymes are getting in the way, perhaps you should hold off on them for a while.  Besides, there may often be a better rhyme word lurking in the interior of the line that could simply be moved into the end position, but if you don’t give yourself over to simply writing the poem, this may never appear.

 

Full-stop v. enjambment

Nothing contributes more to the cloying, sing-songy sound of bad rhyming poetry than lines that emphasize the rhyme by having the syntactic unit terminate with the rhyme word (e.g. “I love my mummy more than June, / Kitty cats, or the harvest moon!”; “I ran real fast so I wouldn’t miss class./ Teacher didn’t care, so I gave her sass!”).  This is not to say that you shouldn’t end-stop your lines.  Rather, you should avoid end-stopping both words in a rhyme.  If you enjamb one of the rhyming lines, the sound gets hidden slightly by the syntactic flow, so that when the reader hears the rhyme, it’s only half-heard.  Take, for example, the opening of Edward Thomas’ “Adlestrop”:

 

Yes, I remember Adlestrop—

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express-train drew up there

Unwontedly.  It was late June.

 

Notice how Thomas gets away with the “afternoon/ June” rhyme by enjambing the second line.  The reader is so focused on completing the sentence (‘What happened one afternoon to make this speaker remember the town of Adlestrop, I wonder?) that this full rhyme, which ordinarily might clang like a gong, becomes a quietly echoing bell.

My emphasis on enjambed rhymes is not a rule, by the way, only a recommendation.  Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening” end stops its rhymes prevalently, as does Wendy Cope’s “Reading Scheme,” though in a far more satirical way.  

 

Clichéd subject matter

Don’t write about what you’ve been taught to believe poems should be about: true love, the absolute goodness of historical figures, happiness, etc.  These are all important things to experience and/or believe in ordinary life, but they don’t often make good subjects for poetry.  But why not, you ask?  Why isn’t an absolutely happy poem about absolute happiness a good read?  Because these absolute subjects (and their mirror images—absolute despair and misery, the incurable evil of all historical figures, etc.) tend to smooth over and omit the complexity, texture, density, subtlety, and urgency that make good poems valuable to people faced with this confusing world.  In short, absolute experiences tend to be self-contented, self-satisfied.  But poetry, good poetry, comes from the feeling that the world’s confused or not exactly as it should be—i.e. from a feeling of discontent.  That’s not to say a poem can’t be about happiness, but it should be a happiness earned by coming through the many difficulties life presents, a happiness that never forgets the realities of this world.  To illustrate: a self-satisfied image—two teenagers snogging on a park bench; a beautiful image—an old man, withered man slapping his wife’s arm, partly in frustration, partly in thanks, after she helps him sit on a park bench.  Write the poem of the old lovers with a long, conflicted history, not the one of the hormone-ridden snoggers who can’t see past their noses.  Here’s a poem about happiness, by the way, that illustrates the point; it’s not a sonnet, but it does the job:

 

              Happiness

                        by Jane Kenyon

 

There’s just no accounting for happiness,

or the way it turns up like a prodigal

who comes back to the dust at your feet

having squandered a fortune far away.


And how can you not forgive?

You make a feast in honor of what

was lost, and take from its place the finest

garment, which you saved for an occasion

you could not imagine, and you weep night and day

to know that you were not abandoned,

that happiness saved its most extreme form

for you alone.


No, happiness is the uncle you never

knew about, who flies a single-engine plane

onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes

into town, and inquires at every door

until he finds you asleep midafternoon

as you so often are during the unmerciful

hours of your despair.


It comes to the monk in his cell.

It comes to the woman sweeping the street

with a birch broom, to the child

whose mother has passed out from drink.

It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing

a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,

and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots

in the night.

                     It even comes to the boulder

in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,

to rain falling on the open sea,

to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.

 

Write about what interests you.  For those of you who have been in creative writing classes before, this differs from the old adage that you should “write what you know.”  Quite frankly, what we know doesn’t amount to much, but what interests us—what we want to know—is infinite.  Provoke the reader by combining unrelated, unexpected, or unconventional subjects in fresh ways—write a sonnet about paring your beloved’s toe-nails that uses the nail-trimming as a metaphor for what’s happened/ing in the relationship; or write a villanelle about looking out the bridge of an aircraft carrier onto the ocean and feeling a desperate longing to go skating on the pond near your family home; or about the sensual experience you have deriving the quadratic equation; or whatever surprises you (and if there’s no surprise in the poet, there will be no surprise in the reader, either!).

 

Flexible lines (for the villanelle)

One of the great challenges and pleasures of the villanelle is the task of finding two lines worth repeating several times in the course of one 19-line poem.  Sometimes you will be inspired to produce lines of breathtaking truth that stand perfectly well on their own: “I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow” or “Do not go gentle into that good night” or “The art of losing isn’t hard to master” are fine examples of these.  But it’s worth remembering that the best refrain lines are ones that, with slight changes in punctuation, word order, or diction, reveal entirely new meanings.  Consider the subtle changes in meaning (and the multiple sentences) created by the slight changes to punctuation Janet Osherow makes in the second refrain line of “Villanelle from a Sentence in a Poet's Brief Biography” (about the Czech poet Miroslav Holub):

 

In ‘42 he was conscripted to work on trains.
An odd thing to mention in a poet's biography.
In ‘42?  In Czechoslovakia?  Trains?

I'm trying to figure out what this entry means,
If he sees himself as victimized or guilty.
In ‘42 he was conscripted to work on trains.

Dutch workers refused to run their trains;
They found out that work makes you free.
In ‘42, in Czechoslovakia, trains

Weren't that busy.  They didn't start the deportations
In earnest until 1943. 
In ‘42 he was conscripted to work on trains

But the next line says after the war, which means
That he was still at it in ‘43,
‘44, ‘45 . . . . In Czechoslovakia, trains

(What did he do?  Run switches?  Check the lines?)
Were as instrumental, let's face it, as Zyklon B.
In ‘42 he was conscripted to work on trains.
In ‘42.  In Czechoslovakia.  Trains.

 

Sometimes you won’t notice the changes that are possible in a given line, but by experimenting with caesuras (mid-line pauses) and small shifts in diction, you can bring new meaning to the line without compromising the impact of its original meaning.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sonnets from Romeo and Juliet

PROLOGUE

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

 


Act II, Scene 5

ROMEO
[To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
 

JULIET

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.
 
ROMEO
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
 
JULIET
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
 
ROMEO
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
 
JULIET
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
 
ROMEO
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged.
 
JULIET
Then have my lips the sin that they have took.
 

 

ACT II

PROLOGUE

Enter Chorus
Chorus
Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,
And young affection gapes to be his heir;
That fair for which love groan'd for and would die,
With tender Juliet match'd, is now not fair.
Now Romeo is beloved and loves again,
Alike bewitched by the charm of looks,
But to his foe supposed he must complain,
And she steal love's sweet bait from fearful hooks:
Being held a foe, he may not have access
To breathe such vows as lovers use to swear;
And she as much in love, her means much less
To meet her new-beloved any where:
But passion lends them power, time means, to meet
Tempering extremities with extreme sweet.
 

Exit

 


 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Context Exercise

(30 quiz pts)

Due: 27 March

 

Directions:  for five of the poems below, write well-developed paragraphs that explain how the details fit into the context of the overall poem.  At the end you will have produced five well-written, thoroughly developed paragraphs.  Each will explain how the single detail picks up on a pattern developed throughout the poem, how it is, in other words, part of some opposition which the poem's diction and images--and perhaps even sound effects--develop.  Obviously you will have to give examples and be convincing.   Use the following sample as a rough guideline; it focuses on the image of the "harness bells" in "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening."

 

     The image of the "harness bells" in Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" connects quite clearly with several other details in the poem:  the village, the house, the horse, the farmhouse, and the promises that the speaker must keep.  All of these details relate to the human world of society, travel, artificial structures, and routine.  "Harness"--with its suggestions of control, guided, onward moving behavior, and artificiality--certainly relates to these domesticated details.  And "bells," related to man-made endeavors and to time-keeping and routine day-to-day activity, has a similar connotation. This pattern of words and descriptions opposes details such as "stopping" and "watch," along with descriptions of woods filling up with snow and a barely audible noise entirely comprised of natural elements--"easy wind" and "downy flake."  These features of the poem suggest cessation of travel, appreciation of beauty and nature, and isolation from society and any sense of obligation to others.  The tug between these two patterns of details expresses what amounts in the poem to a tug within the speaker, for want of better words, between should" and "want."   However expressed, this tension is the poem's central meaning.

 

“sleek chivalric certainty”                                  “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”

 

“. . . knew all Dante once”                                “Why Should Old Men Be Mad”

 

“Japonica”                                                        “Naming of Parts”

 

“naked shingles”                                               “Dover Beach”

 

“the warm caves in the woods                           “Her Kind”

 

“wander’d”                                                       “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer”

 

“Still”                                                                “Spring and All”

 

“last month’s newpapers”                                  “The Emperor of Ice-Cream”

 

“the Wilson River road”                                    “Traveling through the Dark”

 

“A lonely impulse of delight”                              “Án Irish Airman . . .”

 

“expense”                                                         “When to the sessions . . .” (Sonnet 30)

 

“Still, still”                                                         “Bright Star”

 

‘Bitter as the cud”                                             “Dulce Decorum Est”

 

A moon, worn as if it had been a shell/              “Adam’s Curse”
Washed by time's waters as they rose and fell

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Scanning “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

 

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a
painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

 

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.

 

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat ;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.

 

O happy living things ! no tongue
Their beauty might declare :
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware :
Sure my kind saint took pity on me,
And I blessed them unaware.

 

The body of my brother's son
Stood by me, knee to knee :
The body and I pulled at one rope,
But he said
nought to me.

 

Till noon we quietly sailed on,
Yet never a breeze did breathe :
Slowly and smoothly went the ship,
Moved onward from beneath.

 

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn :
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Successful Explication Papers

 

 

The Last Ride in Emily's Coach

                                      Carey Young

 

            Emily Dickinson’s poetry often uses death as a common theme; her poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” is a stark and contemplative example of this in her work.  Yet death in this poem does not instill a sense of fear in its subject, as one might expect.  Death is treated as inevitable, and it is described almost as if it is were a part of life - as if in a sad, cold, manner it is just another change everyone must encounter.  Dickinson personifies death in a way that creates an understanding and an eerie sense of comfort within the reader.  The poem portrays death as inevitable, but  also  in a manner that should not frighten the reader, but rather make the reader recognize it for what it is – not only inevitable, but an unyielding part of every life.

            In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker relates that she was too busy or distracted by her own life, such that she never thought about death.  Eventually, death caught up to her—as is the case for everyone.  The speaker shares a carriage with not only death, but also immortality, which is counterintuitive considering they are opposites.  But Dickinson has a method to her madness.  Death is always viewed as the end of life, whereas immortality is defined as life ongoing.  The image of the speaker in a carriage with both death and immortality gives the readers the perception that death is also a journey—just as life is.  By placing death and immortality in the same carriage, on the same journey, Dickinson suggests that people do not just die, but that there is an afterlife as well.  The final stanza points out that death is ultimately timeless, as the centuries since the speaker’s death felt shorter than the day of her passing – the day she realized that the horses’ heads, that were drawing her carriage, pointed towards eternity.  This, of course, is also the way her death was pointed.

            Dickinson’s metaphors, symbolism and vivid imagery throughout the poem forms a certain ease in the speaker; and in doing so, this easiness also forms in the reader.  Dickinson refers to death as kind, civil, and patient, giving readers a sense of relaxation and serenity.  In the third stanza of the poem, the speaker first begins describing the actual journey with death.  The carriage passes a school with children playing during recess, fields of grain, and a setting sun.  Dickinson most assuredly uses these images in order to represent youth via the school children; maturity by the ripened, gazing grain; and old age with the setting sun - all stages of a natural life cycle.  The field of grain may also have double meaning, as fields need to be reaped, and death can also be known as the grim reaper.        

The poetic form Dickinson uses in “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is crucial to the actual meaning of the poem.  It is a common metrical poem, or a ballad, that is written in quatrains of alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter.  Dickinson places caesuras and uses alliteration, repetition, and internal rhyme throughout the poem to draw attention to areas in which the reader should pay more attention.  For instance, when Dickinson describes youth, maturity, and old age, she opens each line with “We passed…”  This repetition reinforces the fact that the speaker has already lived these stages of her life.  When the speaker arrives at her tomb, Dickinson opens the line with “We paused…” This is a half-rhyme that takes the same form as the previous stages but signifies to the readers that this is describing something mysterious that the speaker has yet to experience.  In the first and second stanza, the reader notices alliteration and internal rhyme on two different occasions.  The alliteration takes place in “Because I could not stop for death/ He kindly stopped for me.”  The “k” sound repeats three times. Alliteration also takes place in the second stanza, “He knew no haste,” with repeating “h” sounds and “My labor and my leisure too,” with repeating “l” sounds.  Internal rhyme occurs in the second stanza, between the “We” and the “He” in the first line.  It also occurs later in the poem, “The Dews drew quivering and Chill,” with rhyming “ew” sounds.     

The focal point of the poem lies in the fourth stanza when the speaker realizes that the setting sun, in fact, passed them rather than the carriage passing the setting sun like previously stated in the third stanza.  At this point, the poem takes a “turn” and assumes a darker tone.  Dickinson draws even more attention to this stanza of the poem by inverting the number of syllables in each line of the quatrain.  Instead of eight syllables in the first line, like the previous, this stanza has six syllables.  Even if the readers are unable to find the “turn” in the actual meaning of the poem, they notice the obvious change in the pattern and in the tone.

            Dickinson opens the stanza with the phrase “or rather,” insinuating that the there is a difference or change than something that the speaker already stated.  Dickinson uses the word “Gossamer,” which is a double entendre.  Gossamer is a light, almost translucent fabric.  The speaker is referring to her gown; however, it also creates a ghost-like image for the readers.  This image is foreshadowed in the second line of the stanza when Dickinson states that “The Dews drew quivering and Chill.”  Often times, air grows colder and people get chills when in the presence of a ghost.  Perhaps when the speaker is “turning” away from the setting sun she realizes that she is dead.  Thus, Dickinson creates a gothic undertone and gives the readers the image of the speaker as a ghost. 

In the next to last stanza of the poem, the carriage pauses in front of a house that is partially visible—but mostly in the ground.  This gives readers a dark image that immediately conjures up the idea of a grave, or tomb, which could be described as death’s house.  In the last stanza of the poem, Dickinson instills a sense of permanence in the “journey” of death.  The speaker has been traveling in the carriage for centuries, and will continue to travel.  The speaker noticed that the horses that pull the carriage are pointed “toward eternity.”  This gives reader the idea that death is inevitable and inescapable.

Emily Dickinson’s stark and hauntingly beautiful poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is deliberate and consequential.  She makes the speaker accepting of death, perhaps even inviting towards death.  Her use of the poem’s form to act as reinforcement to the message she is trying to get across to her readers is deceptively brilliant:  The caesuras, alliteration, repetition, and internal rhyme through out the poem draw attention to areas of the poem that might otherwise stay hidden.  The form of the poem is most significant when Dickinson inverts the meter in the fourth stanza.  It represents a turn in both the symbolism of the poem and the form of the poem and adds an element of surprise that is common yet still unpredictable in many of Dickinson’s poems.  Finally, this is a poem that demands that the reader think – about things that are both real and unpleasant, and about what poetry is supposed to do, which is inspire us to find different ways to tell important stories.           

 

Metrical Variations and Diction in William Blake's "The Tyger"

 

            William Blake's "The Tyger" remains one of the poet's most popular and admired works. Blake originally published the poem in 1794 as part of his Songs of Experience, a collection of poems meant to accompany his earlier Songs of Innocence. Together, these two volumes of poetry present the contrasting experiences of human life—the initial happiness inhered in youth and the accompanying loss of innocence upon youth's confrontation with the sinfulness and hardships of daily life. "The Tyger" certainly speaks to this latter feeling of loss, and in reading the poem one can almost feel the weight of earthly existence. Within the very traditional quatrains that comprise the poem, Blake successfully uses metrical substitution to emphasize an intense feeling of opposition between God, nature, and the Tyger. Word choice and diction also prove integral and, coupled with the meter, constitute a superb union of form and content within the poem that successfully evokes the baseness of the human creature. In his lifetime, Blake constructed a complex mythology through his poetry and art and certainly an interpretation of this poem within that context would be productive. Nevertheless, an analysis of just the poem's form and content offers a number of worthwhile insights as well and certainly illustrates Blake's deft handling of poetic meter and diction to evoke particular emotions.

Blake is quick to establish tension in his poem. In the first line, the power and ferocity of the tyger is declared as the narrator exclaims "Tyger! Tyger!" In those initial trochees punctuated with exclamation points, the narrator expresses all the magnificence and fear such a creature should evoke. Even the spelling 'Tyger' suggests an old and primeval force, and is perhaps an allusion to the mythic proportions of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene which Blake admired and etched illustrations for and which also shares in its verse a similarly archaic spelling. The tyger is certainly something to be noticed and perhaps wary of. Both the trochaic meter and the choice of punctuation in this opening line evoke feelings of power, gravity, and fear—qualities that must, at the very least, be acknowledged by the reader and which William Blake uses as a starting point to introduce a sense of apprehension into his poem. 

Where the first line suggests a fearful power, the second, with its opening anapest, evokes a feeling of naturalness or peace that is reinforced by the line's content as Blake describes what goes on "In the forests of the night" (2). The sense of lightness one might traditionally get from the use of anapestic meter is partially stayed by the two iambs that follow. This variation keeps the line anchored even as it emphasizes a contrast with the first line of the poem. The difference in meter between the first and second lines suggests an intrusion by the tyger into the scene of nature that is both disruptive and unwelcome. The first stanza ends with its meter mirroring its content: four simple iambs echoing the symmetry of perfected power that the narrator doubts even the Creator's "immortal hand or eye" (3) would be able to impart. William Blake sets up in this initial stanza a triplicate opposition between the tyger, nature, and God. The opposition is interesting, as one must wonder why the animal would not be a part of nature, why the meter suggests an imposition or an intrusion of one thing upon another when those two things—animal and nature—seem harmonious parts of a whole, and why the narrator doubts that God, omnipotent creator of everything, would be able to control or contain it.

            The second stanza has similar metrical variations to the first, and the inquisitive tone of the narrator that began in stanza one gains intensity. Line five again bespeaks a naturalistic element, and Blake employs a similar mix of anapestic and iambic meter: "In what distant deeps or skies," the narrator begins. The stanza picks up speed from an initial anapest—a speed that is subsequently slowed by the three iambs. The result is an initial rush that seems to lapse into a contemplation of the very "deeps and skies" (5) that Blake speaks of. These anapests and iambs once again contrast with an initial trochee, this time in line six, as the narrator shows that he is directly addressing the tyger by finishing his question with “Burnt the fire of thine eyes?” This question, and the ones that follow, seem tinged with an element of condemnation. The narrator asks, "On what wings dare he aspire?" (7) simultaneously acknowledging the tiger's power and balking at its audacity. This line also marks a shift in the subject of the narrator's questions. In line six he uses the word "thine" to indicate he is speaking to the tyger, but in line seven Blake no longer addresses the tyger directly but speaks about him in the third person. This change serves to include not just the narrator and the tyger but an outside audience as well, suggesting that whatever the tyger represents necessarily concerns everyone. 

This poem offers one final element that contributes to the oppositions Blake creates through metrical variations among nature, God, and the tyger, and that is his choice of diction. An intense corporeality exists in the poem, and it is the tiger's physical, bodily traits that the narrator seizes upon most forcefully in his questions. Even as he speaks of the heart and mind, they are still bound and linked to the body in which they reside. He speaks not of the heart as a receptacle for emotion or spirit, but instead focuses on the matter that it is composed of: "And what shoulder, and what art, / Could twist the sinews of thy heart?" (9-10). Even more viscerally, the iambic tetrameter in line eleven when the narrator says, “And when thy heart began to beat” does indeed have the rhythmic regularity of a pumping heart. Likewise, the brain in lines fourteen and fifteen takes on the quality of a forged machine as Blake asks, "What the hammer? what the chain? / In what furnace was thy brain?"  This physicality also adds another dimension to the constant shift and tension between the more emphatic trochaic and sometimes spondaic feet and anapestic meter. Lines 8, 12, 13, 15, 16 each begin with an initial stress and given the third and fourth stanzas' subject of construction and creation, one can hear in these initial stresses the resounding clank of the hammer at work. The meter here feels remarkably appropriate to the content of Blake's poem and this nuanced union of form and content is reflected as well by the anapestic feet in other lines.

            While the opposition between the tyger and nature, the narrator's concern over the opposition, and God's role in its creation all come through rather clearly in the form and meter of the poem, what exactly the tyger symbolizes is more opaque. Given the opposition and trouble the tyger seems to embody, Blake may be using the tyger to represent the whole of humanity. This conjecture fits well with the poem's place in Songs of Experience, which explicitly purports to deal with the human condition. The full title of the work is Songs of Innocence and Of Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. The use of the tyger and focus on the bodily aspects thereof might be Blake describing the savage creatureliness of the human race. The mechanistic and industrial language, as he speaks of the hammer, chain, anvil and furnace, also points to a potential commentary on the Industrial Revolution. Britain in the late 18th Century, when Blake published the work, was certainly a place where one could witness the horrors of a rapidly industrializing economy. When the narrator asks, "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" (20), child labor, poor working conditions, and pollution might certainly incline one to question a God that could create an animal with such a destructive propensity for greed and selfishness. A small amount of textual support also exists for the idea that the tyger might represent Satan. Stanza five evokes images of Lucifer's fall, while the line where the narrator asks, "On what wings dare he aspire?" has intimations of Lucifer's arrogance and narcissism. Neither interpretation is new, and attempting to work only within the poem itself, either is certainly possible.

            In either case, Blake's poem expresses a very deep sense of doubt about humanity and God. The constant questions, the opposition between nature and the tyger that comes through in the competing trochaic and anapestic feet, and the choice of mechanistic language suggest an inhuman creation not possibly created in God's image. The final line provides a fantastic close as it is a repetition of line four with one important difference. The perfect iambic tetrameter is destroyed by the substitution of the word 'could' with the word 'dare'. The first foot becomes a spondee, and the eventual destruction of nature or of God's work by the emergence of this tyger becomes all the more imminent as those stressed syllables have finally overrun the perfect meter of God's harmonious creations.  

 

 

The Lullaby that Does Not Lull

                                                                                                William Olena

        People often want to idealize the human condition by looking for certainty, perfection, constancy, and wholeness.  Faced with mortality, uncertainty, and turmoil, they take comfort in the notion that the ideal permeates their lives and relationships.  This notion gives life a great and pleasing significance for them.  W.H. Auden’s “Lullaby” comforts us in a different way.  The poem urges us to accept our inability to attain perfection, our momentary existences, our flawed relationships, and the uncertainty that we all face.  Auden’s narrator argues that the world and its people fall short of the ideal; still, he rejoices in what he has—a passing love far from perfect.  As the narrator implores, we must “Find our mortal world enough” (line 36) instead of trying to idealize it.  The poem’s form and sounds evoke shortcomings and imperfection, yet assert a sort of realistic beauty in which to delight.

            Auden uses an uncommon metrical scheme to break his readers of their ease in poetic traditions.  His rhythm does not lull them with a sense of perfect order, but rather jars them.  Breaking away from the familiarly pleasing iamb, the ever-constant mainstay of English poetry, Auden confronts us with the trochee as his predominant foot.  Furthermore, most of his lines use seven syllables, sometimes leaving one syllable ungrouped and dangling at the line’s end if we use common English metrical feet.  The ear of an English poetry-reader detects this unconventional scheme as distinct; it does not sound quite right when compared to a more common iambic tetrameter or pentameter.  Let us examine, for instance, “Beauty, midnight, vision dies” (line 31).  The line consists of three trochees, followed by an accented syllable.  The trochaic rhythm disorients the iamb-accustomed reader.  The line also seems incomplete with a lone syllable sticking out at the end.  Such a line occurs seventeen times in the forty-line poem.

            Clearly, though, this count leaves twenty-three lines that somehow vary from that theme.  Auden’s numerous variations both add to the reader’s overall sense of uncertainty and produce their own individual effects.  Take for example, the poem’s first two lines: “Lay your sleeping head, my love, / Human on my faithless arm”.  The first line establishes the aforementioned pattern of trochee, trochee, trochee, lone stress.  The second line opens with a trochee, emphasizing “Human,” yet this foot falls right into an anapest and iamb, both of which rise.  This lends the second line a gentler, more musical sound, making the image sound sweet.  This sweet sound contradicts the puzzling image of the narrator’s “faithless” arm.  His faithlessness also seems to contradict the address of his subject as “my love”.  These opening lines thereby establish—and enact through their rhythm—the poem’s theme of finding love and loveliness despite falling far short of the ideal.

            Iambs also vary the prevailing meter, signaling a fleeting sense of security or happiness.  After dismissing children’s beauty since it only goes into the grave, the narrator changes tack, saying, “But in my arms till break of day / Let the living creature lie” (lines 7-8).  While line 8 has the seven-syllable trochaic meter, line 7 actually consists of four iambs.  The line describes the temporary comfort (lasting until dawn) of the narrator’s embrace.  Fittingly, it offers the reader for only a moment the comfortably familiar iambic tetrameter so common in English poetry.  Likewise, we see a passing moment of this iambic stability when the narrator describes resting lovers: “To lovers as they lie upon / Her tolerant enchanted slope / In their ordinary swoon” (lines 12-14).  The iambs occur frequently in these lines; the first two feature an iamb, a pyrrhic foot, and two more iambs, whereas the last has an anapest before two iambs.  The pyrrhic feet and the anapest in these locations give the lines a gentler lilt to them.  Immediately afterwards, in “Grave the vision Venus sends,” (line 15) Auden plunges right back into his strange seven-syllable pattern.

            Amongst Auden’s metrical effects we also see the so-called “light” or “feminine” unaccented line ending, which further gives us the sense of incompleteness, shortcoming, or flaw.  It often weakens the sound of the concepts that the narrator views as weak.  For example, “the grave / Proves the child ephemeral” (lines 5-6) describes the deflation of the idealized concept of the child; “ephemeral” thus ends line six with a falling dactyl, contrasting the accented “grave” that ends line five.  Just as the narrator rejects the concepts of certainty and fidelity, so does the simple line, “Certainty, fidelity” (21) fade off and diminish the words, with only two accents in the whole line.  The light ending also weakens the “vision Venus sends / Of supernatural sympathy” (lines 15-16).  The sixteenth line begins with three of the comforting, steadfast iambs, but trails off with a pyrrhic foot, weakening that ideal vision.  (Remember that in line thirty-one, “vision dies”).  A light ending likewise weakens “The hermit carnal ecstasy” (line 20).  This complements “carnal ecstasy’s” unexpected personification as a hermit “Among the glaciers and the rocks” (line 19).  The image of a lone hermit in a cold, barren setting diminishes “carnal ecstasy” just as the dactylic sound of “ecstasy” diminishes the line.  Auden accomplishes something different with the light ending in line ten.  The narrator describes his love as “Mortal, guilty, but to me / The entirely beautiful” (lines 9-10).  He first describes two flaws in his love, “Mortal, guilty” that each form a trochee, yet line ten reaffirms his love’s beauty.  While one might scan line ten as an anapest, an iamb, and a weak pyrrhic foot, one can also notice its symmetry better if one looks at it as an anapest, an unaccented syllable, and a dactyl.  This symmetrical rising and falling gives the line a musical beauty despite its diminished ending, emphasizing the idea of beauty in spite of flaws.

            Auden’s brilliant rhyme scheme also evokes imperfection.  Each of his ten-line stanzas rhymes a-b-c-b-a-d-c-e-e-d.  Because the second five lines have a different rhyming pattern than the first five lines, and because the third line rhymes with the seventh, we cannot mentally subdivide the complex, long stanza into more compact, easily tackled units.  Moreover, the rhymes are seldom perfect.  Usually, they are half-rhymes: “love/grave,” (lines 1&5) “arm/from,” (lines 2&4) “ephemeral/beautiful,” (lines 6&10) “lie/me,” (lines 8&9) etc.  Such half-rhymes can make the rhyme scheme hard to perceive at first; it flickers on and off, so that we are not even sure it is there when we first notice it.  Yet this also gives the rhyme a subtlety that makes it attractive, since we have to look for it to see it.  Finally, each stanza does have the e-e half-rhyming couplet.  Auden brilliantly puts the couplet next-to-last instead of last.  This makes it seem like the last line hangs off the end, since if we think back to the Shakespearean sonnet, the couplet there comes at the end, giving its neat, compact, rhyming conclusion a sense of finality.  By putting the couplet where he does, Auden rejects its nice, neat, conclusiveness.  He does not allow his stanzas to have such an easily rounded ending.

            The narrator’s unfolding of the argument and the progression of images finally evokes the flawed nature of his love in a way that Auden perhaps does not want him to realize.  After all, while the narrator first addresses his love directly, he then strangely speaks of this “living creature” (line 8) in the third person.  Only later, he moves back to addressing his love for certain when he says “your dreaming head” (line 33).  Also, while he seems to assert that he and his love  cherish their time together until the dawn, his very mention of things ephemeral and external to them, passing of certainty, the “fashionable madmen,” (line 24) and the “Thoughtful children” (line 5) reveals his own preoccupation with such externals.  Perhaps he is “faithless” because the “mortal world” (line 36) distracts him too much, such that his “Lullaby” deals more with his own distant thoughts than any desire to soothe his love.  Yet certainly, the narrator would admit to such distraction; perhaps he would even liken himself to the “fashionable madmen,” raising his “pedantic boring cry” (line 25) with the rest of them.  His love is flawed and ephemeral, and perhaps his thoughts are as well.

 

Explication: An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

                                                                            Michael J. Tucker

 

            As a member of the armed forces, Yeats’ poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death can be a surprising, refreshing and even  upsetting  excursion into a taboo yet honest point of view of a military man.  The potency of the poem’s sting lies in three overriding themes, or elements: the airman’s perception and obedience to fate, the perversion of conventional patriotism and the airman’s often nonchalant presentation of some quite uncomfortable truths.  What is more, the very structure of the piece serves to reinforce and magnify these elements into a complex and bold statement about human nature and war.

            The first line of the poem brings the reader immediately to the subject of fate which, in this case, is the airman’s inevitable death.  When one thinks about the principles of fate itself, structure, regularity and control are all feasible characteristics: this notion corresponds perfectly with the overall structure of the piece.  The rhyme scheme of the poem is a simple and perfectly consistent ABAB.  Scansion also reveals that except for a few notable and apparently intentional variations, the poem is entirely written in iambic tetrameter.  In effect, the regimentation of inevitability is mirrored by the strict adherence to the rhyme scheme and meter of the piece.  The few irregularities in stress will be shown to have a separate significance. 

            Regarding fate, the first two lines of An Irish Airman Foresees His Death illustrate the peculiarity of the airman’s deterministic perspective.  Notice how the word “somewhere” is spoken as a spondee: spondees act to slow down a line and place extra emphasis on a key word.  The impression that this correspondence of the word and spondee presents is that though the airman is positive of his own demise, there is still a level of uncertainty regarding the specifics of where or when.  This display of uncertainty fits into the theme of fate rather ironically.  Overall, it is alarming how the airman is utterly aware, obedient and even comfortable with the prospect of his own impending doom.  It is almost like the airman is the anti Dylan Thomas and is quite ready to “go quietly into that good night.”    

            While fate is certainly an overriding principle of An Irish Airman Foresees His Death, it does not provoke the same level of response from the reader as the second element of the poem, which is the airman’s utter lack of patriotism which one would ordinarily associate with a military man.  It is plain to see by reading lines four through ten that the airman is not motivated by national devotion, law or fame to fight.  In lines nine and ten, we see this issue of motivation addressed with a pair of lines that heavily rely on punctuation and caesuras.  The caesuras can be interpreted as a means of making the reader slow down and savor each conventional reason for fighting which the airman will not subscribe to. The accentuation of this list goes to illustrate a certain sense of absurdity and taboo for the airman’s real reason: “a lonely impulse of delight.”  It is also clear in lines three and four that the airman feels utterly insignificant to the people he is protecting (whom he does not love) and fighting (whom he does not hate).  Notice that the first foot of each of lines three and four, “Those that”, is made to be read as trochee.  The effect of the trochee is a tumbling and fast paced transition into the next foot, but with emphasis on the word “those”.  It is ironic that the word “those” would be accented because the meaning of the word is so completely ambiguous and inconspicuous.  This effect goes to illustrate just how insignificant people are in this equation of war.  The indistinctness of the lines adds to the shock of the statement itself and creates a powerful statement about the impersonal nature of war.

             Overall, what makes this poem so shocking and refreshing is the way the airman speaks clearly some ugly and taboo truths: if one were to ask the average member of the armed forces his or her reason for going to war, you could be confident in hearing a small set of conventional answers such as “I just wanted to serve my country” or the like.  If one were to ask the average person on the street, you can count on not hearing that person say that they care nothing for their service members and that the prospect of their death holds no significance.  This poem flies in the face of that convention.  The seemingly effortless and nonchalant way in which this truth is often presented: for example, lines seven and eight say that whether or not the airman died in the line of fire is insignificant to his countrymen below him.  As tragic and alarming as this sentiment may be, the reader may notice how these lines are written in a completely regular iambic tetrameter without any variation.  This rhythm seems to say that though this truth may be shocking, there is really nothing extraordinary about it to this airman.  Rather, the statement is a simple and accepted thing, and nonchalant nature of this sentiment only goes to add the shock value of the piece.

            Lines eleven and twelve are another pair of lines that could potentially startle the reader with their blunt presentation of the truth: however, these lines do have some irregularities of stresses that add to the statement.  Line eleven finally reveals to the reader the airman’s true reasoning for fighting; “A lonely impulse of delight.”  The next line goes to say that this lonely impulse “drove” the airman to a fray in the sky.  Firstly, looking at line twelve, scansion reveals a trochee in the first foot and a pyrrhic pattern with three unaccented syllables in succession with the “tumult in the clouds.”  Again, trochees present a quick flowing sensation with an emphasis on the word “drove.”  In keeping with the theme of uncomfortable truth, this emphasis on the word drove implies that the airman’s motive for fighting comes from an uncontrollable, outside force, as if to say that the sacrifice he is about to make is hardly even one he chose to make.  There are two separate pyrrhic patterns in this pair of lines; one is in line eleven spoken in “impulse of delight” while the other in line twelve is spoken in “tumult in the clouds”.   The effect of a pyrrhic is one of quickness, or nimbleness, which matches up perfectly with this imagery of a delightful tumult in the sky.  The combined nimble and rushing effect of the trochee and pyrrhic pattern in this line corresponds perfectly with the notion of flying presented by the imagery, as if the reader is to “fly” gracefully through the line.  However, this fun impression of flying would not ordinarily be associated with the truth which the line speaks: that the airman’s reason for fighting and eventually dieing is so insubstantial and slight.  This ironic turn is yet another way in which the telling of deep dark truths in this poem is so alarming.

            Careful analysis of Yeats’ poem An Irish Airman Foresees His Death reveals exhilarating and shocking notions of the airman’s submission to his inevitable demise, warped ideals of military service and the nonchalant depiction of a dangerous and dark set of personal truths.  These three underlying elements make this face-slapping and completely naked portrayal of an airman’s state so exhilarating and even liberating to read.  Perhaps, deep down inside, we all have unconventional notions and values that we only wish we could express the way that Yeats does.

 

 

Sonnet Gone to Gas

                               James Fodor

           

     Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” depicts a detailed and horrific World War I gas attack.  However, the use of poetic techniques to emphasize the stark contrasts within the poem further emphasizes the indelible atrocity the speaker recounts.  The meter and use of substitution frequently draws the reader to notice heightened instances of thematic importance.  Additionally, Owen’s diction and careful choice of words further illustrate the ever-presence of these thematic contrasts.  Also as a creative play on the Sonnet, the form the poem places great weight upon the reader’s interpretation of the overarching message.

            “Dulce et Decorum Est” incorporates metrical devices very deliberately to convey the contrasting views presented by such a tumultuous scene as a gas attack.  This accentual-syllabic poem incorporates a relatively strict framework of mostly iambic pentameter with a regular rhyme scheme that does not stray from its pattern even once.  This rigid structure certainly stands out as compared to the chaotic course of events the speaker describes.  The reader cannot miss the deliberate discrepancy Owen presents as the rigid framework the poem upholds directly describes combat as anything but rigid, organized, or predictable.  The organized meter of the poem also utilizes several substitutions.  Each substitution draws the reader’s attention in an attempt to illustrate the dreadful nature of a World War I combat zone.  The spondee, “Gas! GAS!  Quick boys!” grabs the reader’s undivided attention not only as a variance from the poem’s aural pattern but as an obvious shift from the lethargic, unpleasant nature of waiting for an attack to the terror of actually experiencing the attack.  These substitutions slow the reader and emphasize the onslaught the speaker illustrates.  Further, Owen uses another pattern to slow the reader and convey the somber tone of the poem.  Although the rhyme scheme is distinct, enjambment of lines desensitizes the reader to the typical jovial outcome of regular end rhyme.  This variance from the means in which rhyme typically affects a poem further illustrates an apparent contrast and drives home the horrific nature of trench warfare.

            Owen’s careful and deliberate word choice within the poem acts as yet another means of portraying contrast to accentuate the chaos and horror of combat.  One of the most significant and apparent such examples appears directly after an initial spondee.  The reader is already alert as the “GAS!” strikes, but this barrage is followed by “an ecstasy of fumbling,/Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time.”  Following the attack the soldiers experience “ecstasy” in their reactions.  This single word catches the reader off guard even with a precursor such as “Gas! GAS!  Quick, boys!”  The word seems so illogical that it actually underscores the disorientation of a combat experience.  Additional completely illogical contrasts have the same effect throughout the poem.  Words such as “coughing,” “limped,” “lame,” “clumsy,” and “stumbling” all describe young soldiers, who should be nothing short of athletic and energetic.  The obvious contrast present clearly depicts the appalling nature of warfare and the impending results on young men placing themselves in harm’s way.  Yet another interesting word choice occurs at the first turn of the poem.  As the gas strike begins, the soldiers are “Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time.”  “Fitting” presents itself in the title and later in the poem in the final couplet.  In one sense it is “fitting” (decorum) to die for one’s country, but, in another, it is the fitting of the gas mask that saves the soldiers from death.  And further, in not being able to fit his mask, the unmasked soldier dies in vivid detail somewhat less than fittingly.  Further still, the second “Fitting” occurs in English, while the first and third appear in Latin.  These obvious contrasts revolving around the same word, as well as those described above, represent a profound example of just how horrible, and how counter to theory and convention, the speaker intends to portray this form of attack.

            One of the cleverest forms of contrast Owen utilizes in the poem occurs in its form, however.   He plays on the sonnet form intentionally to emphasize the thematic ideas of atrocity and panic.  The first two stanzas—an octet and sestet—clearly mimic the Petrarchan form.  The turn occurs in the first line of the sestet and the pace and presentation of the subject matter alters dramatically with the impending gas attack.  The unique adaptation occurs in the remaining two stanzas, however.  Owen plays on the Shakespearean form, but he reverses the order by starting with a couplet followed by three quatrains.  The couplet, instead of using a trite or humorous turn, focuses on the  appalling sight of the gassed soldier plunging at him in complete despair and agony.  This shift from the expected weighs these images heavily in the reader’s mind.  Also, each following quatrain tends to slowly decline the level of intensity of the poem.  It is the exact opposite of the typical rising action presented with each coming quatrain of a Shakespearean Sonnet.  Further, the final couplet reiterates the title of the poem, a curious reversal of the opening line of a sonnet traditionally acting as the title.  Owen deliberately mocks the sonnet form to display strong contrast not only in its form, but also in the poem itself.  The idea of contrast obviously acts throughout the poem, and modeling the poem in such a way emphasizes the importance of these ubiquitous contrasts to developing themes within the poem.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Haiku--foundations

 

One full moon;

     stars numberless; the sky

          dark green.  (Shiki, 1867-1902)

Evening moon:

    plum blossoms start to fall

          upon the lute.  (Shiki)

A long-forgotten thing:

     a pot where now a flower blooms—

         this day of spring. (Shiki)

The thunderstorm goes by;

     on one tree evening sunlight—

           a cicada cry. (Shiki)

A graveyard:  low

    the grave mounds lie, and rank

        the grasses grow. (Shiki)

Night; and once again,

    the while I wait for you, cold wind

        turns into rain. (Shiki)

Railroad tracks; a flight

    of wild geese close above them

        in the moonlit night.  (Shiki)

Rain on a spring day:

    to the grove is blown a letter

        someone threw away. (Issa 1762-1826)

In the thicket’s shade,

     and all alone, she’s singing—

         the rice-planting maid. (Issa)

At the butterflies

    the caged bird gazes, envying—

        just watch its eyes. (Issa)

Death it can bring,

   that kind of mushroom; and, of course,

       it’s a pretty thing. (Issa) 

 

On the temple bell

    has settled, and is fast asleep,

        a butterfly.  (Buson1715—83)

Blossoms on the pear—

    and a woman in the moonlight

        reads a letter there.  (Buson)

These morning airs—

    one can seem them stirring

        caterpillar hairs. (Buson)

Women, rice-planting:

    all muddy, save for one thing—

      that’s their chanting. (Raizan 1653-1716)

To bird and flower

   Unknown, a flower blooms:

      The autumn sky. (Basho 1644-94)

Here on the mountain pass,

    somehow they draw one’s heart so—

       the violets in the grass. (Basho)

Poverty’s child—

    he starts to grind the rice,

        and gazes at the moon. (Basho)

As bell tones fade,

    blossom scents take up the ringing—

       evening shade. (Basho)

This road:

    with no man traveling on it

        autumn darkness falls.

 

Haiku in English--some samples

 

Sleepless at Crown Point

 

All night, this headland

Lunges into the rumpling

Capework of the wind.

                      (Richard Wilbur, 1976)

 

 

After Basho

 

Tentatively, you

slip onstage this evening,

pallid, famous moon.

                             Carolyn Kizer (1984)

 

 

c'mon man hold me

 

c'mon man hold me

touch me before time love me

from behind your eyes.

                            Sonia Sanchez (1998)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Epigram--samples

What Is an Epigram?

 

What is an epigram:  A dwarfish whole;

Its body brevity, and wit its soul.

                                         Coleridge 1802

 

Coward

 

Bravery runs in my family.

                                   A.R. Ammons 1975

Epitaph on a Waiter

 

By and by

God caught his eye.

                       David McCord  1954

History of Ideas

 

God is love.  Then by inversion

Love is God, and sex conversion.

                                        J.V. Cunningham

For a Lady I Know

 

She even thinks that up in heaven

Her class lies late and snores,

While poor black cherubs rise at seven

To do celestial chores.

                           Countee Cullen 1925

The Secret Sits

 

We dance round in a ring and suppose,

But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.

                                                          Frost, 1942

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Study Guide for the Final Exam

 

 

1.  Be able to handle this task:  I’ll show you a poem and you explain “what kind of poem it is.”  In the course of your response you will say some things about how the poem works with and against the form(s) that somehow it relates to.  Click here for several poems with which you might be asked to work.

 

2.   What is poetry?  Or another way to consider this impossibly large, but nevertheless important question, is to imagine the scene in which someone in the course of a casual conversation says something a little different than normal and hears this reaction:  "he's a poet."  What do people mean when they offer this glib response?  How does it jibe with what you think poetry is, at least in so far as we have approached it during this term? 

 

3.  Explain how the epic simile, as it occurs in Milton's Paradise Lost, differs from the extended comparison ruling one of these poems (click ). 

 

4.  What's the matter with seeing poetry as a place to find "deep, hidden meaning?"  Explain by using a sample poem and also referring to other potential cases taken from your reading this term. 

 

5.  In terms of what Fussell says about fixed forms in English, be able to explain why the Shakespearean sonnet somehow can feel more "natural" than the Petrarchan sonnet. 

 

6.  Wallace Stevens writes of poetry, or of the successful poem, "The poem must resist the intelligence / almost successfully."  Respond to this claim, using examples, of course, from your readings this term.   

 

7.  I'll give you a passage from Milton and you will analayze how he uses metrical variation and other "moves" of sound and rhetoric to produce a meaning and an effect. Here are some examples (click).

 

8.  Be able to analyze Shakespeare's Sonnet 73, "That Time of Year . . . " (38 in 100 Great) in terms of what expectations Fussell (121-23) raises about the optimum progression in the quatrains and traditional relationship between quatrains and couplet in the English sonnet--and perhaps even the relationship between the Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnets..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Grave of Daniel Boone

                                    William Stafford, 1957

 

The farther he went the farther home grew.

Kentucky became another room;

the mansion arched over the Mississippi;

flowers were spread all over the floor.

He traced ahead a deepening home,

and better, with goldenrod:

 

Leaving the snakeskin of place after place,

going on--after the trees

the grass, a bird flying after a song.

Rifle so level, sighting so well

his picture freezes down to now,

a story-picture for children.

 

They go over the velvet falls

into the tapestry of his time,

heirs to the landscape, feeling no jar:

it is like evening; they are the quail

surrounding his fire, coming in for the kill;

their little feet move sacred sand.

 

Children, we live in a barbwire time

but like to follow the old hands back--

the ring in the light, the knuckle, the palm,

all the way to Daniel Boone,

hunting our own kind of deepening home.

From the land that was his I heft this rock.

 

Here on his grave I put it down.

 

 

W.H. Auden's "The Shield of Achilles" (click)

and 100 Great, 427

 

Robert Frost's "Mowing," 100 Great, 296

 

Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est," 100 Great, 377

 

Thomas Hardy, "Channel Firing," 100 Great, 265

                      

Donald Justice, "Men at Forty." 487

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

O Eve, in evil hour thou didst give ear

To that false Worm, of whomsoever taught

To counterfeit Man's voice--true in our fall,

False in our promised rising; since our eyes

Opened we find indeed, and find we know

Both good and evil, good lost, and evil got:

Bad fruit of knowledge, if this be to know,

Which leaves us naked thus, of honor void,

Of innocence, of faith, of purity,

Our wonted ornaments how soiled and stained,

And in our faces evident the signs

Of foul concupiscence; whence evil store,

Even shame, the last of evils; of the first

Be sure then . . . "

Thus Eve with countenance blithe her story told;

But in her cheek distemper flushing glowed.

On the other side, Adam, soon, as he heard

The fatal trespass done by Eve, amazed,

Astonied stood and blank, while horror chill

Ran through his veins, and all his joints relaxed.

From his slack hand the garland wreathed for Eve

Down dropt, and all the faded roses shed.

Speechless he stood and pale, till thus at length

First to himself he inward silence broke: --

 

So saying, her rash hand in evil hour

Forth-reaching to the fruit, she plucked, she eat.

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat,

Sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe

That all was lost.  Back to the thicket slunk

The guilty Serpent, and well might, for Eve,

Intent now only on her taste, naught else

Regarded; such delight till then, as seemed,

In fruit she never tasted, whether true,

Or fancied so through expectation high

Of knowledge; nor was Godhead from her thought.

Greedily she ingorged without restraint,

And knew not eating death.  Satiate at length,

And heightened as with wine, jocund and boon,

Thus to herself she pleasingly began: --

By fountain or by shady rivulet

He sought them both, but wished his hap might find

Eve separate; he wished, but not with hope

Of what so seldom chanced, when to his wish,

Beyond his hope, Eve separate he spies,

Veiled in a cloud of fragrance, where she stood,

Half-spied, so thick the roses bushing round

About her glowed, oft stooping to support

Each flower of tender stalk, whose head, though gay

Carnation, purple, azure, or specked with gold,

Hung, drooping unsustained.  Them she upstays

Gently with myrtle band, mindless the while

Herself, though fairest unsupported flower,

rom her best prop so far, and storm so nigh.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Extended Metaphors as Poems

 

A Simile for Her Smile

by Richard Wilbur

 

Your smiling, or the hope, the thought of it,

Makes in my mind such pause and abrupt ease

As when the highway bridgegates fall,

Balking the hasty traffic, which must sit

On each side massed and staring, while

Deliberately the drawbridge starts to rise:

 

Then horns are hushed, the oilsmoke rarefies,

Above the idling motors one can tell

The packet's smooth approach, the slip,

Slip of the silken river past the sides,

The ringing of clear bells, the dip

And slow cascading of the paddle wheel.

 

 

               

                The Silken Tent

                                    Robert Frost

 

    She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought

    To every thing on earth the compass round,

    And only by one's going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air 
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


                       


 

Quiz on Meter—10 points

(Open book for 100 Great)

 

Poems in play:  “Dulce Et Decorum Est” (377), “My Papa’s Waltz” (35), “Kubla Khan” (156), “Bright Star” (170), “So, We’ll . . .” (163), “Naming of Parts” (Syllabus Link).

 

1 (1 pt).  On p. 23 Fussell offers the following list of common meters:

 

            onometer

            dimeter

            trimeter

tetrameter

hexameter

heptameter

octameter

 

Which common meter does he leave out?   

 

 

2 (1 pt).  What common metrical device does the following passage from Beowulf illustrate? 

 

 

This cursed creature,  cruel and remorseless,

Swiftly slipped in.   He seized thirty thanes

Asleep after supper,  shouldered away                      

What trophies he would,  and took to his lair

Pleased with the plunder,  proud of his murders.

 

3 (1 pt).  Fussell describes the power of the overall metrical pattern in the poem; he also emphasizes that words have their own customary stresses as when used in prose.  In reading poetry which side of this tension does he say you should lean toward, when in doubt?

 

 

 

4 (4 pts).  Isolate one passage from any of the poems you have read for today to illustrate the following metrical features (Where relevant to the answer, mark the meter in the way Fussell does so as to illustrate the feature):

 

a. An initial trochee to achieve an expressive emphasis (briefly explain)

 

 

b. Regular or frequent occurrence of anapestic feet

 

 

c. Use of caesuras in established meter to achieve a particular effect (briefly explain the effect)

 

 

d. A spondee or pyrrhic

 

 

 

5 (1 pt).  Identify a poem that uses trimeter as its established pattern. 

 

 

6 (1 pt).  Identify a poem that uses pentameter as its established pattern.

 

 

7 (1 pt).  Which poem shuns the caesura as a metric device, and why does it work nevertheless?

 

  

Extra Credit (2 pts).

 

On p. 25 Fussell quotes this passages from Frost’s “Out, Out–––”, a poem about a young boy having bled to death because he cut his hand off while doing his chore of cutting wood on the family’s “buzz saw”:

 

No one believed.  They listened at his heart.

Little—less––nothing!—and that ended it.

No more to build on there.  And they, since they

Were not the ones dead, turned to their affairs.

 

Fussell then makes this claim without offering much explanation:

 

What Frost suggests by this reminiscence of formal caesura practice is that a domestic rural disaster is being raised to the elevation of extremely formal art. 

 

Explain what he means, or if you understand and don’t agree, venture a countering argument.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Practice Versification Test

1.  Identifications

Identify the literary device most obviously being used. Choose your answers from the following pool of devices:  assonance, alliteration, cacophony, half-rhyme, sight rhyme, terminal trochee, and medial caesura.

 

Some keep to the arrangement of love

(Or similar trust) under whose auspices move…                             click                                       

 

An axe angles  from my neighbor’s ashcan                             click                             

 

 

 

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower                       click                              

 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.                                  click                             

 

Helen, thy beauty is to me

      Like those Nicéan barks of yore,

That gently, o’er a perfumed sea,

      The weary, way-worn wanderer bore

      To his own native shore.                                                               click                              

 

Or, fed on hate, she relishes the sting

Of others’ agony; perhaps the cruel

Bride of a syphilitic or a fool.                                                                click                           

 

 

                       . . . the baseman

Gathers a grounder in fat green grass,

Picks it stinging and clipped as wit                                       _____________click________________

Into the leather: a swinging step

Wings it deadeye down to first . . .

 

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade

How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;                 ______________click_________________

Blue with all malice, like a madman's flash;

And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.


2.  Scansion matching

Match the boldfaced line of each quote from the column on the left with the proper metrical scansion in the column on the right.  Each quote will include the author and poem title, to supply historical context; write the number of the corresponding scansion in the space provided after the name and title.  Identify all ten quotes.  ( - = unstressed; ' = stressed;  // = caesura).  Remember, a caesura does not just occur because of overt punctuation.  It comes with a natural pause created by the confrontation of the tongue with difficult to join sounds:  "Nights of insult // let us pass." 

 

Then while we live, in love let’s so persévere                                   

That, when we live no more, we may live ever.

(Bradstreet, “To My Dear and Loving Husband”) __click___

 

Nights of insult let you pass                                                   

Watched by every human love.

(Auden, “Lullaby”) ___click__

 

I might be driven to sell your love for peace                          

Or trade the memory of this night for food.

It may well be.  I do not think I would.

(Millay, “Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink”) _click___

 

Back out of all this now too much for us,                             

Back in a time made simple by the loss…

(Frost, “Directive”) ___click__

 

And I will luve thee still, my dear,                                          

     Till a’ the seas gang dry.                                                  

(Burns, “A Red, Red Rose”) _click____

 

And a grin of bitterness swept thereby                                             

            Like an ominous bird a-wing. . . .

(Hardy, “Neutral Tones”) _click____

 

Like a spooky spark from an anvil                                      

The sun makes a teary streak

Across the almost tranquil

Which is the almost bleak.

(Galvin, “Dear Nobody’s Business”) ___click__

 

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;            

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

(Shakespeare, from Henry V, III.1) __click___

 

Rowing in Eden—                                                                  

Ah, the Sea!

(Dickinson, “Wild Nights—Wild Nights!”) __click__

 

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see                                      

That brave vibration each way free,                                    

Oh how that glittering taketh me!

(Herrick, “Upon Julia’s Clothes”) _click____

 

1) -´-´-´

2) ´- - ´ -

3) -´-´ // -´-´-´-

4) ´- -´- // ´-´-´

5) ´-´-´-´

6) --´-´ // --´-

7) -´-´- // ´-´

8) --´-´-- // ´-´

9) -´-´ // -´-´-´

10) -´-´- // ´-´-´

 

                                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

sight rhyme

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

alliteration

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

terminal trochee

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

cacophony

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

assonance

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

half-rhyme

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

medial caesura

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) -´/ -´/ // -´/-´/-´-/

 

Then while we live, in love let’s so persévere                                   

That, when we live no more, we may live ever.

 

(Bradstreet, “To My Dear and Loving Husband”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5) ´-/´-/´-´

 

Nights of insult let you pass                                                   

Watched by every human love.

 

(Auden, “Lullaby”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9) -´/ -´ // / -´/ -´/ -´

 

I might be driven to sell your love for peace                          

Or trade the memory of this night for food.

It may well be.  I do not think I would.

 

(Millay, “Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4) ´- / -´/ - '/-' / -´

 

Back out of all this now too much for us,                             

Back in a time made simple by the loss…

 

(Frost, “Directive”)  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1)  -´-´-´

 

And I will luve thee still, my dear,                                          

     Till a’ the seas gang dry.      

                                            

(Burns, “A Red, Red Rose”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8)  --´/ -´ /-- / ' -´

 

And a grin of bitterness swept thereby                                             

            Like an ominous bird a-wing. . . .

 

(Hardy, “Neutral Tones”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6)  --´/ -´/ -- / ´-

 

Like a spooky spark from an anvil                                      

The sun makes a teary streak

Across the almost tranquil

Which is the almost bleak.

 

(Galvin, “Dear Nobody’s Business”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10)  -´/ -´/ ' -/ ´ / -´/ -´

 

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;            

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

 

(Shakespeare, from Henry V, III.1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2)  ´- / - ´ -

 

Rowing in Eden—                                                                  

Ah, the Sea!

 

(Dickinson, “Wild Nights—Wild Nights!”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7)  -´/ -´/ - ´/ -´/

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see                                      

That brave vibration each way free,                                    

Oh how that glittering taketh me!

 

(Herrick, “Upon Julia’s Clothes”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Quiz—Principles of Metrical Variation

(5 points)

 

Part 1  Fill in the blanks in the following quotations from p. 35 of Fussell (1 pt. each):

 

a.  A succession of stressed syllables without the expected intervening unstressed syllables can reinforce effects of _________, __________, or __________.

 

 

 

 

b.  A succession of unstressed syllables without the expected intervening stressed syllables can reinforce effects of _________, __________, or ____________.

 

 

c.  An unanticipated reversal in the rhythm implies a sudden ____________ . . .

 

 

  

Part 2  (2 pts).  Provide two examples from your reading in100 Great for today’s or the previous classes of any or two of the above effects.  Write out and scan the lines in which that effect, or those effects, occur.

 

Effect "a": 

 

 

Effect "b": 

 

 

Effect "c":

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Quiz:  Fussell and the Sonnet

(10 pts)

 

1.  (1 pt) Fussell distinguishes between two basic kinds of poetic organization in English:  stichic and strophic. To which of these patterns does the sonnet belong?  Explain in a way that makes clear the difference between stichic and strophic.

 

 

2.  (1 pt) Fussell writes that in the Shakespearean sonnet “we find a structure of two parts laid over four.”  Explain exactly what he means by this claim.

 

 

 

3. (2 pts) Identify (by filling in the blank) which kind of sonnet Fussell writes about in each of the following two statements:

 

In the ______________ sonnet the problem is often solved by reasoned perception or by a relatively expansive and formal meditative process . . .

 

In the ______________ sonnet the “solution” is more likely to be the fruit of wit, or paradox, or even a quick shaft of sophistry, logical cleverness, or outright comedy.

 

 4.  (4 pt) Rearrange the letters to indicate the correct order of the following sonnet; and also provide an explanation for your decision that includes two considerations:  the structural principles of the genre and the effectiveness of thematic and emotional development.

 

In me though see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,                                                   A

Which by-and-by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self that seals up all in rest

 

This thou perceiv’st, which makes they love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.                               B

 

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,                             C

Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

 

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the deathbed whereon it must expire,                                          D

Consumed with that which it was nourished by.

 

 

 

5. (2 pts) Identify the prevailing meter in the above poem and also indicate an alteration in that prevailing meter that enriches what is being said.  Explain.

 

 

 

 

Extra Credit (2 pts).  In what period of English poetry, according to Fussell, was the sonnet largely ignored?  It must be a period after the invention of the sonnet in the early 13th century and its importation into English.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Denise Duhamel - "Ego"

I just didn't get it--
even with the teacher holding an orange (the earth) in one hand
and a lemon (the moon) in the other,
her favorite student (the sun) standing behind her with a flashlight.
I just couldn't grasp it--
this whole citrus universe, these bumpy planets revolving so slowly
no one could even see themselves moving.
I used to think if I could only concentrate hard enough
I could be the one person to feel what no one else could,
sense a small tug from the ground, a sky shift, the earth changing gears.
Even though I was only one mini-speck on a speck,
even though I was merely a pinprick in one goosebump on the orange,
I was sure then I was the most specially perceptive, perceptively sensitive.
I was sure then my mother was the only mother to snap--
"The world doesn't revolve around you!"
The earth was fragile and mostly water
just the way the orange was mostly water if you peeled it,
just the way I was mostly water if you peeled me.
Looking back on that third-grade science demonstration,
I can understand why some people gave up on fame or religion or cures--
especially people who have an understanding
of the excruciating crawl of the world,
who have a well-developed sense of spatial reasoning
and the tininess that it is to be one of us.
But not me--even now I wouldn't mind being god, the force
who spins the planets the way I spin a globe, a basketball, a yoyo.
I wouldn't mind being that teacher who chooses the fruit,
or that favorite kid who gives the moon its glow.
 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

                                 Practice

        (Adapted entirely from Allan Iverson)

 

If I can't practice

I can't practice.

 

It ain't about that at all.

It's easy to sum it up, if you're just talking about practice.

 

We're sitting here, and I'm supposed to be the franchise player.

I mean listen, we're sitting here talking about practice.

 

Now I know that I'm supposed to lead by example and all that.

I know it's important, I honestly do.  But we're talking about practice.

 

You see me play, you've seen me play right?

You've seen me give everything I've got, but we're talking about practice.

 

Hey I hear you, it's funny to me too, hey it's strange to me too.

We're not even talking about the game, we're talking about practice.

 

But I am Allan Iverson, I get paid to play basketball.

I'm saying that's why we're in here, having this talk, because of practice.

 

 

                                                                                       Luke Albi

The Ghazal (click)

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

The Dead Know “No”

Anne Sexton’s “The Truth the Dead Know”—with its title and dedication to both mother and father who died only a few months apart­­--offers an apparently open and understandable front.  The words “truth” and “know” imply that the poem will provide answers to a question, and the dedication gives it an autobiographical foundation in “real life,” or death, with which we can feel somewhat at home.  We leave that comfort zone almost immediately on entering the poem, however; and we move from one self-conflicting image to another, and get hints of some intimate relationship, only to come to an ending that puzzles even more, with its image of scattered, fragmented body parts of the dead—“throat, eye, and knucklebone” refusing “to be blessed.”  Like any good poem, this one cannot of course be "solved," but amid all its apparent confusion, it expresses a powerful vision of death’s finality and of human existence as fundamentally material.  This vision emerges from the poem’s evoking the elegiac form and from two primary patterns in its details:  oppositions between stillness and motion and between fragmented solitude and companionship. 

The poem’s play with the elegiac form offers inroads into its suggestive force.  Sexton has selected the elegiac quatrain (iambic pentameter; abab rhyme) of Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (See Fussell 134-35).  That form raises certain expectations about the “movements’ within the poem. The elegy, as we have seen, addresses the loss of someone important.  It tries to make the audience feel that loss; it does this by bringing the dead one back into a suspended, temporary presence through description of her life and deeds.  It also offers consolation—the dead is better gone out of this world where failure inevitably overtakes him (“To An Athlete”); those remaining are somehow better off because of the lost one’s life and so on.  Sometimes the consolation comes with our learning from the loss to appreciate each other more fully.  Seen in terms of these expectations, the poem becomes somewhat understandable.  The speaker’s parents have died.  That situation calls for all the elegiac or eulogistic “moves.”  As it turns out, however, the poem rebels against those moves even while adopting an elegiac form:  the speaker’s only articulate response to the death of her parents is “Gone, I say.”  That—the word “gone––is the anti-eulogy, the anti-consolation of this poem. 

Her next response is to leave the scene of death and to find consolation in an apparently intimate relationship with someone whom she addresses as “darling”: they “touch,” and when they “touch,” they “enter touch entirely.”  This form of consolation subverts the expectations of public morning and socialized consolation and replaces it with an escape into a concentrated sense of private companionship and presence—the image of touch.  As if an afterthought, the last stanza recalls the dead—“what of” them?  Here again the poem simultaneously evokes the elegiac tendencies and rejects them, suggesting that the dead are mere stone, not some spirit that will remain with us.  And even the dead themselves will reject one feature of the elegiac situation—a blessing.  “They refuse / to be blessed.”  Instead of describing them moreover in some memorable way to bring them into a sort of nostalgic presence, the poem refuses that altogether by depicting them as defamiliarized fragments, incapable of comprising some recognizable person.  Simply, this poem uses the elegiac form to declare itself an anti-elegy.  Even its random variations on the pentameter line suggest this subversion of the traditional form.

The imagery of fragmented isolation as opposed to companionship plays a big role in this subversion of the elegy.  It also is part of the poem’s portrayal of a lyrical—that is private, personal rather than public—response to death.  The speaker finds consolation in being part of a “we.”  The dead ride “alone”in the hearse; they amount to “stones” in this poem, fragments unattached to anything else.  Even body parts appear as separate, incoherent entities, as we have seen.  On the other hand, the personal consolation comes in images suggesting the opposite of loneliness:  “we touch” occurring three times; “my darling”; a sea with a “heart” (even if “whitehearted”) to suggest feeling; and the absolute rejection of loneliness in what seems almost a compensatory assertion, “No one’s alone.”  The situation that these details represent even invites a longing to possess it, to gather it in:  “Men kill for it”--envy after all is communal in some strange way.  In part, the opposite of death in this poem is companionship and the desire to have it—the “darling,” the consuming “touch” and the men desiring it so much they will kill for it. It amounts to much the same solution to death as described in “To His Coy Mistress,” or answer to the world’s dissolution represented in “Dover Beach.” 

“Touch” also partakes of the other pattern of imagery that opposes death:  motion.  “Touch” does, it seems, require motion.  In addition, the speaker “walks from church”; she and her companion “drive to the Cape”; she “cultivates [herself].”  And the scene all around her at the Cape involves motion:  “sun gutters from the sky”; “the sea swings in like an iron gate”;  and “the wind falls liked stones.”  On the other hand, death and the dead equate to lack of motion.  Even the procession of the dead to the grave in the hearse is “stiff.”  The fact that the dead “lie without shoes” implies that they will be walking nowhere soon.  That they lie in “stone boats,” despite the suggestion of movement in “boats,” implies motionlessness as well.  A stone boat is a wagon used to carry stones: the items it contains lack any motion coming from themselves.  Finally, the dead “are more like stone / than the sea would be if it stopped.”

This contrast between the fragmented isolation of the dead as opposed to the companionship of the living child, and the rigidity of the dead in contrast to the motion of those who survive, emphasizes, I think, the terrible finality of death; it is merely a disposition of material.  In large part “the truth the dead know” amounts to just that.  However we oversimplify if we stop there.  We have ignored the self-conflicting nature of the poem’s imagery.  For example, the “procession” is “stiff”; something as dependably present in the sky as the sun “gutters”; the sea in the second stanza expresses motion by swinging in, but that swinging is like something as rigid as an “iron gate”; the wind falls, in the third stanza, but that motion is like “stones”; the death denying intimacy between the couple is something “men kill for”; and finally in the last stanza the speaker imagines the motion-filled sea stopping.  Hauntingly, then, the images of motion-filled life never get quite free of this sense of death’s motionlessness, as if life has death built into it.  In movement itself is the condition of not to move.  

I would like to claim that in this way the poem actually overcomes, even if faintly, its own rather careless subversion of the normal grief involved in the elegiac response to loss.  Sexton the poet seems to set up her speaker as running from, but always somehow in the presence of, grief over the loss of her parents.  If this were not the case, in fact, the poem would end after the third stanza.  The description of men so envious of the apparently fulfilling condition of absolute intimacy—“we enter touch entirely”—that they would kill for it, requires the last stanza’s return to the subject of the dead.  In other words, even the narrator’s description of absolute forgetfulness of death contains the word “kill,” which in turn takes the speaker back to that which is “gone.”  Paradoxically, “gone” operates as a haunting presence throughout this poem.  And by representing that unacknowledged presence of grief within the speaker’s patterns of association, Sexton produces what I would call a realistic portrayal of a denial that in fact honors the lost parents. 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Poems to Consider for #1 on Study Guide

For the Grave of Daniel Boone

                                    William Stafford, 1957

 

The farther he went the farther home grew.

Kentucky became another room;

the mansion arched over the Mississippi;

flowers were spread all over the floor.

He traced ahead a deepening home,

and better, with goldenrod:

 

Leaving the snakeskin of place after place,

going on--after the trees

the grass, a bird flying after a song.

Rifle so level, sighting so well

his picture freezes down to now,

a story-picture for children.

 

They go over the velvet falls

into the tapestry of his time,

heirs to the landscape, feeling no jar:

it is like evening; they are the quail

surrounding his fire, coming in for the kill;

their little feet move sacred sand.

 

Children, we live in a barbwire time

but like to follow the old hands back--

the ring in the light, the knuckle, the palm,

all the way to Daniel Boone,

hunting our own kind of deepening home.

From the land that was his I heft this rock.

 

Here on his grave I put it down.

 

 

W.H. Auden's "The Shield of Achilles" (click)

and 100 Great, 427

 

Robert Frost's "Mowing," 100 Great, 296

 

Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est," 100 Great, 377

 

Thomas Hardy, "Channel Firing," 100 Great, 265

                      

Donald Justice, "Men at Forty." 487