Poetry

25 An Anthology of Poems for Further Study

Philip Kevin Paul (1971–)

“Such a Tiny Light”

Read “Such a Tiny Light” and learn about its context.

Activities

  1. “’Such a Tiny Light,’” Paul explains, “represents my conversation with and sensitivity to mortality and loss.” What examples of mortality and loss does he provide in the poem to reinforce this theme?
  2. What is the form or genre of the poem?
  3. Identify examples of personification in the poem, and explain how they support the poem’s theme?
  4. What, literally, is the tiny light to which the poem’s title alludes?  What (metaphorically/symbolically) does the tiny light represent?

Gregory Scofield (1966–)

“The Sewing Circle”

Read “The Sewing Circle” [PDF].

Activities

  1. Who is the narrator of this poem?  What seminal event in Canadian history inspired this poem?
  2. What is a sewing circle?  How has Scofield altered its traditional purpose to underscore the theme of his poem?
  3. Why does the poem include so many religious references, and how does the narrator’s faith influence the poem’s theme?
  4. Identify and explain the effect of the simile Scofield uses in stanzas 6-7.
  5. Describe the tone, the voice of the poem.  Does the tone suggest the outcome of battle to be fought?

Marilyn Dumont (1955–)

“Leather and Naugahyde”

Read “Leather and Naugahyde.”

Activities

  1. What are the qualities of “Leather and Naugahyde” that make it a poem, rather than a single prose paragraph?
  2. What is Naugahyde and why is it an effective metaphor for the differences in ethnic identities at the heart of the poem?
  3. What is a “treaty guy”? How and why does his attitude towards the poem’s narrator suddenly change? What is the nature of the change?
  4. What is the theme of the poem?
  5. Read additional information on indigenous Canadian authors [PDF].

Rita Dove (1952–)

“Heart to Heart”

Read “Heart to Heart.”

Activities

  1. What is a cliché? List the clichés related to the human heart that Dove references in the poem. What is her purpose in doing so?
  2. How would you describe the tone, the voice of the poem? How does the form of the poem shape the tone? Is there a change in tone, as the poem comes to an end?
  3. Poems about hearts are usually love poems. Is this a love poem? Support your answer.
  4. Watch an interview with Rita Dove. Does the interview give you any insights into the theme and form of “Heart to Heart”?

Emma Laroque (1949–)

“The Red in Winter”

Read “The Red in Winter” and learn about its context.

Activities

  1. What is the significance—the double entendre—of the title of the poem?
  2. How do personification and symbolism add layers of meaning to this poem?
  3. How does the form of the poem—its brevity, especially—influence its theme?

Yusef Komunyakaa (1947–)

“Facing It”

Read “Facing It” and watch and listen to Komunyakka read “Facing It.

Activities

  1. How do we know that the poet, visiting the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, is a Vietnam vet himself?
  2. Komunyakaa wants readers to know that civilians who would not have served in Vietnam still were involved in the war.  How does he accomplish this?
  3. Why and how is race important in the context of this poem?
  4. What is the significance of the name “Andrew Johnson” mentioned in the poem?
  5. Note two examples of imagery in the poem and determine how the imagery enhances the impact the poem has on its readers.
  6. Why does the poet end “Facing It” as he does?  Do you think this is an effective ending?  Explain your answer.

Wendy Cope (1945–)

“Bloody Men”

Read “Bloody Men.”

Activities

  1. In her poetry, Wendy Cope often uses humour to express a serious theme.  How does “Bloody Men” illustrate this technique?
  2. Is this a feminist or an anti-feminist poem? Explain your answer.
  3. What is the form of the poem? Why does Cope use this form?
  4. Comment on the effectiveness of the extended simile/metaphor at the centre of this poem. What does Cope mean by “flashing their indicators”?
  5. See an interview with Cope. How does the interview help you understand and appreciate “Bloody Men”?

Kay Ryan (1945–)

“Blandeur”

Read “Blandeur.”

Activities

  1. What does Ryan say in this poem about the nature of nature? What is the theme of the poem?
  2. What is a pun? How is the title of this poem a pun?
  3. “Blandeur is not a word found in the dictionary, nor is “unlean.” Has Ryan made a mistake? Why does she make up her own words?
  4. See an interview with Ryan. How does the interview help you understand and appreciate “Blandeur”?

Billy Collins (1941–)

“Introduction to Poetry”

Read “Introduction to Poetry.”

Activities

  1. What is the source of the speaker’s frustration in the poem? How does this frustration help to establish the poem’s theme?
  2. Compare and contrast the two ways of reading poetry presented in “Introduction to Poetry.” In your opinion, which method is preferable?
  3. What metaphors does Collins use for the art of reading poetry? Do you think they are effective?
  4. Watch and hear Collins read and discuss his poetry. How does his presentation help you understand and appreciate “Introduction to Poetry”?

Buffy Sainte-Marie (1941–)

“Now that the Buffalo’s Gone”

Read the lyrics of “Now that the Buffalo’s Gone”. Hear Buffy Saint-Marie sing the song.

Activities

  1. Why does the author reference the Buffalo in this song? For what is the buffalo a symbol and a metaphor?
  2. What is the theme of this poem/song?
  3. What is the basis of the comparison the author makes between the government’s defeat of Germany and the defeat of Native Americans? How are the “victories” similar and how are they different? Is the analogy effective?
  4. The tribes the author references in the final stanza are the Inuit, Cheyanne, and Navaho? What is the significance of her choice of these three tribes?
  5. Buffy Sainte-Marie recorded “Now that the Buffalo’s Gone” in 1964. Have conditions for indigenous people improved? Remained the same? Gotten worse? Explain your answer.

Margaret Atwood (1939–)

“You Fit into Me”

Read “You Fit into Me.”

Activities

  1. What do we expect the hook and eye reference in the first stanza to be about? What does it actually refer to, as revealed in the second stanza? How does this juxtaposition inform the theme of the poem?
  2. What do you think is the source of the problems with the relationship alluded to in the poem?
  3. What is the form/genre of this poem?
  4. Watch and listen to Margaret Atwood read one of her poems.

Sylvia Plath (1932–1963)

“Mirror”

Read “Mirror.”

Activities

  1. Who narrates this poem? What literary device is Plath using here? How does this narrator inform the theme of the poem?
  2. What is the form or genre of the poem?
  3. How is the poem relevant to contemporary life?

Adrienne Rich (1929–2012)

“Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers”

Read “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers.”

“Diving into the Wreck”

Read “Diving into the Wreck.” Watch and hear Rich read “Diving into the Wreck”.

Activities

  1. “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” was published in 1950, before the feminist movement caught fire. How does the poem foreshadow Rich’s eventual emergence as a leading feminist poet?
  2. How do we know Aunt Jennifer is not in a happy marriage?
  3. How does Aunt Jennifer cope with the sorrow in her life? What is the theme of the poem?
  4. What is the form of the poem?
  5. Compare and contrast “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” with William Blake’s “The Tiger.”
  6. How is the aphorism “We destroy in order to recreate” relevant to the context and the theme of “Diving into the Wreck?”
  7. Identify three examples of symbolism used in “Diving into the Wreck” and reflect upon how the symbolism augments the theme of the poem.
  8. How and why is the sunken ship that the narrator explores an effective extended metaphor to enhance the poem’s theme?
  9. Can we tell by reading this poem that the poet is a feminist? Explain your answer.

Maya Angelou (1928–2014)

“Still I Rise”

Read “Still I Rise.” Watch and hear Angelou read “Still I Rise”.

“Phenomenal Women”

Read “Phenomenal Woman.” Watch and hear Angelou read “Phenomenal Woman”.

Activities

  1. “Still I Rise” has a distinctive rhythm pattern. Identify the rhythm and explain why it is effective. Why does the rhythm pattern change in the last few stanzas?
  2. Based upon the evidence in these poems, what social causes/movements does Angelou support? Explain your answer.
  3. How might we know these poems were written by the same author?
  4. What stereotypes about female beauty does Angelou debunk in “Phenomenal Woman”? What is the theme of the poem?

Maxine Kumin (1925–2014)

“Morning Swim”

Read “Morning Swim.”

“Woodchucks”

Read “Woodchucks.” Watch and hear Kumin read “Woodchucks”.

Activities

  1. Hear the hymn “Abide with Me”. Explain why the narrator of “Morning Swim” is singing this hymn, while she swims. How does the hymn help develop the theme of the poem?
  2. Provide three examples of imagery in “Morning Swim” and explain how imagery supports the poem’s theme?
  3. Compare and contrast the forms of the two poems by Kumin, noting especially similarities and differences in theme and form.
  4. What does “NIMBY” stand for, and how is the phrase relevant to the theme of “Woodchucks”?
  5. Think of a time when your own values and ideals have been challenged by extraneous circumstances and relate this conflict to the theme of “Woodchucks.”

Feature Unit: The Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance

The Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance

Introduction

In the early years of the twentieth century, a labour shortage, mainly in the manufacturing sector, combined with a pervasive racism, which the abolition of slavery had failed to eradicate, lured hundreds of thousands of African Americans north, to the large cities of New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago.  Many settled in the Harlem borough of New York.  Prosperity fosters culture, and soon black artists, musicians, poets, playwrights, and novelists were painting, writing music, editing literary magazines, producing plays, and publishing their stories and poems.

Claude McKay’s 1922 poetry collection Harlem Shadows is among the earliest and most successful books, credited by some literary historians as the book that initiated the Harlem Renaissance.  Jean Toomer’s, Cane, appeared a year later, to critical acclaim from not only black but prominent white authors, notably Sherwood Anderson.  Langston Hughes has emerged as the great poet of the movement, mainly because of his innovative style, echoing the jazz rhythms and speech patterns of African American musicians and ordinary citizens, evident in the poems included in his 1926 collection, The Weary Blues.  Countee Cullen preferred to work in traditional regular verse forms, though his poetry collections, Copper Sun, in 1927 and The Ballad of the Brown Girl, a year later, reveal his commitment to the struggle for equal rights.

As a literary movement, the Harlem Renaissance faded in the 1930’s, as the Great Depression challenged the same economic prosperity that had helped to launch the Renaissance.  But the Harlem Renaissance left a lasting legacy.  It provided the inspiration—and fuel—for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.  It resurged in the Black Arts Movement of the 1970’s, when poets like Amiri Baraka, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez, using more militant language and angrier tones, protested against the same social conditions which had angered and frustrated the poets of the Harlem Renaissance.

Claude McKay (1889–1948)

“Harlem Shadows”

I hear the halting footsteps of a lass
In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall
Its veil. I see the shapes of girls who pass
To bend and barter at desire’s call.
Ah, little dark girls who in slippered feet
Go prowling through the night from street to street!

Through the long night until the silver break
Of day the little gray feet know no rest;
Through the lone night until the last snow-flake
Has dropped from heaven upon the earth’s white breast,
The dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet
Are trudging, thinly shod, from street to street.

Ah, stern harsh world, that in the wretched way
Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace,
Has pushed the timid little feet of clay,
The sacred brown feet of my fallen race!
Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet
In Harlem wandering from street to street.

Activities

  1. What is the significance of the title of the poem?
  2. What is the tone, the voice, of this poem and how does the poet achieve this tone?
  3. Assess the poem’s rhythm and rhyme scheme.
  4. Whom does the poet blame for the plight of the “dusky, half-clad girls of tired feet”?

Jean Toomer (1894–1967)

“Georgia Dusk”

The sky, lazily disdaining to pursue
The setting sun, too indolent to hold
A lengthened tournament for flashing gold,
Passively darkens for night’s barbecue,A feast of moon and men and barking hounds,
An orgy for some genius of the South
With blood-hot eyes and cane-lipped scented mouth,
Surprised in making folk-songs from soul sounds.

The sawmill blows its whistle, buzz-saws stop,
And silence breaks the bud of knoll and hill,
Soft settling pollen where plowed lands fulfill
Their early promise of a bumper crop.

Smoke from the pyramidal sawdust pile
Curls up, blue ghosts of trees, tarrying low
Where only chips and stumps are left to show
The solid proof of former domicile.

Meanwhile, the men, with vestiges of pomp,
Race memories of king and caravan,
High-priests, an ostrich, and a juju-man,[1]
Go singing through the footpaths of the swamp.

Their voices rise . . the pine trees are guitars,
Strumming, pine-needles fall like sheets of rain . .
Their voices rise . . the chorus of the cane
Is caroling a vesper[2] to the stars . .

O singers, resinous and soft your songs
Above the sacred whisper of the pines,
Give virgin lips to cornfield concubines,
Bring dreams of Christ to dusky cane-lipped throngs.

Activities

  1. Where and when is this poem set? How might the “dusk” of the title be used symbolically?
  2. There is a narrative tinge to the poem. Summarize the story it tells.
  3. What is the poet urging the black sawmill workers to do in the poem’s last stanza?
  4. The Harlem Renaissance poets were concerned with African American emancipation, civil rights, equality. How do these concerns figure in “Georgia Dusk”?

Langston Hughes (1902–1967)

“Harlem”

Read “Harlem.”

Activities

  1. What is the veiled threat implicit in this poem? What are the sources of the threat? How does this threat inform the theme of the poem?
  2. Identify similes and metaphors Hughes uses in the poem and assess why the are effective?
  3. Hear Hughes read “Harlem”. How does hearing the poet read his work help you understand and appreciate it?

Countee Cullen (1903–1946)

“Yet Do I Marvel”

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus[3]
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus[4]
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism[5] by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

Activities

  1. What is the issue troubling the poet? What four examples does he provide to illustrate the nature of the problem?
  2. Does the “curious thing” referenced near the end of the poem help to exonerate God and the gods or is it another example of the gods’ indifferent cruelty?
  3. How do we know this poem is a Shakespeare sonnet?
  4. Watch and hear “Yet Do I Marvel” read. Does hearing the poem read aloud help you understand it?

John Magee (1922–1941)

“High Flight”

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, —and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of —Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Activities

  1. Why does Magee describe the “bonds of earth” as “surly”?
  2. Magee tries to use the rhythm of his language to mimic the feel of a small plane (here a spitfire in which he was training to be a fighter pilot in World War II) in flight. Does he succeed? Support your answer.
  3. Why does God enter the poem in the last line? How does the reference add to the theme of the poem?
  4. How do we know this poem is a sonnet?

Dylan Thomas (1914–1953)

“Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieve it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Activities

  1. To what do the phrases “that good night” and “the dying of the light,” which echo throughout the poem, refer?
  2. What is the form/genre of this poem? How does the form influence the poem’s content?
  3. Thomas references four types of people who refuse to go gentle into that good night, who rage against the dying of the light. What are these four types of people? Why have all of them experienced disappointments in their lives? What is the nature of these disappointments? How do they or should they express their regrets?
  4. Watch and hear Thomas read “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”. Does the reading of the poem help you understand and appreciate it? Explain your answer.

Stevie Smith (1902–1971)

“Not Waving but Drowning”

Read “Not Waving but Drowning.” Watch and hear Smith read and explain the context of “Not Waving but Drowning”.

Activities

  1. How does the metaphor implicit in the poem’s title signal the theme of the poem?
  2. Why do the drowning man’s friends misread and misinterpret signals he sends them?
  3. Assess the truth of the theme of the poem, providing an example if you can.

E.E. Cummings (1894–1962)

“Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town”

Read “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town.” Watch and hear Cummings read “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town”.

“Somewhere I Have Never Travelled”

Read “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled.” Watch and hear Cummings read “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled”.

Activities

  1. What is a ballad? How is “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town” like a ballad? How is it not?
  2. Why are the names of the characters in “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town” so indeterminate? How do their names help establish the theme of the poem?
  3. Paraphrase stanza six of “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town.”
  4. The syntax is some lines of “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town” is convoluted to such an extent they make no literal sense. Identify two or three examples. What is Cummings’ point in so defying the conventions of language?
  5. Compare and contrast the form of “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled” with the form of “Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town.”
  6. To whom is “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled” addressed? Who is the “I”; who is the “you” in the poem? How do you know this?
  7. What effect does the “you” in the poem have upon the speaker? How does this relationship help establish the theme of the poem?
  8. Paraphrase stanza four of “Somewhere I Have Never Travelled.”

T.S. Eliot (1888–1965)

“The Hollow Men”

Read “The Hollow Men.”

“The Journey of the Magi”

Read “The Journey of the Magi.”

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

Activities

  1. Consider the form of “The Hollow Men”: short, free-verse lines, in five parts, sub-divided into stanzas of various length and number. Some lines seem to end before the poet’s thought is completed. How does this form augment the poem’s theme?
  2. Is “The Hollow Men” as relevant today as it was when Eliot wrote it? Who are “The Hollow Men” of contemporary society, and what do they need to lead a more fulfilling life?
  3. Compare and contrast the tone (cf. Glossary) of “The Journey of the Magi” with the tone of the earlier poems by Eliot. Is there a difference in tone? How do you account for the difference or the lack thereof?
  4. Like “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “The Journey of the Magi” is a free-verse narrative poem, its speaker one of the Magi or Wise Men. Compare and contrast the characters of Prufrock and the Wise Man.
  5. Is “The Journey of the Magi” a Christian poem only, or is it relevant to people of other faiths? Explain your answer.
  6. What features of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” identify it as a dramatic monologue (cf. Glossary)?
  7. Why does Prufrock find it impossible to ask “the overwhelming question”? What changes might he make to his life and attitude that would help him ask the woman the question?
  8. Does Prufrock evoke your pity? Your condemnation? Can you identify with him, in any way?

E. J. Pratt (1882–1964)

“From Stone to Steel”

Read “From Stone to Steel.”

Activities

  1. Throughout the poem, Pratt presents many comparisons and contrasts: the stone age, bronze age, steel age; Java and Geneva; the Neanderthal and the Aryan; paganism and Christianity; the Euphrates and the Rhine; the temple and the cave. What point is Pratt making? What is the theme of the poem?
  2. Paraphrase the third stanza of the poem.
  3. How does the regular verse form of the poem complement its theme?
  4. In what sense do “The yearlings still the altars crave / As satisfaction for a sin”?

Feature Unit: The Poetry of World War I

The Poetry of World War I

Introduction

The “war to end wars,” as H.G. Wells described it in a series of newspaper articles,[6] began in 1914. The main belligerents were the allied forces of France, Britain, and the dominions, including Canada, Australia, and New Zealand; Russia (until 1917) and, after April 1917, the United States—versus the central powers: Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Few believed that the war would last very long, but gradually both sides became mired in a stalemate, and it dragged on until November 1918, with unparalleled loss of life—nearly nine million combatants and millions of civilians died as a result of the war.

One striking difference between the war poetry of the Victorian Age as seen in Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and the poetry of World War I is the shift from a more or less unquestioning acceptance of war to a growing disillusionment. Although Tennyson makes clear that the military command had blundered in this instance, he refuses to dwell on the incompetence of the generals and instead emphasizes the bravery of the British soldier. Similarly, Rupert Brooke, perhaps the public face of the British war effort before his death prior to seeing action, carries forward a romanticized, chivalric view of war, particularly in his poem, “The Soldier,” a poem that Dean Inge, one of the most important clergymen in Britain, read as part of his Easter Sunday sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1914, and to which Winston Churchill referred in an obituary published in the Times three days after Brooke’s death. Even Siegfried Sassoon, the poet who, along with Wilfred Owen, was considered one of the poets most critical of the war, seems to echo Brooke’s romanticizing attitude in an early poem, “Absolution”:

…War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise,
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.

Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,
And loss of things desired; all these must pass.
We are the happy legion…

But as the war dragged on, with more and more poets killed and the survivors increasingly disillusioned, a patriotic poem such as ‘The Soldier’ became a ridiculous anachronism in the face of the realities of trench warfare, and the even more blatantly patriotic note sounded by John Freeman’s ‘Happy is England Now,’ which claimed that ‘there’s not a nobleness of heart, hand, brain/But shines the purer; happiest is England now/In those that fight’ seemed obscene” (Norton Anthology of English Literature, 20th Century and After, 9th ed., 2017). And unlike Tennyson’s uncritical response to the effects of blundering generals, Sassoon implies in a later poem, that the cheery old general, safely distant from the front line, who passes two enlisted men on their way to the front, is perhaps the real enemy: “Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of  ’em dead/And we’re cursing his Staff for incompetent swine” (“The General”). Interestingly, Sassoon tempered the sting of the final line in the published version. A draft version reads, “murdered them” rather than “did for them.”

For a complete account of the rich history of World War I poetry, see the First World War Poetry Digital Archives.

Wilfred Owen (1893–1918)

“Disabled”

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
—In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join. He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts.

That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

“Dulce et Decorum Est”[7]

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines[8] that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; (20)
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest (25)
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

“Futility”

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.

Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,—still warm,—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

“Anthem for Doomed Youth”[9]

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle[10]?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds[11].

Owen Activities

  1. Look at the following recruitment poster. Do you think Owen had it in mind when he wrote the last line of “Disabled”?
  2. Read Dr. Stuart Lee’s Background to “Dulce et Decorum Est”. Which one of the four do you prefer and why?
  3. Notice the subtitle in the first: “To a Certain Poetess” Who might that be? Remember to click on the Stage 1 and 2 links at To visit Oxford Tutorial page for Dulce et Decorum Est.
  4. What has occurred just before the poem “Futility” begins?
  5. What scene do you visualize at the opening of “Futility”?
  6. Who is speaking in “Futility”? What is his relation to “him”?
  7. To whom is he speaking in line 1 of “Futility”?
  8. Why does the speaker in “Futility” want “him” moved into the sun?
  9. What reasons does the speaker in “Futility” give for thinking the sun will help?
  10. What is the connotation of “sun”? “snow”? “clay”?
  11. What does “fatuous” mean?
  12. Rhythm: How should we read the second stanza of “Futility”? What effect do the many hyphens have on the tempo of our reading?
  13. How does the title “Futility” relate to the theme?
  14. What kind of sonnet is “Anthem for Doomed Youth”? What is its rhyme scheme?

Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967)

“Counter-Attack”

Read Sassoon’s “Counter-Attack.

Sassoon Activities

  1. What does the image in line 8 of Stanza 2 describe? One critic is reminded of the Goya painting The Colossus, which described another war scene (the Peninsular War). What do you think?
  2. In the published version of the poem (Collected Poems: 1908-1956, Faber), the lines 7–13 are indented. What would be the effect or purpose of this indentation?

Wallace Stevens (1879–1955)

“The Emperor of Ice Cream”

Read “The Emperor of Ice Cream.”

Activities

  1. What is a wake? What evidence in the poem suggests its setting is a wake?
  2. What is the denotation and the connotation of the “wenches” of line 4?
  3. Express line 7 in your own words. How does this line, along with line 15, suggest the theme of the poem?
  4. What is hedonism? Does “The Emperor of Ice Cream” embrace or reject a hedonistic philosophy? Explain your answer.
  5. Hear “The Emperor of Ice Cream” read and explicated. Does the explication enhance your understanding and enjoyment?

E.A. Robinson (1869–1935)

“Richard Cory”

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Activities

  1. What does Richard Cory look like? Why is his physical appearance important to the poem’s meaning?
  2. What is the form/genre of this poem, its rhythm pattern and rhyme scheme? How does the form intensify the shock of the poem’s ending?
  3. When is the poem set? How does the setting intensify the shock of the poem’s ending?
  4. Is the story embedded in this poem credible? Support your answer.

William Butler Yeats (1865–1939)

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”[12]

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles[13] made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

“No Second Troy”

Why should I blame her[14] that she filled my days
With misery[15], or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great.
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

“Easter, 1916”[16]

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley[17] is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s[18] days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man[19] had kept a school
And rode our winged horse[20];
This other his helper and friend[21]
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout[22].
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith[23]
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse —
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly[24] and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

“The Second Coming”[25]

Turning and turning in the widening gyre[26]

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi[27]
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,[28]
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep[29]
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,[30]
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem[31] to be born?

“A Prayer for My Daughter”[32]

Once more the storm is howling, and half hid
Under this cradle-hood and coverlid
My child sleeps on. There is no obstacle
But Gregory’s wood[33] and one bare hill
Whereby the haystack- and roof-levelling wind.
Bred on the Atlantic, can be stayed;
And for an hour I have walked and prayed
Because of the great gloom that is in my mind.

I have walked and prayed for this young child an hour
And heard the sea-wind scream upon the tower,
And-under the arches of the bridge, and scream
In the elms above the flooded stream;
Imagining in excited reverie
That the future years had come,
Dancing to a frenzied drum,
Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.

May she be granted beauty and yet not
Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking-glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end,
Lose natural kindness and maybe
The heart-revealing intimacy
That chooses right, and never find a friend.

Helen[34] being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen,[35] that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-legged smith[36] for man.
It’s certain that fine women[37] eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of plenty[38] is undone.

In courtesy I’d have her chiefly learned;
Hearts are not had as a gift but hearts are earned
By those that are not entirely beautiful;
Yet many, that have played the fool
For beauty’s very self, has charm made wise.
And many a poor man that has roved,
Loved and thought himself beloved,
From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes.

May she become a flourishing hidden tree
That all her thoughts may like the linnet be,
And have no business but dispensing round
Their magnanimities of sound,
Nor but in merriment begin a chase,
Nor but in merriment a quarrel.
O may she live like some green laurel
Rooted in one dear perpetual place.

My mind, because the minds that I have loved,
The sort of beauty that I have approved,
Prosper but little, has dried up of late,
Yet knows that to be choked with hate
May well be of all evil chances chief.
If there’s no hatred in a mind
Assault and battery of the wind
Can never tear the linnet from the leaf.

An intellectual hatred is the worst,
So let her think opinions are accursed.
Have I not seen the loveliest woman[39] born
Out of the mouth of plenty’s horn,
Because of her opinionated mind
Barter that horn and every good
By quiet natures understood
For an old bellows full of angry wind?

Considering that, all hatred driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
Self-appeasing, self-affrighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will;
She can, though every face should scowl
And every windy quarter howl
Or every bellows burst, be happy still.

And may her bridegroom bring her to a house
Where all’s accustomed, ceremonious;
For arrogance and hatred are the wares
Peddled in the thoroughfares.
How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony’s a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree

“Leda and the Swan”[40]

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower[41]
And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

“Sailing to Byzantium”[42]

I

That[43] is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
— Those dying generations — at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing,[44] and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

III

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,[45]
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

IV

Once out Of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling[46]
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

“Among School Children”

I

I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and histories,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way — the children’s eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.[47]

II

I dream of a Ledaean[48] body, bent
Above a sinking fire, a tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
That changed some childish day to tragedy —
Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
Or else, to alter Plato’s[49] parable,
Into the yolk and white of the one shell.

III

And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
I look upon one child or t’other there
And wonder if she stood so at that age —
For even daughters of the swan can share
Something of every paddler’s heritage —
And had that colour upon cheek or hair,
And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
She stands before me as a living child.

IV

Her present image floats into the mind —
Did Quattrocento[50] finger fashion it
Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind
And took a mess of shadows for its meat?
And I though never of Ledaean kind
Had pretty plumage once — enough of that,
Better to smile on all that smile, and show
There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.

V

What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
Honey of generation[51] had betrayed,
And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
As recollection or the drug decide,
Would think her Son, did she but see that shape
With sixty or more winters on its head,
A compensation for the pang of his birth,
Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?

VI

Plato thought nature but a spume[52] that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;
Solider Aristotle[53] played the taws
Upon the bottom of a king of kings;[54]
World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras[55]
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
What a star sang and careless Muses heard:
Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.

VII

Both nuns and mothers worship images,
But those the candles light are not as those
That animate a mother’s reveries,
But keep a marble or a bronze repose.
And yet they too break hearts — O presences
That passion, piety or affection knows,
And that all heavenly glory symbolise —
O self-born mockers of man’s enterprise;

VIII

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole[56]?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

“Byzantium”[57]

The unpurged images of day recede;
The Emperor’s drunken soldiery are abed;
Night resonance recedes, night walkers’ song
After great cathedral gong;
A starlit or a moonlit dome[58] disdains
All that man is,
All mere complexities,
The fury and the mire of human veins.

Before me floats an image, man or shade,
Shade more than man, more image than a shade;
For Hades’ bobbin bound in mummy-cloth
May unwind the winding path;[59]
A mouth that has no moisture and no breath
Breathless mouths may summon;
I hail the superhuman;
I call it death-in-life and life-in-death.

Miracle, bird or golden handiwork,
More miracle than bird or handiwork,
Planted on the star-lit golden bough,
Can like the cocks of Hades crow,[60]
Or, by the moon embittered, scorn aloud
In glory of changeless metal
Common bird or petal
And all complexities of mire or blood.

At midnight on the Emperor’s pavement flit
Flames that no faggot[61] feeds, nor steel has lit,
Nor storm disturbs, flames begotten of flame,
Where blood-begotten spirits come
And all complexities of fury leave,
Dying into a dance,
An agony of trance,
An agony of flame that cannot singe a sleeve.[62]

Astraddle on the dolphin’s mire and blood,
Spirit after Spirit! The smithies break the flood.
The golden smithies of the Emperor![63]
Marbles of the dancing floor
Break bitter furies of complexity,
Those images that yet
Fresh images beget,
That dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented[64] sea.

“Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop”[65]

I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
‘Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.’

‘Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,’ I cried.
‘My friends are gone, but that’s a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart’s pride.

‘A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.’

“The Circus Animals’ Desertion”

I

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.

II

What can I but enumerate old themes?
First that sea-rider Oisin[66] led by the nose
Through three enchanted islands, allegorical dreams,
Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose,
Themes of the embittered heart, or so it seems,
That might adorn old songs or courtly shows;
But what cared I that set him on to ride,
I, starved for the bosom of his faery bride?

And then a counter-truth filled out its play,
‘The Countess Cathleen’ was the name I gave it;
She, pity-crazed, had given her soul away,
But masterful Heaven had intervened to save it.
I thought my dear[67] must her own soul destroy,
So did fanaticism and hate enslave it,
And this brought forth a dream and soon enough
This dream itself had all my thought and love.

And when the Fool and Blind Man stole the bread
Cuchulain[68] fought the ungovernable sea;
Heart-mysteries there, and yet when all is said
It was the dream itself enchanted me:
Character isolated by a deed
To engross the present and dominate memory.
Players and painted stage took all my love,
And not those things that they were emblems of.

III

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.

Activities

“The Lake Isle of Innisfree”

  1. How would you describe the tone, the voice, and the mood of this poem?  Is it melancholy, enthusiastic, or some point between? How does Yeats achieve this tone? How does it complement his theme?
  2. What is alliteration (cf. Glossary)? Find an example in “Lake Isle” and comment on its effect.
  3. Determine the poem’s rhythm (cf. Glossary) and rhyme scheme (cf. Glossary) and assess their effect on theme.

“No Second Troy”

  1. How do you interpret the last line of this poem?
  2. Why is this poem almost, but not quite, a Shakespearean sonnet (cf. Glossary)?
  3. What does this poem reveal about Yeats’s attitude to Maud, who was married to another man, when Yeats wrote this poem?  Does he love her still? Dislike her? Resent her?

“Easter, 1916”

  1. The rhythm of this poem is unusual, basically uneven iambic trimetre (cf. Glossary). Why do you think Yeats used this rhythm for this poem?
  2. Explain the meaning of the poem’s famous refrain, “A terrible beauty is born.” Reveal in your answer the type of figurative language exemplified in the phrase “a terrible beauty.”
  3. “Easter, 1916” presupposes a considerable knowledge of historical and biographical context. Does the need for this knowledge add to or take away from the poem’s intensity?

“A Prayer for My Daughter”

  1. What are the character traits and the outlook on life Yeats hopes his daughter will possess?  How does Yeats’s relationship with Maud Gonne influence his hopes?
  2. Why is there a “great gloom” in Yeats’s mind, as he writes this poem?
  3. “A Prayer for My Daughter” is a regular verse poem, mainly iambic pentameter, with an aabbcddc rhyme scheme. Note that in lines 6 and 7 of each stanza (after the first) Yeats switches to iambic tetrameter. What effect does this switch have on theme of the poem?

“Leda and the Swan”

  1. What are three features of the form and structure of “Leda and the Swan” that identify it as a sonnet (cf. Glossary)?
  2. What, in the Christian faith, is the Annunciation, and how and why does Yeats connect the Annunciation to the events he describes in this poem?
  3. Express in your own words the meaning of the question with which the sonnet concludes.

“Sailing to Byzantium”

  1. Note the rhyme scheme (cf. Glossary) of this poem. It is regular, but Yeats makes extensive use of half rhyme (cf. Glossary). What is the effect of this use of half rhyme?
  2. Review Yeats’s biography and determine why he expresses disappointment in his native Ireland at the beginning of this poem.
  3. The desire to transcend death is a common poetic theme. How does Yeats render this theme in “Sailing to Byzantium”? How does he hope to transcend death?

“Among School Children”

  1. In “Among School Children,” Yeats seeks common ground among apparently disparate, things, people, and ideas: nuns, mothers, and philosophers; Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras; leaf, blossom, and bole; music, dancer, and dance.  How does this search for a unity of purpose influence the theme of the poem?
  2. An understanding of this poem presupposes so much reader prior knowledge of the poet’s life and of philosophy and mythology. What are the benefits and the drawbacks this presupposition?
  3. The verse form of the poem is Ottava rima (cf. Glossary). Why might Yeats have chosen this form for this poem?

“Byzantium”

  1. Is “Byzantium” a regular verse or a free verse poem (cf. Glossary)? Explain your answer.
  2. What is it that Yeats, now reincarnated as a golden bird, witnesses from his perch on the golden bough of the Emperor’s palace? What are his mood and emotions as he witnesses the transformation?
  3. The desire that Yeats expresses in “Sailing to Byzantium” and its fulfillment in “Byzantium” has been described by some as visionary and by others as eccentric. How would you describe the goal, expressed in these poems, Yeats wants to achieve? Explain your answer.

“Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop”

  1. What is satire (cf. Glossary)? In what sense is “Crazy Jane” a satiric poem?
  2. The poem is framed as a debate between Jane and a bishop. What argument does Jane advance to win the debate? Do you support hers or the bishop’s argument?
  3. The poem is a first-person narrative, written in modified ballad stanzas (cf. Glossary). Why might Yeats have chosen this form for this poem?

“The Circus Animals’ Desperation”

  1. What fear does Yeats express in this poem? How will he overcome this fear?
  2. How might readers know, without referring to Yeats’s biography, that this is one of his last poems?
  3. Explain the famous metaphor with which this poem concludes.

Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)

“Fuzzy Wuzzy”

Soudan Expeditionary force. Early campaign

We’ve fought with many men acrost the seas,
An’ some of ’em was brave an’ some was not.
The Paythan[69] an’ the Zulu an’ Burmese;
But the Fuzzy[70] was the finest o’ the lot.
We never got a ha’porth’s[71] change of ‘im:
‘E squatted in the scrub an’ ‘ocked our ‘orses,
‘E cut our sentries up at Suakim[72],
An’ ‘e played the cat an’ banjo with our forces.
So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
We gives you your certificate, an’ if you want it signed
We’ll come an’ ‘ave a romp with you whenever you’re inclined.

We took our chanst among the Kyber’ills[73],
The Boers[74] knocked us silly at a mile,
The Burman give us Irriwady chills[75],
An’ a Zulu impi[76] dished us up in style:
But all we ever got from such as they
Was pop[77] to what the Fuzzy made us swaller[78];
We ‘eld our bloomin’ own, the papers say,
But man for man the Fuzzy knocked us ‘oller.
Then ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an’ the missis and the kid;
Our orders was to break you, an’ of course we went an’ did.
We sloshed you with Martinis[79], an’ it wasn’t ‘ardly fair;
But for all the odds agin’ you, Fuzzy-Wuz, you broke the square[80].

‘E ‘asn’t got no papers of ‘is own,
‘E ‘asn’t got no medals nor rewards,
So we must certify the skill ‘e’s shown
In usin’ of ‘is long two-‘anded swords:
When ‘e’s ‘oppin’ in an’ out among the bush
With ‘is coffin-‘eaded shield an’ shovel-spear,
An ‘appy day with Fuzzy on the rush
Will last an ‘ealthy Tommy[81] for a year.
So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an’ your friends which are no more,
If we ‘adn’t lost some messmates we would ‘elp you to deplore;
But give an’ take’s the gospel, an’ we’ll call the bargain fair,
For if you ‘ave lost more than us, you crumpled up the square!

‘E rushes at the smoke when we let drive,
An’, before we know, ‘e’s ‘ackin’ at our ‘ead;
‘E’s all ‘ot sand an’ ginger when alive,
An’ ‘e’s generally shammin’[82] when ‘e’s dead.
‘E’s a daisy[83], ‘e’s a ducky[84], ‘e’s a lamb[85]!
‘E’s a injia-rubber idiot on the spree[86],
‘E’s the on’y thing that doesn’t give a damn
For a Regiment o’ British Infantree!
So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen, but a first-class fightin’ man;
An’ ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your ‘ayrick ‘ead of ‘air—
You big black boundin’ beggar—for you broke a British square!

[The editor is indebted to Representative Poetry, ed. Ian Lancashire for many of the notes to this poem].

Activities

  1. Who is the poem’s speaker? Why would Kipling have chosen him to represent British presence in the Nile region?
  2. The term “Fuzzy-Wuzzy” refers to the Sudanese Hadandoa tribesmen of the upper Nile, who charged into battle with their hair arranged to look as fearsome as possible. What is the effect of the speaker’s use of this term? Of his reference to his enemy in the singular?
  3. What do we know about the speaker from his use of language?
  4. What attitudes are ascribed to the speaker as he says, “We’ll come an’ ‘have romp with you whenever you’re inclined”? What other attitudes seemingly appropriate for a British soldier does he exhibit?
  5. On what grounds does the speaker respect his enemy? Are the Hadandoa expected to successfully defend their homeland? What are the implications of praising the tribesmen for breaking “a British square” (a reference to the victory of the Sudanese in the battle of Tamai, 1884)?
  6. How do the poem’s stanza form and rhythms convey or complement its meaning?
  7. In reading this poem, what attitude toward the issue of imperialist wars is the Victorian reader expected to take?

Pauline Johnson (1861–1913)

“The Song My Paddle Sings”

West wind, blow from your prairie nest,
Blow from the mountains, blow from the west.
The sail is idle, the sailor too;
O! wind of the west, we wait for you.
Blow, blow!
I have wooed you so,
But never a favour you bestow.
You rock your cradle the hills between,
But scorn to notice my white lateen.[87]

I stow the sail, unship the mast:
I wooed you long but my wooing’s past;
My paddle will lull you into rest.
O! drowsy wind of the drowsy west,
Sleep, sleep,
By your mountain steep,
Or down where the prairie grasses sweep!
Now fold in slumber your laggard wings,
For soft is the song my paddle sings.

August is laughing across the sky,
Laughing while paddle, canoe and I,
Drift, drift,
Where the hills uplift
On either side of the current swift.

The river rolls in its rocky bed;
My paddle is plying its way ahead;
Dip, dip,
While the waters flip
In foam as over their breast we slip.

And oh, the river runs swifter now;
The eddies circle about my bow.
Swirl, swirl!
How the ripples curl
In many a dangerous pool awhirl!

And forward far the rapids roar,
Fretting their margin for evermore.
Dash, dash,
With a mighty crash,
They seethe, and boil, and bound, and splash.

Be strong, O paddle! be brave, canoe!
The reckless waves you must plunge into.
Reel, reel.
On your trembling keel,
But never a fear my craft will feel.

We’ve raced the rapid, we’re far ahead!
The river slips through its silent bed.
Sway, sway,
As the bubbles spray
And fall in tinkling tunes away.

And up on the hills against the sky,
A fir tree rocking its lullaby,
Swings, swings,
Its emerald wings,
Swelling the song that my paddle sings.

Activities

  1. Why does the speaker “stow the sail” of her canoe?
  2. What is the effect of the word repetition at the middle of each stanza?
  3. What type of figurative language does Johnson use throughout this poem? What is its effect?
  4. In what sense is “The Song My Paddle Sings” a narrative poem? What elements of suspense are in the narrative?
  5. Compare and contrast this poem with John Magee’s “High Flight” and with Lampman’s “Morning on the Lievre.”
  6. Hear a musical version of “The Song My Paddle Sings”.

A.E. Housman (1859–1936)

“Loveliest of Trees”

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten[88],
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

“Is My Team Ploughing”

“Is my team ploughing,
That I was used to drive
And hear the harness jingle
When I was man alive?”

Ay, the horses trample,
The harness jingles now;
No change though you lie under
The land you used to plough.

“Is football playing
Along the river shore,
With lads to chase the leather,
Now I stand up no more?”

Ay, the ball is flying,
The lads play heart and soul;
The goal stands up, the keeper
Stands up to keep the goal.

“Is my girl happy,
That I thought hard to leave,
And has she tired of weeping
As she lies down at eve?”

Ay, she lies down lightly,
She lies not down to weep,
Your girl is well contented.
Be still, my lad, and sleep.

“Is my friend hearty,
Now I am thin and pine,
And has he found to sleep in
A better bed than mine?”

Yes, lad, I lie easy,
I lie as lads would choose;
I cheer a dead man’s sweetheart,
Never ask me whose.

Activities

“Loveliest of Trees”

  1. How old is the speaker in the poem?
  2. What is the setting of the poem (i.e., time and place)?
  3. What is the speaker’s purpose in the poem?
  4. What is the significance of the word “Eastertide”?
  5. What kind of cycle is suggested by the second stanza, and how is this connected to Eastertide and nature?
  6. What is the theme of the poem?

“Is My Team Ploughing”

  1. According to Thomas Hardy’s widow, this was Hardy’s favourite Housman poem. Compare it with Hardy’s “Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave?”
  2. Of the three kinds of irony — verbal, situational, and dramatic — which type do you find in this poem? Discuss.
  3. View Ian Bostridge’s rendition of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Is My Team Ploughing”. How does the singer emphasize the colloquy between the living and the dead?
  4. Dr. Joseph Mersand, in his edition of A Shropshire Lad, points out that Vaughan Williams cut stanzas 3 and 4, which prompted Housman’s angry observation, “How would he like me to cut two bars of his music?” (A Shropshire Lad, p. 82). Which version, Housman’s original or that of Vaughan Williams, do you prefer?

Read “Farewell to Barn and Stack” by A. E. Housman

Thomas Hardy (1840–1928)

“Drummer Hodge”

I

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined – just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest[89]
That breaks the veldt[90] around;
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.

II

Young Hodge the Drummer never knew –
Fresh from his Wessex home –
The meaning of the broad Karoo[91],
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.

III

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge forever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.

“The Ruined Maid”

“O ‘Melia[92], my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?” —
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

— “You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks[93];
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!” —
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

— “At home in the barton[94] you said thee’ and thou,’
And thik oon,’ and theäs oon,’ and t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!” —
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

— “Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!” —
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

— “You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock[95]; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims[96] or melancho-ly!” —
“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

— “I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!” —
“My dear — a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.

“The Convergence of the Twain”

(Lines on the loss of the Titanic)

I

In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

II

Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

III

Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

IV

Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

V

Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: “What does this vaingloriousness down here?” …

VI

Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

VII

Prepared a sinister mate
For her — so gaily great —
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

VIII

And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

IX

Alien they seemed to be;
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

X

Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

XI

Till the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

“Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave”

“Ah, are you digging on my grave,
My loved one? — planting rue[97]?”
— “No: yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
‘It cannot hurt her now,’ he said,
‘That I should not be true.'”

“Then who is digging on my grave,
My nearest dearest kin?”
— “Ah, no: they sit and think, ‘What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death’s gin[98].'”

“But someone digs upon my grave?
My enemy? — prodding sly?”
— “Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.

“Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say — since I have not guessed!”
— “O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog , who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?”

“Ah yes! You dig upon my grave…
Why flashed it not to me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog’s fidelity!”

“Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting place.”

“Channel Firing”[99]

That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel[100] window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe[101] cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
It’s gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:

“All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

“That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them’s a blessed thing,
For if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening….

“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).”

So down we lay again. “I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,”
Said one, “than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!”

And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”

Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower[102],
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.

“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 as 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.”

Activities

“Drummer Hodge”

  1. What place and what war make up the setting?
  2. Compare the point of stanza 3 to a similar point made in Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier.”

“The Ruined Maid”

  1. What are some meanings of the word “ruined”?
  2. Look up the word “maid.” What does the word mean in the title?
  3. Describe the structure: the number of speakers, the use of dashes, who speaks first, who speaks last.
  4. Describe the two former co-workers.
  5. Can you distinguish between the two women’s speech patterns?
  6. What is the main irony?

“The Convergence of the Twain”

  1. In what year did the Titanic sink?
  2. Define both nouns in the title.
  3. Paraphrase the first stanza, placing the grammatical subject at the beginning of the sentence.
  4. Who is guilty of pride?
  5. How does alliteration emphasize theme?
  6. How is the deity depicted? How is the deity depicted in “Let Me Enjoy”?
  7. What is the “creature of cleaving wing”?
  8. Clarify the marriage metaphor in the poem.

“Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave”

  1. Clarify the major irony and its type in this poem.
  2. Compare this poem with Housman’s “Is My Team Ploughing?”

“Channel Firing”

  1. To what promised biblical event does the poem refer?
  2. Who is the speaker?
  3. How does Hardy use humour to make serious points about war?
  4. How is this a pessimistic poem?
  5. Discuss the thematic significance of the three places mentioned in the last two lines.

“The Man He Killed”

  1. Comment on how the speaker’s diction characterizes him.
  2. Why did the soldier enlist?
  3. Give specific examples of irony in the third stanza and final stanzas. What are the denotations of “quaint” and “curious”?
  4. How does Hardy’s use of dashes affect the metre and theme?

Archibald Lampman (1861–1899)

“Morning on the Lievre”[103]

Far above us where a jay
Screams his matins[104] to the day,
Capped with gold and amethyst,[105]
Like a vapor from the forge
Of a giant somewhere hid,
Out of hearing of the clang
Of his hammer, skirts of mist
Slowly up the woody gorge
Lift and hang.

Softly as a cloud we go,
Sky above and sky below,
Down the river; and the dip
Of the paddles scarcely breaks,
With the little silvery drip
Of the water as it shakes
From the blades, the crystal deep
Of the silence of the morn,
Of the forest yet asleep;
And the river reaches borne
In a mirror, purple gray,
Sheer away
To the misty line of light,
Where the forest and the stream
In the shadow meet and plight,
Like a dream.

From amid a stretch of reeds,
Where the lazy river sucks
All the water as it bleeds
From a little curling creek,
And the muskrats peer and sneak
In around the sunken wrecks
Of a tree that swept the skies
Long ago,
On a sudden seven ducks
With a splashy rustle rise,
Stretching out their seven necks,
One before, and two behind,
And the others all arow,
And as steady as the wind
With a swivelling whistle go,
Through the purple shadow led,
Till we only hear their whir
In behind a rocky spur[106],
Just ahead.

Activities

  1. Compare this poem with two other poems you have studied about the effects of nature’s beauty.
  2. How do we know this is a free verse poem?
  3. Identify a simile in the poem’s first stanza. Is the simile appropriate and effective?
  4. What does the poet mean by “sky below,” in the second stanza?
  5. What is the tone, the mood, the voice of this poem?
  6. What is the effect of the alliteration in the final stanza?
  7. Watch the film the National Film Board of Canada made of “Morning on the Lievre”. Does the film enhance your appreciation of the poem? Explain your answer.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889)

“God’s Grandeur”

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil[107]
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod[108]?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost[109] over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Activities

  1. Compare and contrast this sonnet with Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much with Us.”
  2. To what extent does the theme of this poem, written in the middle of the 19th century hold true today?
  3. Why, in the context of this poem, will humankind never destroy nature?
  4. How does Hopkin’s language, his style, reinforce humankind’s relationship with the natural world, as the poet describes it in the poem’s ocatave?

Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)

“Goblin Market”

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces[110],
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries[111],
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy.”

Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bowed her head to hear,
Lizzie veiled her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
“Lie close,” Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
“We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?”
“Come buy,” call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
“O,” cried Lizzie, “Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men.”
Lizzie covered up her eyes,
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
“Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds’ weight.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes.”
“No,” said Lizzie, “no, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.”
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat’s face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat’s pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat[112] prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel[113] tumbled hurry-scurry.
She heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck[114],
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
“Come buy, come buy.”
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
“Come buy, come buy,” was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Longed but had no money:
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr’d,
The rat-paced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried “Pretty Goblin” still for “Pretty Polly”;—
One whistled like a bird.

But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
“Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather.”
“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answered altogether:
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red:
Sweeter than honey from the rock[115],
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away,
But gathered up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone.
Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
“Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the noonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray,
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so.”
“Nay, hush,” said Laura:
“Nay, hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still;
To-morrow night I will
Buy more,”—and kissed her.
“Have done with sorrow;
I’ll bring you plums to-morrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink,
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap.”

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other’s wings,
They lay down in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fallen snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars gazed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forbore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest.
Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should:
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day’s delight,
One longing for the night.

At length slow evening came:
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep;
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags[116],
Then turning homeward said: “The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags,
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep.”
But Laura loitered still among the rushes
And said the bank was steep.
And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fallen, the wind not chill:
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
“Come buy, come buy,”
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling;
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.

Till Lizzie urged: “O Laura, come;
I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glow-worm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark;
For clouds may gather
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?”

Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
“Come buy our fruits, come buy.”
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous[117] pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart’s sore ache;
But peering thro’ the dimness, naught discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for balked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain,
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry:
“Come buy, come buy”;—
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and gray;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay, and burn
Her fire away.

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.

She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.

Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister’s cankerous care,
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins’ cry:
“Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy.”
Beside the brook, along the glen,
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
But feared to pay too dear.
She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter-time,
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter-time.

Till Laura, dwindling,
Seemed knocking at Death’s door:
Then Lizzie weighed[118] no more
Better and worse,
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook;
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.

Laughed every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter-skelter, hurry-skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes,—
Hugged her and kissed her;
Squeezed and caressed her;
Stretched up their dishes,
Panniers and plates:
“Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries,
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs.”

“Good folk,” said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie,
“Give me much and many”;—
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
“Nay, take a seat with us,
Honor and eat with us,”
They answered grinning:
“Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavor would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us.”
“Thank you,” said Lizzie; “but one waits
At home alone for me:
So, without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee.”
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood,—
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously,—
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire,—
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee,—
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tug her standard down.

One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in;
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syrupped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot.
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple,
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.

In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore through the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse,—
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin skurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.

She cried “Laura,” up the garden,
“Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me:
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men.”

Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair:
“Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing
And ruined in my ruin,
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?”
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish[119] fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.

Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.

Swift fire spread through her veins, knocked at her heart,
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame;
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about,
Like a foam-topped water-spout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life?

Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse’s flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of gray,
Her breath was sweet as May,
And light danced in her eyes.

Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint[120] fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat,
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town;)
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together,
“For there is no friend like a sister,
In calm or stormy weather,
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.”

Feature Poet: Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)

Emily Dickinson

Introduction

Emily Dickinson was born December 10, 1830, in Amherst Massachusetts.  Her family was prominent in the community; her father was a lawyer and a politician, who served a term in the U.S. Congress.

Emily attended school in Amherst and enrolled in Mount Holyoake College, where she stayed for less than a year.  The curriculum privileged evangelical Christianity and did not mesh with Emily’s independent spirit and free-thinking nature.

She returned to Homestead, her spacious family home in Amherst, where she would live for most of the rest of her life.  She settled into a routine which was partly domestic—she loved to bake, and she tended a most beautiful fragrant garden—and partly intellectual—she was a voracious reader and a prolific poet and letter writer.  She wrote nearly 1,800 poems, over the course of her life.

She had close friendships, though they tended to be affirmed through the frequent long letters she wrote nearly every day.  Some were school friends, and some were older men.  One was Samuel Bowles, editor of a local newspaper, one of the few editors to publish any of her poems.  Another was Charles Wadsworth, a Philadelphia preacher whom she met on one of her rare trips away from Amherst.  They corresponded regularly, though few of their letters are extant.  Another was Thomas Higginson, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, who rejected her poems for publications but entered into a correspondence with the aspiring young poet.  A later correspondent was a Massachusetts judge Otis Lord, whose interest in Emily may have been romantic, after his wife died in December of 1877, though no romance developed.

Neither she nor her younger sister Lavinia married.  Too many young men left Amherst to strike it rich in the Gold Rush or to fight in the Civil War.  There were few men available to court upper-middle class women.  And, in such poems as “I Cannot Live with You,” Emily expresses her reluctance to marry and lose her own independent identity to that of wife and mother.

She was close to her family, celebrating the birth of her brother’s children and devastated by the death of her nephew Gilbert in 1882.  Her most intense friendship was with Austin’s wife, her sister-in-law Susan, in whom she confided and to whom she sent her poems for constructive criticism.  The relationship was close, if contentious at times, and perhaps, at least in the view of some biographers, intimate.  Susan lived with her family next door to Emily’s house.  The two houses are now the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Emily died in 1886, likely from kidney disease.  She had asked Lavinia to destroy the letters stacked in her dresser drawers.  Lavinia destroyed the letters—an immeasurable loss to American literary history—but she saved the poems—an immeasurable gift to world literature.  Her brother’s mistress, Mabel Loomis Todd, the wife of an Amherst College professor, and another one of Emily’s pen pals, recognized the excellence of Emily’s work.  With the help of Higginson, she arranged for publication of a book of selected poems, privileging those that were regular in rhythm and rhyme; providing titles, which Emily had not; and even altering the content of some poems to render them more conventional.  That book appeared in 1890.   Thereafter, more and volumes appeared, culminating in R.W. Franklin’s Variorum edition of The Poems of Emily Dickinson, published in 1998.

Dickinson wrote nearly two thousand poems.  Her themes are conventional—nature, faith, death—but her treatment of the themes is complex.  Nature is beautiful, a tonic that eases a troubled heart and mind; but it is also has a dark side, in the form of a bird that bites a worm in half and eats it raw, a snake slithering ominously through the grass.  God’s love can comfort us—if God exists.  “Faith is a fine invention,” she writes, though it’s advisable to turn to science for answers to some questions. The soul is immortal: Death is not the end of existence, in such poems as “Because I Could not Stop for Death.”  But in “Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers,” the dead seem soulless.  She did not write often about love, though the passion of poems such as “Wild Nights, Wild Nights” suggest an unexpected longing for physical intimacy.

She wrote several startling poems about her health, which was fragile.  One of her few trips outside Amherst was to Boston to see an eye specialist about her vision issues.   Her shaky mental health—her proneness to depression—emerges in such poems as “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” and I Felt a Funeral in My Brain.”

Dickinson’s style, similarly, reflects her preference for conventional regular verse forms, but her work explodes beyond the confines of regular verse in compact images dense with meaning, jarring half-rhymes, and those signature dashes which moderate the pace of her poems.

Poems

39 [I never lost as much but twice -][121]

I never lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod.[122]
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!

Angels—twice descending
Reimbursed my store—[123]
Burglar! Banker—Father![124]
I am poor once more!

112 [Success is counted sweetest]

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host[125]
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of victory

As he defeated – dying –
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

124 [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 –

Grand go the Years,
In the Crescent above them –
Worlds scoop their Arcs –[126]
and Firmaments – row –
Diadems[127] – drop –
And Doges[128] surrender –
Soundless as Dots,
On a Disk of Snow.

202 [“Faith” is a fine invention]

“Faith” is a fine invention
For Gentlemen who see!
But Microscopes are prudent
In an Emergency!

207 [I taste a liquor never brewed -]

I taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort[129] Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro’ endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue –

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –
When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs[130] swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun!

236 [Some keep the Sabbath going to Church -]

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton[131] – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

269 [Wild Nights -Wild Nights!]

Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
In thee!

320 [ There’s a certain Slant of light]

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –
When is “There’s a Certain Slant of Light” set?  What is the significance of this setting?

340 [I felt a Funeral, in my Brain]

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

355 [It was not Death, for I stood up]

It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down –
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Siroccos[132] – crawl –
Nor Fire – for just my marble feet
Could keep a Chancel,[133] cool –

And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial
Reminded me, of mine –

As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And ’twas like Midnight, some –

When everything that ticked – has stopped –
And space stares – all around –
Or Grisly frosts – first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground –

But most, like Chaos – Stopless – cool –
Without a Chance, or spar[134] –
Or even a Report of Land –
To justify-Despair.

359 [A Bird, came down the Walk -]

A Bird, came down the Walk –
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,

And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –

He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. –

Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers,
And rowed him softer Home –

Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless[135] as they swim.

409 [The Soul selects her own Society -]

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

479 [ Because I could not stop for Death -]

Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet[136] – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

519 [This is my letter to the World]

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,-
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

591 [I heard a Fly buzz -when I died -]

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died –
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air –
Between the Heaves of Storm –

The Eyes around – had wrung them dry –
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset – when the King
Be witnessed – in the Room –

I willed my Keepsakes – Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable – and then it was
There interposed a Fly –

With Blue – uncertain – stumbling Buzz –
Between the light – and me –
And then the Windows failed – and then
I could not see to see –

598 [The Brain -is wider than the Sky -]

The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—

The Brain is deeper than the sea—
For—hold them—Blue to Blue—
The one the other will absorb—
As Sponges—Buckets—do—

The Brain is just the weight of God—
For—Heft them—Pound for Pound—
And they will differ—if they do—
As Syllable from Sound—

620 [Much Madness is divinest Sense -]

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
’Tis the Majority
In this, as all, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –

656 [I started Early -Took my Dog -]

I started Early – Took my Dog –
And visited the Sea –
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me –

And Frigates[137] – in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands –
Presuming Me to be a Mouse –
Aground – upon the Sands –

But no Man moved Me – till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe –
And past my Apron – and my Belt
And past my Bodice – too –

And made as He would eat me up –
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve –
And then – I started – too –

And He – He followed – close behind –
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle – Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl –

Until We met the Solid Town –
No One He seemed to know
And bowing – with a Mighty look –
At me – The Sea withdrew –

706 [I cannot live with You -]

I cannot live with You —
It would be Life —
And Life is over there —
Behind the Shelf

The Sexton keeps the Key to —
Putting up
Our Life — His Porcelain —
Like a Cup —

Discarded of the Housewife —
Quaint — or Broke —
A newer Sevres pleases —
Old Ones crack —

I could not die — with You —
For One must wait
To shut the Other’s Gaze down —
You — could not —

And I — Could I stand by
And see You — freeze —
Without my Right of Frost —
Death’s privilege?

Nor could I rise — with You —
Because Your Face
Would put out Jesus’ —
That New Grace

Glow plain — and foreign
On my homesick Eye —
Except that You than He
Shone closer by —

They’d judge Us — How —
For You — served Heaven — You know,
Or sought to —
I could not —

Because You saturated Sight —
And I had no more Eyes
For sordid excellence
As Paradise

And were You lost, I would be —
Though My Name
Rang loudest
On the Heavenly fame —

And were You — saved —
And I — condemned to be
Where You were not —
That self — were Hell to Me —

So We must meet apart —
You there — I — here —
With just the Door ajar
That Oceans are — and Prayer —
And that White Sustenance —
Despair —

764 [My Life had stood -a Loaded Gun -]

My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –
In Corners – till a Day
The Owner passed – identified –
And carried Me away –

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe –
And every time I speak for Him
The Mountains straight reply –

And do I smile, such cordial light
Opon the Valley glow –
It is as a Vesuvian[138] face
Had let it’s pleasure through –

And when at Night – Our good Day done –
I guard My Master’s Head –
’Tis better than the Eider Duck’s
Deep Pillow – to have shared –

To foe of His – I’m deadly foe –
None stir the second time –
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye –
Or an emphatic Thumb –

Though I than He – may longer live
He longer must – than I –
For I have but the power to kill,
Without – the power to die –

1096 [A narrow Fellow in the Grass]

A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides –
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is –

The Grass divides as with a Comb,
A spotted Shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your Feet
And opens further on –

He likes a Boggy Acre –
A Floor too cool for Corn –
But when a Boy and Barefoot
I more than once at Noon

Have passed I thought a Whip Lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled And was gone –

Several of Nature’s People
I know, and they know me
I feel for them a transport
Of Cordiality

But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter Breathing
And Zero at the Bone.

1263 [Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -]

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

1773 [My life closed twice before its close]

My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven.
And all we need of hell.

Activities

  1. What does the poet beg for “Before the door of God” in “I Never Lost as Much but Twice”? What does the line “Angels—twice descending” mean? To whom does “Banker” refer in the last stanza?
  2. What argument is the poet making in “Success Is Counted Sweetest”? Do you agree with her?
  3. What is the form of “Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers,” and how does the form help establish the theme of the poem? How are the first and second stanzas connected to each other? Explain the simile in the last two lines.
  4. Does Dickinson place more faith in science or religion? Support your answer.
  5. What effect does the beauty of nature have on the poet in “I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed”? What are the “inns of molten Blue” referenced in the second stanza? How does the use of alliteration in the final stanza of enliven the poem?
  6. What does the poet mean by the reference to her “Wings” in “Some Keep the Sabbath Going to Church”? Why is it better to worship in God in nature than in a church?
  7. How does the rhythm of “Wild Nights, Wild Nights” inform the action in the poem? Explain the metaphor in the second stanza. To whom does the “thee” in the last line refer?
  8. Paraphrase the second stanza of “There’s a Certain Slant of Light.” How is “the certain slant of light” used metaphorically? Is this an effective metaphor? Support your answer. What is the soundtrack to “There’s a Certain Slant of Light”? How is the soundtrack appropriate to the tone and theme of the poem? What is the nature of the “Despair” the poet alludes to in stanza 3? How do such phrases as “Heavenly Hurt” and “imperial affliction” help define the nature of the despair? What type of figurative language is “heavenly hurt” an example of? Note the trochaic meter of “There’s a Certain Slant of Light.” Why is the trochaic meter appropriate for this poem? Compare and contrast the mood of the poet at the start of the poem with her mood at the end of the poem.
  9. What is wrong with the speaker in “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”? What is happening to her?
  10. Find two examples of imperfect rhyme in the poem. Does the imperfect rhyme mar or enhance the poem? Explain your answer. How is a funeral and its rituals an appropriate metaphor for the poet’s condition in “I Felt a Funeral in My Brain”? What is the significance of the inconclusive ending to the poem?
  11. How, in the first two stanzas of “It Was not Death” is the poet’s fate worse than death? Is there any relief for the state the poet is in? Explain your answer. What is the effect of the imperfect rhyme the poet uses throughout the poem?
  12. How does “A Bird Came Down the Walk” defy a conventional view of the beauty and harmony of the natural world? What do you make of the final stanza? When is the ocean “Too silver for a seam”? What are the “Banks of Noon”?
  13. What is the theme of “The Soul Selects Her Own Society”? Do you agree with the argument implicit in this poem? Note the rhythm of “The Soul Selects Her Own Society.” Dickinson usually alternates between a line with four beats and a line with three beats, usually iambic. But in this poem, she alternates four with two, and, in the last stanza, four iambic beats with just one. How does this rhythm support the theme of the poem?
  14. How is Death personified in “Because I Could not Stop for Death”? Explain the poet’s symbolism is stanza 3. What is the “house” of stanza 5? Where is the carriage going, and how does its destination inform the theme of the poem?
  15. What is the chief source of Dickinson’s inspiration, judging from “This Is My Letter to the World”?
  16. How is the phrase “tender majesty” an apt description of nature? Dickinson commits, entrusts, the poem to your hands. What does she ask in return?
  17. Identify the simile in stanza 1 of “I Heard a Fly Buzz,” and comment on its effectiveness.
  18. Who is the “King” the family of the dying person awaits? Dickinson does not use enjambment regularly but uses it to dramatic effect in Stanza 3. Where is the enjambment and what is its effect? How is significant, symbolic, that a fly buzzes at the moment of the narrator’s death?
  19. In what sense is the brain wider than the sky and deeper than the sea? What is the significance of the poet’s claim that “The Brain is just the weight of God? What is the theme of the poem?
  20. Is Dickinson correct, when she says, in “Much Madness is Divinest Sense” that “’Tis the Majority / In this, as all, prevail”? What example does she give to support her theme? What example can you provide to confirm her theme?
  21. What elements of a nursery rhyme does “I Started Early—Took My Dog” have in the first two stanzas? How does the narrative change thereafter? Why does the narrator remain still in stanza 3, while the tide rises past her waist? How might the rising tide be used metaphorically? Note the spondee in the first line of stanza 5; why does Dickinson change the rhythm here? How can the narrator feel “His Silver Heel” (note that she capitalizes each word), if “He” is chasing her from behind? What is the “Pearl” which covers her shoes? What is the nature of the danger the narrator faces, and does she escape from it?
  22. What seems to have provoked Dickinson to write “I Cannot Live with You”? What reasons does she give for her refusal to agree with the request from the “You” in the poem? What does she offer in place of the request made to her? How do you think the “You” might respond”? What do the last two lines of the poem mean to you?
  23. Who is the narrator of “My Life Had Stood—a Loaded Gun”? What story does the narrator tell? Explain the apparent paradox with which the poem concludes.
  24. What is “the narrow fellow in the grass”? What does the poet say here about the nature of nature? What does “Zero at the Bone” mean?
  25. In what sense is “Tell All the Truth but Tell It Slant” a poem about white lies? In what sense is it a poem about poetry? In what sense is it a poem about religion? Watch Jack Nicolson, as Colonel Jessup give his “you can’t handle the truth” speech from A Few Good Men. How might this speech and Dickinson’s poem be similar?

Robert Browning (1812–1889)

“Porphyria’s Lover”

The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me — she
Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could to-night’s gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!

Activities

  1. Why does the speaker murder Porphyria?
  2. Read the following essay about Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover”, which argues that Shakespeare’s Othello is another source for the poem.

Read “The Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister”“The Bishop Orders His Tomb”, and see the study questions.

Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849)

“The Raven”

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian[139] shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe[140] from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?[141]—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,[142]
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas[143] just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Activities

  1. What is the narrator’s state of mind? Why is he in this state of mind?
  2. The poem is set at midnight in December. Why is this significant?
  3. Why might we suspect the narrator is hallucinating?
  4. How does the poem’s dramatic trochaic meter, frequent use of alliteration, and internal rhyme influence tone and theme?
  5. What does the Raven mean by “Nevermore”? How does the Raven’s declaration help establish the theme of the poem?
  6. Watch and hear James Earl Jones read “The Raven”. Watch and hear Vincent Price read “The Raven”. Which version do you prefer? Why?

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809–1892)

“The Lady of Shallot”

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold[144] and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-towered Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow[145]
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten[146] , aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Through the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot.
Four grey walls, and four grey towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow-veiled,
Slide the heavy barges trailed
By slow horses; and unhailed
The shallop[147] flitteth silken-sailed
Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
Down to towered Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy
Lady of Shalott.”

Part II

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay[148]
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

And moving through a mirror[149] clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls[150],
And the red cloaks of market girls,
Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-haired page in crimson clad,
Goes by to towered Camelot;
And sometimes through the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror’s magic sights,
For often through the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed;
“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.

Part III

A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling through the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves[151]
Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneeled
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glittered free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazoned baldric[152] slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewelled shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burned like one burning flame together,
As he rode down to Camelot.
As often through the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glowed;
On burnished hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flowed
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flashed into the crystal mirror,
“Tirra lirra[153],” by the river
Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces through the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She looked down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror cracked from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV

In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
Over towered Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river’s dim expanse,
Like some bold seër in a trance
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance
Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right—
The leaves upon her falling light—
Through the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darkened wholly,
Turned to towered Camelot.
For ere she reached upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they crossed themselves for fear,
All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, “She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
The Lady of Shalott.”

“Ulysses”

The main source of this dramatic monologue is Dante’s Inferno XXVI, 94-126. Here Ulysses sets out westward through the Pillars of Hercules: “When I left Circe….not fondness for my son, …nor Penelope’s claim to the joys of love could drive out of my mind the lust to experience the far-flung world….I put out on the…open sea/with a single ship/and only those few souls/who stayed true when the rest deserted me.” But Tennyson melds details of this account with those of Homer’s Odyssey 19-24, after he has returned to Ithaca and been reunited with his wife and son and resumed his duties as king.

 

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees; all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades[154]
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy,
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end[155],
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle—
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you[156] and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles[157],
And see the great Achilles[158], whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

“Selected poems from In Memoriam A.H.H.”

Obiit MDCCCXXXIII[159]

Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;

Thine are these orbs of light and shade[160];
Thou madest Life in man and brute;
Thou madest Death; and lo, thy foot
Is on the skull which thou hast made.

Thou wilt not leave us in the dust:
Thou madest man, he knows not why,
He thinks he was not made to die;
And thou hast made him: thou art just.

Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, thou.
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them thine.

Our little systems[161] have their day;
They have their day and cease to be:
They are but broken lights of thee,
And thou, O Lord, art more than they.

We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

Let knowledge grow from more to more,
But more of reverence in us dwell;
That mind and soul, according well,
May make one music as before[162],

But vaster. We are fools and slight;
We mock thee when we do not fear:
But help thy foolish ones to bear;
Help thy vain worlds to bear thy light.

Forgive what seem’d my sin in me;
What seem’d my worth since I began;
For merit lives from man to man,
And not from man, O Lord, to thee.

Forgive my grief for one removed,
Thy creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.

Forgive these wild and wandering cries,
Confusions of a wasted youth;
Forgive them where they fail in truth,
And in thy wisdom make me wise.

1849.[163]

I

I held it truth, with him who sings
To one clear harp in divers tones[164],
That men may rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves to higher things.

But who shall so forecast the years
And find in loss a gain to match?
Or reach a hand thro’ time to catch
The far-off interest of tears?

Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d,
Let darkness keep her raven gloss:
Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,
To dance with death, to beat the ground,

Than that the victor Hours should scorn
The long result of love, and boast,
‘Behold the man that loved and lost,
But all he was is overworn.’

 

II

Old Yew, which graspest at the stones
That name the under-lying dead,
Thy fibres net the dreamless head,
Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.

The seasons bring the flower again,
And bring the firstling to the flock;
And in the dusk of thee, the clock[165]
Beats out the little lives of men.

O, not for thee the glow, the bloom,
Who changest not in any gale,
Nor branding summer suns avail
To touch thy thousand years of gloom[166]:

And gazing on thee, sullen tree,
Sick for thy stubborn hardihood,
I seem to fail from out my blood
And grow incorporate into thee.

III

O Sorrow, cruel fellowship,
O Priestess in the vaults of Death,
O sweet and bitter in a breath,
What whispers from thy lying lip?

‘The stars,’ she whispers, ‘blindly run[167];
A web is wov’n across the sky;
From out waste places comes a cry,
And murmurs from the dying sun:

‘And all the phantom, Nature, stands?
With all the music in her tone,
A hollow echo of my own,?
A hollow form with empty hands.’

And shall I take a thing so blind,
Embrace her as my natural good;
Or crush her, like a vice of blood,
Upon the threshold of the mind?

 

IV

To Sleep I give my powers away;
My will is bondsman to the dark;
I sit within a helmless bark,
And with my heart I muse and say:

O heart, how fares it with thee now,
That thou should’st fail from thy desire,
Who scarcely darest to inquire,
‘What is it makes me beat so low?’

Something it is which thou hast lost,
Some pleasure from thine early years.
Break, thou deep vase of chilling tears,
That grief hath shaken into frost!

Such clouds of nameless trouble cross
All night below the darken’d eyes;
With morning wakes the will, and cries,
‘Thou shalt not be the fool of loss.’

 

V

I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds[168], I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.

 

VI

One writes, that ‘Other friends remain,’
That ‘Loss is common to the race’?
And common is the commonplace,
And vacant chaff well meant for grain.

That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.

O father, wheresoe’er thou be,
Who pledgest now thy gallant son;
A shot, ere half thy draught be done,
Hath still’d the life that beat from thee.

O mother, praying God will save
Thy sailor,—while thy head is bow’d,
His heavy-shotted hammock-shroud[169]
Drops in his vast and wandering grave.

Ye know no more than I who wrought
At that last hour to please him well;
Who mused on all I had to tell,
And something written, something thought;

Expecting still his advent home;
And ever met him on his way
With wishes, thinking, ‘here to-day,’
Or ‘here to-morrow will he come.’

O somewhere, meek, unconscious dove[170],
That sittest ranging golden hair;
And glad to find thyself so fair,
Poor child, that waitest for thy love!

For now her father’s chimney glows
In expectation of a guest;
And thinking ‘this will please him best,’
She takes a riband or a rose;

For he will see them on to-night;
And with the thought her colour burns;
And, having left the glass, she turns
Once more to set a ringlet right;

And, even when she turn’d, the curse
Had fallen, and her future Lord
Was drown’d in passing thro’ the ford,
Or kill’d in falling from his horse.

O what to her shall be the end?
And what to me remains of good?
To her, perpetual maidenhood,
And unto me no second friend.

VII

Dark house[171], by which once more I stand
Here in the long unlovely street,
Doors, where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, waiting for a hand,

A hand that can be clasp’d no more?
Behold me, for I cannot sleep,
And like a guilty thing I creep
At earliest morning to the door.

He is not here; but far away
The noise of life begins again,
And ghastly thro’ the drizzling rain
On the bald street breaks the blank day.

VIII

A happy lover who has come
To look on her that loves him well,
Who ‘lights and rings the gateway bell,
And learns her gone and far from home;

He saddens, all the magic light
Dies off at once from bower and hall,
And all the place is dark, and all
The chambers emptied of delight:

So find I every pleasant spot
In which we two were wont to meet,
The field, the chamber, and the street,
For all is dark where thou art not.

Yet as that other, wandering there
In those deserted walks, may find
A flower beat with rain and wind,
Which once she foster’d up with care;

So seems it in my deep regret,
O my forsaken heart, with thee
And this poor flower of poesy
Which little cared for fades not yet.

But since it pleased a vanish’d eye[172],
I go to plant it on his tomb,
That if it can it there may bloom,
Or, dying, there at least may die.

 

IX

Fair ship, that from the Italian shore[173]
Sailest the placid ocean-plains
With my lost Arthur’s loved remains,
Spread thy full wings, and waft him o’er.

So draw him home to those that mourn
In vain; a favourable speed
Ruffle thy mirror’d mast, and lead
Thro’ prosperous floods his holy urn.

All night no ruder air perplex
Thy sliding keel, till Phosphor[174], bright
As our pure love, thro’ early light
Shall glimmer on the dewy decks.

Sphere all your lights around, above;
Sleep, gentle heavens, before the prow;
Sleep, gentle winds, as he sleeps now,
My friend, the brother of my love;

My Arthur, whom I shall not see
Till all my widow’d race be run;
Dear as the mother to the son,
More than my brothers are to me.

 

X

I hear the noise about thy keel;
I hear the bell struck in the night:
I see the cabin-window bright;
I see the sailor at the wheel.

Thou bring’st the sailor to his wife,
And travell’d men from foreign lands;
And letters unto trembling hands;
And, thy dark freight, a vanish’d life.

So bring him; we have idle dreams:
This look of quiet flatters thus
Our home-bred fancies. O to us,
The fools of habit, sweeter seems

To rest beneath the clover sod,
That takes the sunshine and the rains,
Or where the kneeling hamlet drains
The chalice of the grapes of God;

Than if with thee the roaring wells
Should gulf him fathom-deep in brine;
And hands so often clasp’d in mine,
Should toss with tangle and with shells.

 

XI

Calm is the morn without a sound,
Calm as to suit a calmer grief,
And only thro’ the faded leaf
The chestnut pattering to the ground:

Calm and deep peace on this high wold[175],
And on these dews that drench the furze[176],
And all the silvery gossamers
That twinkle into green and gold:

Calm and still light on yon great plain
That sweeps with all its autumn bowers,
And crowded farms and lessening towers,
To mingle with the bounding main:

Calm and deep peace in this wide air,
These leaves that redden to the fall;
And in my heart, if calm at all,
If any calm, a calm despair:

Calm on the seas, and silver sleep,
And waves that sway themselves in rest,
And dead calm in that noble breast
Which heaves but with the heaving deep.

XII

Lo, as a dove when up she springs
To bear thro’ Heaven a tale of woe,
Some dolorous message knit below
The wild pulsation of her wings;

Like her I go; I cannot stay;
I leave this mortal ark behind,
A weight of nerves without a mind,
And leave the cliffs, and haste away

O’er ocean-mirrors rounded large,
And reach the glow of southern skies,
And see the sails at distance rise,
And linger weeping on the marge,

And saying; ‘Comes he thus, my friend?
Is this the end of all my care?’
And circle moaning in the air:
‘Is this the end? Is this the end?’

And forward dart again, and play
About the prow, and back return
To where the body sits, and learn
That I have been an hour away.

 

XIII

Tears of the widower, when he sees
A late-lost form that sleep reveals,
And moves his doubtful arms, and feels
Her place is empty, fall like these;

Which weep a loss for ever new,
A void where heart on heart reposed;
And, where warm hands have prest and closed,
Silence, till I be silent too.

Which weep the comrade of my choice,
An awful thought, a life removed,
The human-hearted man I loved,
A Spirit, not a breathing voice.

Come, Time, and teach me, many years,
I do not suffer in a dream;
For now so strange do these things seem,
Mine eyes have leisure for their tears;

My fancies time to rise on wing,
And glance about the approaching sails,
As tho’ they brought but merchants’ bales,
And not the burthen that they bring.

 

XIV

If one should bring me this report,
That thou hadst touch’d the land to-day,
And I went down unto the quay,
And found thee lying in the port;

And standing, muffled round with woe,
Should see thy passengers in rank
Come stepping lightly down the plank,
And beckoning unto those they know;

And if along with these should come
The man I held as half-divine;
Should strike a sudden hand in mine,
And ask a thousand things of home;

And I should tell him all my pain,
And how my life had droop’d of late,
And he should sorrow o’er my state
And marvel what possess’d my brain;

And I perceived no touch of change,
No hint of death in all his frame,
But found him all in all the same,
I should not feel it to be strange.

 

XV

To-night the winds begin to rise
And roar from yonder dropping day:
The last red leaf is whirl’d away,
The rooks are blown about the skies;

The forest crack’d, the waters curl’d,
The cattle huddled on the lea;
And wildly dash’d on tower and tree
The sunbeam strikes along the world:

And but for fancies, which aver
That all thy motions gently pass
Athwart a plane of molten glass[177],
I scarce could brook the strain and stir

That makes the barren branches loud;
And but for fear it is not so,
The wild unrest that lives in woe
Would dote and pore on yonder cloud

That rises upward always higher,
And onward drags a labouring breast,
And topples round the dreary west,
A looming bastion fringed with fire.

 

XIX

The Danube to the Severn[178] gave
The darken’d heart that beat no more;
They laid him by the pleasant shore,
And in the hearing of the wave.

There twice a day the Severn fills;
The salt sea-water passes by,
And hushes half the babbling Wye,
And makes a silence in the hills.

The Wye is hush’d nor moved along,
And hush’d my deepest grief of all,
When fill’d with tears that cannot fall,
I brim with sorrow drowning song.

The tide flows down, the wave again
Is vocal in its wooded walls;
My deeper anguish also falls,
And I can speak a little then.

 

XXIV

And was the day of my delight
As pure and perfect as I say?
The very source and fount of Day
Is dash’d with wandering isles of night.

If all was good and fair we met,
This earth had been the Paradise
It never look’d to human eyes
Since our first Sun arose and set.

And is it that the haze of grief
Makes former gladness loom so great?
The lowness of the present state,
That sets the past in this relief?

Or that the past will always win
A glory from its being far;
And orb into the perfect star
We saw not, when we moved therein?

 

XXVII

I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

XXVIII

The time draws near the birth of Christ[179]:
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
From far and near, on mead and moor,
Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:

Each voice four changes[180] on the wind,
That now dilate, and now decrease,
Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.

This year I slept and woke with pain,
I almost wish’d no more to wake,
And that my hold on life would break
Before I heard those bells again:

But they my troubled spirit rule,
For they controll’d me when a boy;
They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,
The merry merry bells of Yule.

 

XXX

With trembling fingers did we weave
The holly round the Chrismas hearth;
A rainy cloud possess’d the earth,
And sadly fell our Christmas-eve.

At our old pastimes in the hall
We gambol’d, making vain pretence
Of gladness, with an awful sense
Of one mute Shadow watching all.

We paused: the winds were in the beech:
We heard them sweep the winter land;
And in a circle hand-in-hand
Sat silent, looking each at each.

Then echo-like our voices rang;
We sung, tho’ every eye was dim,
A merry song we sang with him
Last year: impetuously we sang:

We ceased: a gentler feeling crept
Upon us: surely rest is meet:
‘They rest,’ we said, ‘their sleep is sweet,’
And silence follow’d, and we wept.

Our voices took a higher range;
Once more we sang: ‘They do not die
Nor lose their mortal sympathy,
Nor change to us, although they change;

‘Rapt from the fickle and the frail
With gather’d power, yet the same,
Pierces the keen seraphic flame
From orb to orb, from veil to veil.’

Rise, happy morn, rise, holy morn,
Draw forth the cheerful day from night:
O Father, touch the east, and light
The light that shone when Hope was born.

 

XXXIV

My own dim life should teach me this,
That life shall live for evermore,
Else earth is darkness at the core,
And dust and ashes all that is;

This round of green, this orb of flame,
Fantastic beauty such as lurks
In some wild Poet, when he works
Without a conscience or an aim.

What then were God to such as I?
‘Twere hardly worth my while to choose
Of things all mortal, or to use
A tattle patience ere I die;

‘Twere best at once to sink to peace,
Like birds the charming serpent draws,
To drop head-foremost in the jaws
Of vacant darkness and to cease.

 

XXXIX

Old warder[181] of these buried bones,
And answering now my random stroke
With fruitful cloud and living smoke,
Dark yew, that graspest at the stones

And dippest toward the dreamless head,
To thee too comes the golden hour
When flower is feeling after flower;
But Sorrow?fixt upon the dead,

And darkening the dark graves of men,?
What whisper’d from her lying lips?
Thy gloom is kindled at the tips,
And passes into gloom again.

 

L

Be near me when my light is low,
When the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
And tingle; and the heart is sick,
And all the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me when the sensuous frame
Is rack’d with pangs that conquer trust;
And Time, a maniac scattering dust,
And Life, a Fury slinging flame.

Be near me when my faith is dry,
And men the flies of latter spring,
That lay their eggs, and sting and sing
And weave their petty cells and die.

Be near me when I fade away,
To point the term of human strife,
And on the low dark verge of life
The twilight of eternal day.

LIV

Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,
Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroy’d,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivell’d in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another’s gain.

Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last—far off—at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.

So runs my dream: but what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.

 

LV

The wish, that of the living whole
No life may fail beyond the grave,
Derives it not from what we have
The likest God within the soul[182]?

Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams?
So careful of the type[183] she seems,
So careless of the single life;

That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,

I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world’s altar-stairs
That slope thro’ darkness up to God,

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope[184].

 

LVI

‘So careful of the type?’ but no.
From scarpèd cliff and quarried stone
She[185] cries, ‘A thousand types are gone[186]:
I care for nothing, all shall go.

‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more.’ And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes[187] of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law?
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed?

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music match’d with him.

O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless!
What hope of answer, or redress?
Behind the veil, behind the veil.

 

LIX

O Sorrow, wilt thou live with me
No casual mistress, but a wife,
My bosom-friend and half of life;
As I confess it needs must be;

O Sorrow, wilt thou rule my blood,
Be sometimes lovely like a bride,
And put thy harsher moods aside,
If thou wilt have me wise and good.

My centred passion cannot move,
Nor will it lessen from to-day;
But I’ll have leave at times to play
As with the creature of my love;

And set thee forth, for thou art mine,
With so much hope for years to come,
That, howsoe’er I know thee, some
Could hardly tell what name were thine.

 

LXVII

When on my bed the moonlight falls,
I know that in thy place of rest
By that broad water of the west[188],
There comes a glory on the walls;

Thy marble bright in dark appears,
As slowly steals a silver flame
Along the letters of thy name,
And o’er the number of thy years.

The mystic glory swims away;
From off my bed the moonlight dies;
And closing eaves of wearied eyes
I sleep till dusk is dipt in gray;

And then I know the mist is drawn
A lucid veil from coast to coast,
And in the dark church like a ghost
Thy tablet glimmers to the dawn.

 

LXXII

Risest thou thus, dim dawn, again[189],
And howlest, issuing out of night,
With blasts that blow the poplar white,
And lash with storm the streaming pane?

Day, when my crown’d estate[190] begun
To pine in that reverse of doom[191],
Which sicken’d every living bloom,
And blurr’d the splendour of the sun;

Who usherest in the dolorous hour
With thy quick tears that make the rose
Pull sideways, and the daisy close
Her crimson fringes to the shower;

Who might’st have heaved a windless flame
Up the deep East, or, whispering, play’d
A chequer-work of beam and shade
Along the hills, yet look’d the same.

As wan, as chill, as wild as now;
Day, mark’d as with some hideous crime,
When the dark hand struck down thro’ time,
And cancell’d nature’s best: but thou,

Lift as thou may’st thy burthen’d brows
Thro’ clouds that drench the morning star,
And whirl the ungarner’d sheaf afar,
And sow the sky with flying boughs,

And up thy vault with roaring sound
Climb thy thick noon, disastrous day;
Touch thy dull goal of joyless gray,
And hide thy shame beneath the ground.

 

LXXVIII

Again at Christmas[192] did we weave
The holly round the Christmas hearth;
The silent snow possess’d the earth,
And calmly fell our Christmas-eve:

The yule-clog[193] sparkled keen with frost,
No wing of wind the region swept,
But over all things brooding slept
The quiet sense of something lost.

As in the winters left behind,
Again our ancient games had place,
The mimic picture’s[194] breathing grace,
And dance and song and hoodman-blind.

Who show’d a token of distress?
No single tear, no mark of pain:
O sorrow, then can sorrow wane?
O grief, can grief be changed to less?

O last regret, regret can die!
No—mixt with all this mystic frame,
Her deep relations are the same,
But with long use her tears are dry.

LXXX

If any vague desire should rise,
That holy Death ere Arthur died
Had moved me kindly from his side,
And dropt the dust on tearless eyes;

Then fancy shapes, as fancy can,
The grief my loss in him had wrought,
A grief as deep as life or thought,
But stay’d in peace with God and man.

I make a picture in the brain;
I hear the sentence that he speaks;
He bears the burthen of the weeks
But turns his burthen into gain.

His credit thus shall set me free;
And, influence-rich to soothe and save,
Unused example from the grave
Reach out dead hands to comfort me.

 

LXXXVI

Sweet after showers[195], ambrosial air,
That rollest from the gorgeous gloom
Of evening over brake and bloom
And meadow, slowly breathing bare

The round of space, and rapt below
Thro’ all the dewy-tassell’d wood,
And shadowing down the horned flood
In ripples, fan my brows and blow

The fever from my cheek, and sigh
The full new life that feeds thy breath
Throughout my frame, till Doubt and Death,
Ill brethren, let the fancy fly

From belt to belt of crimson seas
On leagues of odour streaming far,
To where in yonder orient star
A hundred spirits whisper ‘Peace.’

 

LXXXIX

Witch-elms that counterchange the floor
Of this flat lawn with dusk and bright;
And thou, with all thy breadth and height
Of foliage, towering sycamore;

How often, hither wandering down,
My Arthur found your shadows fair,
And shook to all the liberal air
The dust and din and steam of town:

He brought an eye for all he saw;
He mixt in all our simple sports;
They pleased him, fresh from brawling courts
And dusty purlieus of the law[196].

O joy to him in this retreat,
Inmantled in ambrosial dark,
To drink the cooler air, and mark
The landscape winking thro’ the heat:

O sound to rout the brood of cares,
The sweep of scythe in morning dew,
The gust that round the garden flew,
And tumbled half the mellowing pears!

O bliss, when all in circle drawn
About him, heart and ear were fed
To hear him, as he lay and read
The Tuscan poets[197] on the lawn:

Or in the all-golden afternoon
A guest, or happy sister, sung,
Or here she brought the harp and flung
A ballad to the brightening moon:

Nor less it pleased in livelier moods,
Beyond the bounding hill to stray,
And break the livelong summer day
With banquet in the distant woods;

Whereat we glanced from theme to theme,
Discuss’d the books to love or hate,
Or touch’d the changes of the state,
Or threaded some Socratic dream;

But if I praised the busy town,
He loved to rail against it still,
For ‘ground in yonder social mill
We rub each other’s angles down,

‘And merge,’ he said, ‘in form and gloss
The picturesque of man and man.’
We talk’d: the stream beneath us ran,
The wine-flask lying couch’d in moss,

Or cool’d within the glooming wave;
And last, returning from afar,
Before the crimson-circled star
Had fall’n into her father’s grave,

And brushing ankle-deep in flowers,
We heard behind the woodbine veil
The milk that bubbled in the pail,
And buzzings of the honied hours.

 

XCIII

I shall not see thee. Dare I say
No spirit ever brake the band
That stays him from the native land
Where first he walk’d when claspt in clay?

No visual shade of some one lost,
But he, the Spirit himself, may come
Where all the nerve of sense is numb;
Spirit to Spirit, Ghost to Ghost.

O, therefore from thy sightless range
With gods in unconjectured bliss,
O, from the distance of the abyss
Of tenfold-complicated change,

Descend, and touch, and enter; hear
The wish too strong for words to name;
That in this blindness of the frame
My Ghost may feel that thine is near.

 

XCIV

How pure at heart and sound in head,
With what divine affections bold
Should be the man whose thought would hold
An hour’s communion with the dead.

In vain shalt thou, or any, call
The spirits from their golden day,
Except, like them, thou too canst say,
My spirit is at peace with all.

They haunt the silence of the breast,
Imaginations calm and fair,
The memory like a cloudless air,
The conscience as a sea at rest:

But when the heart is full of din,
And doubt beside the portal waits,
They can but listen at the gates
And hear the household jar within.

 

XCV

By night we linger’d on the lawn,
For underfoot the herb was dry;
And genial warmth; and o’er the sky
The silvery haze of summer drawn;

And calm that let the tapers burn
Unwavering: not a cricket chirr’d:
The brook alone far-off was heard,
And on the board the fluttering urn[198]:

And bats went round in fragrant skies,
And wheel’d or lit the filmy shapes
That haunt the dusk, with ermine capes
And woolly breasts and beaded eyes;

While now we sang old songs that peal’d
From knoll to knoll, where, couch’d at ease,
The white kine[199] glimmer’d, and the trees
Laid their dark arms about the field.

But when those others, one by one,
Withdrew themselves from me and night,
And in the house light after light
Went out, and I was all alone,

A hunger seized my heart; I read
Of that glad year which once had been,
In those fall’n leaves which kept their green,
The noble letters of the dead:

And strangely on the silence broke
The silent-speaking words, and strange
Was love’s dumb cry defying change
To test his worth; and strangely spoke

The faith, the vigour, bold to dwell
On doubts that drive the coward back,
And keen thro’ wordy snares to track
Suggestion to her inmost cell.

So word by word, and line by line,
The dead man touch’d me from the past,
And all at once it seem’d at last
The living soul was flash’d on mine,

And mine in his was wound, and whirl’d
About empyreal heights of thought,
And came on that which is, and caught
The deep pulsations of the world,

Aeonian music[200] measuring out
The steps of Time—the shocks of Chance—
The blows of Death. At length my trance
Was cancell’d, stricken thro’ with doubt.

Vague words! but ah, how hard to frame
In matter-moulded forms of speech,
Or ev’n for intellect to reach
Thro’ memory that which I became:

Till now the doubtful dusk reveal’d
The knolls once more where, couch’d at ease,
The white kine glimmer’d, and the trees
Laid their dark arms about the field;

And suck’d from out the distant gloom
A breeze began to tremble o’er
The large leaves of the sycamore,
And fluctuate all the still perfume,

And gathering freshlier overhead,
Rock’d the full-foliaged elms, and swung
The heavy-folded rose, and flung
The lilies to and fro, and said,

‘The dawn, the dawn,’ and died away;
And East and West, without a breath,
Mixt their dim lights, like life and death,
To broaden into boundless day.

 

XCVI

You say, but with no touch of scorn,
Sweet-hearted, you, whose light-blue eyes
Are tender over drowning flies,
You tell me, doubt is Devil-born.

I know not: one[201] indeed I knew
In many a subtle question versed,
Who touch’d a jarring lyre at first,
But ever strove to make it true:

Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.

He fought his doubts and gather’d strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the spectres of the mind
And laid them: thus he came at length

To find a stronger faith his own;
And Power was with him in the night,
Which makes the darkness and the light,
And dwells not in the light alone,

But in the darkness and the cloud,
As over Sinai’s peaks of old,
While Israel made their gods of gold,
Altho’ the trumpet blew so loud.

XCIX

Risest thou thus, dim dawn, again[202],
So loud with voices of the birds,
So thick with lowings of the herds,
Day, when I lost the flower of men;

Who tremblest thro’ thy darkling red
On yon swoll’n brook that bubbles fast
By meadows breathing of the past,
And woodlands holy to the dead;

Who murmurest in the foliaged eaves
A song that slights the coming care,
And Autumn laying here and there
A fiery finger on the leaves;

Who wakenest with thy balmy breath
To myriads on the genial earth,
Memories of bridal, or of birth,
And unto myriads more, of death.

O, wheresoever those may be,
Betwixt the slumber of the poles,
To-day they count as kindred souls;
They know me not, but mourn with me.

 

CIV

The time draws near the birth of Christ[203];
The moon is hid, the night is still;
A single church[204] below the hill
Is pealing, folded in the mist.

A single peal of bells below,
That wakens at this hour of rest
A single murmur in the breast,
That these are not the bells I know[205].

Like strangers’ voices here they sound,
In lands where not a memory strays,
Nor landmark breathes of other days,
But all is new unhallow’d ground.

 

CV

To-night ungather’d let us leave
This laurel, let this holly stand:
We live within the stranger’s land,
And strangely falls our Christmas-eve.

Our father’s dust is left alone
And silent under other snows:
There in due time the woodbine blows,
The violet comes, but we are gone.

No more shall wayward grief abuse
The genial hour with mask and mime,
For change of place, like growth of time,
Has broke the bond of dying use.

Let cares that petty shadows cast,
By which our lives are chiefly proved,
A little spare the night I loved,
And hold it solemn to the past.

But let no footstep beat the floor,
Nor bowl of wassail mantle warm;
For who would keep an ancient form
Thro’ which the spirit breathes no more?

Be neither song, nor game, nor feast;
Nor harp be touch’d, nor flute be blown;
No dance, no motion, save alone
What lightens in the lucid east

Of rising worlds by yonder wood.
Long sleeps the summer in the seed;
Run out your measured arcs, and lead
The closing cycle rich in good.

 

CVI

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die[206].

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

 

CVII

It is the day when he was born[207],
A bitter day that early sank
Behind a purple-frosty bank
Of vapour, leaving night forlorn.

The time admits not flowers or leaves
To deck the banquet. Fiercely flies
The blast of North and East, and ice
Makes daggers at the sharpen’d eaves,

And bristles all the brakes and thorns
To yon hard crescent, as she hangs
Above the wood which grides and clangs
Its leafless ribs and iron horns

Together, in the drifts that pass
To darken on the rolling brine
That breaks the coast. But fetch the wine,
Arrange the board and brim the glass;

Bring in great logs and let them lie,
To make a solid core of heat;
Be cheerful-minded, talk and treat
Of all things ev’n as he were by;

We keep the day. With festal cheer,
With books and music, surely we
Will drink to him, whate’er he be,
And sing the songs he loved to hear.

 

CVIII

I will not shut me from my kind,
And, lest I stiffen into stone,
I will not eat my heart alone,
Nor feed with sighs a passing wind:

What profit lies in barren faith,
And vacant yearning, tho’ with might
To scale the heaven’s highest height,
Or dive below the wells of Death?

What find I in the highest place,
But mine own phantom chanting hymns?
And on the depths of death there swims
The reflex of a human face.

I’ll rather take what fruit may be
Of sorrow under human skies:
‘Tis held that sorrow makes us wise,
Whatever wisdom sleep with thee.

 

CXV

Now fades the last long streak of snow,
Now burgeons every maze of quick[208]
About the flowering squares[209], and thick
By ashen roots the violets blow.

Now rings the woodland loud and long,
The distance takes a lovelier hue,
And drown’d in yonder living blue
The lark becomes a sightless song.

Now dance the lights on lawn and lea,
The flocks are whiter down the vale,
And milkier every milky sail
On winding stream or distant sea;

Where now the seamew[210] pipes, or dives
In yonder greening gleam, and fly
The happy birds, that change their sky
To build and brood; that live their lives

From land to land; and in my breast
Spring wakens too; and my regret
Becomes an April violet,
And buds and blossoms like the rest.

 

CXVII

O days and hours, your work is this
To hold me from my proper place,
A little while from his embrace,
For fuller gain of after bliss:

That out of distance might ensue
Desire of nearness doubly sweet;
And unto meeting when we meet,
Delight a hundredfold accrue,

For every grain of sand that runs,
And every span of shade that steals,
And every kiss of toothed wheels,
And all the courses of the suns.

 

CXVIII

Contèmplate all this work of Time[211],
The giant labouring in his youth;
Nor dream of human love and truth,
As dying Nature’s earth and lime[212];

But trust that those we call the dead
Are breathers of an ampler day
For ever nobler ends. They[213] say,
The solid earth whereon we tread

In tracts of fluent heat began,
And grew to seeming-random forms,
The seeming prey of cyclic storms,
Till at the last arose the man;

Who throve and branch’d from clime to clime,
The herald of a higher race,
And of himself in higher place,
If so he type[214] this work of time

Within himself, from more to more;
Or, crown’d with attributes of woe
Like glories, move his course, and show
That life is not as idle ore,

But iron dug from central gloom,
And heated hot with burning fears,
And dipt in baths of hissing tears,
And batter’d with the shocks of doom

To shape and use. Arise and fly
The reeling Faun[215], the sensual feast;
Move upward, working out the beast,
And let the ape and tiger die.

 

CXIX

Doors[216], where my heart was used to beat
So quickly, not as one that weeps
I come once more; the city sleeps;
I smell the meadow in the street;

I hear a chirp of birds; I see
Betwixt the black fronts long-withdrawn
A light-blue lane of early dawn,
And think of early days and thee,

And bless thee, for thy lips are bland,
And bright the friendship of thine eye;
And in my thoughts with scarce a sigh
I take the pressure of thine hand.

 

CXX

I trust I have not wasted breath:
I think we are not wholly brain,
Magnetic mockeries[217]; not in vain,
Like Paul with beasts, I fought with Death;

Not only cunning casts in clay:
Let Science prove we are, and then
What matters Science unto men,
At least to me? I would not stay.

Let him, the wiser man who springs
Hereafter, up from childhood shape
His action like the greater ape,
But I was born to other things.

 

CXXIII

There rolls the deep where grew the tree.
O earth, what changes hast thou seen!
There where the long street roars, hath been
The stillness of the central sea.

The hills are shadows, and they flow
From form to form, and nothing stands;
They melt like mist, the solid lands,
Like clouds they shape themselves and go.

But in my spirit will I dwell,
And dream my dream, and hold it true;
For tho’ my lips may breathe adieu,
I cannot think the thing farewell.

 

CXXIV

That which we dare invoke to bless;
Our dearest faith; our ghastliest doubt;
He, They, One, All; within, without;
The Power in darkness whom we guess,—

I found Him not in world or sun,
Or eagle’s wing, or insect’s eye[218],
Nor thro’ the questions men may try,
The petty cobwebs we have spun.

If e’er when faith had fall’n asleep,
I heard a voice ‘believe no more,’
And heard an ever-breaking shore
That tumbled in the Godless deep,

A warmth within the breast would melt
The freezing reason’s colder part,
And like a man in wrath the heart
Stood up and answer’d ‘I have felt.’

No, like a child in doubt and fear:
But that blind clamour made me wise;
Then was I as a child that cries,
But, crying, knows his father near;

And what I am beheld again
What is, and no man understands;
And out of darkness came the hands
That reach thro’ nature, moulding men.

CXXX

Thy voice is on the rolling air;
I hear thee where the waters run;
Thou standest in the rising sun,
And in the setting thou art fair.

What art thou then? I cannot guess;
But tho’ I seem in star and flower
To feel thee some diffusive power,
I do not therefore love thee less.

My love involves the love before;
My love is vaster passion now;
Tho’ mix’d with God and Nature thou,
I seem to love thee more and more.

Far off thou art, but ever nigh;
I have thee still, and I rejoice;
I prosper, circled with thy voice;
I shall not lose thee tho’ I die.

CXXXI

O living will[219] that shalt endure
When all that seems shall suffer shock,
Rise in the spiritual rock[220],
Flow thro’ our deeds and make them pure,

That we may lift from out of dust
A voice as unto him that hears,
A cry above the conquer’d years
To one that with us works, and trust,

With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved,
And all we flow from, soul in soul.

 

[from Epilogue[221]]

...And rise, O moon, from yonder down,
Till over down and over dale
All night the shining vapour sail
And pass the silent-lighted town,

The white-faced halls, the glancing rills,
And catch at every mountain head,
And o'er the friths that branch and spread
Their sleeping silver thro' the hills;

And touch with shade the bridal doors,
With tender gloom the roof, the wall;
And breaking let the splendour fall
To spangle all the happy shores

By which they rest, and ocean sounds,
And, star and system rolling past,
A soul shall draw from out the vast
And strike his being into bounds,

And, moved thro' life of lower phase,
Result in man, be born and think,
And act and love, a closer link
Betwixt us and the crowning race

Of those that, eye to eye, shall look
On knowledge, under whose command
Is Earth and Earth's, and in their hand
Is Nature like an open book;

No longer half-akin to brute,
For all we thought and loved and did,
And hoped, and suffer'd, is but seed
Of what in them is flower and fruit;

Whereof the man, that with me trod
This planet, was a noble type
Appearing ere the times were ripe,
That friend of mine who lives in God,

That God, which ever lives and loves,
One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.

"The Charge of the Light Brigade"

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns' he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldiers knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

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,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

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,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Activities

"The Lady of Shallot"

  1. After looking at both published versions of the poem, might you, as did George Eliot, express a preference for any of the original lines, published in 1833? If so, which ones would you wish Tennyson had not revised?
  2. What are features of the poem's meter and diction? How do these add to the magical or eerie effect?
  3. What might the striking image of the tower symbolize? the mirror? What is significant about the lady's being  enclosed in a high tower?
  4. What was the result of Sir Lancelot's adulterous relationship with King Arthur's queen, Guinevere?
  5. What irony is associated with Lancelot?
  6. After looking at the link above—isolate some details that support the contention that the poem deals with "the Woman Question";  that is, the position of Victorian women?
  7. What details might support an allegorical interpretation pertaining to art versus life?
  8. Why do you think the Lady of Shalott became the subject of so many Victorian paintings (Hunt, Rossetti, Waterhouse)? First, see the link above:  "The Man Behind the Lady."
  9. Listen to Loreena McKennitt’s musical adaptation of “The Lady of Shalott”.

"Ulysses"

  1. Tennyson is quoted as saying that “Ulysses” was “written soon after Arthur Hallam’s death, and gave my feeling about the need of going forward, and braving the struggle of life perhaps more simply than anything in ‘In Memoriam’” (Memoir, I, 196). To which section of “In Memoriam” is “Ulysses” most parallel?
  2. Some critics argue that the poem is not wholly a dramatic monologue. Looking at it section by section (i.e., ll. 1–32; ll. 33–43, and ll. 44–70), which section is most clearly a dramatic monologue?

"Selected poems from In Memoriam A.H.H."

  1. Download Gatty’s A Key to In Memoriam as well as a searchable Project Gutenberg e-text of In Memoriam:
  2. In her excellent notes on In Memoriam, Professor Florence Boos states, "According to Tennyson, the poem fell naturally into the following 10 sections, with 1–77; 78–103; and 104–131 forming the three main sections:
    • Sections 1–8, ending with a sense of hope; 9–20, ending with a sense of hope; 21–27, ending with a sense of hope; 28–49, ending with a sense of despair; 50–58; 59–71; 72–98; 99–103; 104–131; Epilogue.
  3. Find examples to support the following assertion. “Whereas the first Christmas (28–77) was marked overwhelmingly by grief, the second cycle (78–103) beginning with the second Christmas since Hallam's death, marks a turning point in the poem, as from here on the poet begins to move more steadily towards hope and consolation”. Compare sections 30 and 78, as well as 7 and 119, in particular.
  4. Look in a glossary of literary terms and then find examples of anaphora in Parts 11 and 101.
  5. The Cambridge History of English Literature (CHEL), (XIII, II, 3) states that Ben Jonson and Lord Herbert of Cherbury used the so-called “In Memoriam stanza" before Tennyson. Find one example of Jonson’s and Lord Herbert of Cherbury’s use of the "In Memoriam stanza." See Edward Hirsch, A Poet’s Glossary (Google books). See also Hallam Tennyson, Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir, I, 305 for Tennyson’s own discussion of what is now known as the “In Memoriam stanza.” Be sure to use quotes before and after your search terms when using the “search inside” box inside the Memoir.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)

Selected poems from Sonnets from the Portuguese

XXI

Say over again, and yet once over again,
That thou dost love me. Though the word repeated
Should seem a "cuckoo-song,[222]" as thou dost treat it,
Remember, never to the hill or plain,
Valley and wood, without her cuckoo-strain
Comes the fresh Spring in all her green completed.
Beloved, I, amid the darkness greeted
By a doubtful spirit-voice, in that doubt's pain
Cry, "Speak once more—thou lovest!" Who can fear
Too many stars, though each in heaven shall roll,
Too many flowers, though each shall crown the year?
Say thou dost love me, love me, love me—toll
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.

XXII

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curved point,—what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think! In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Beloved,—where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

XXXII

The first time that the sun rose on thine oath
To love me, I looked forward to the moon
To slacken all those bonds which seemed too soon
And quickly tied to make a lasting troth.
Quick-loving hearts, I thought, may quickly loathe;
And, looking on myself, I seemed not one
For such man's love!—more like an out-of-tune
Worn viol, a good singer would be wroth
To spoil his song with, and which, snatched in haste,
Is laid down at the first ill-sounding note.
I did not wrong myself so, but I placed
A wrong on thee. For perfect strains may float
'Neath master-hands, from instruments defaced,—
And great souls, at one stroke, may do and doat.

XLIII

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Activities

  1. Determine the rhyme scheme for each of these sonnets. To what type do the Sonnets from the Portuguese belong—the English or the Petrarchan form?
  2. Log on to the Wikisource page for all 43 sonnets. Do any of the sonnets break from the standard rhyme scheme used in sonnets 21, 22, 32, and 43 above?
  3. In terms of form, especially rhyme scheme, which English sonneteer does Barrett Browning most resemble: Sidney, Spenser, or Shakespeare? For Sidney, see Astrophil and Stella, Sonnets 31, 52, 74. For Spenser, see any of the sonnets in Amoretti. For Shakespeare, see Sonnet 1.
  4. Barrett Browning knew the poetry of John Donne very well. Do any of the above sonnets resemble Donne’s “sonnets” in terms of style or imagery?
  5. In a short essay, compare and contrast one sonnet by Browning and one by either Shakespeare, Sidney, or Spenser.

John Keats (1795–1821)

"On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer"[223]

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,[224]
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.[225]
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;[226]
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken[227];
Or like stout Cortez[228] when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

"La Belle Dame Sans Merci"[229]

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel’s granary is full,
And the harvest’s done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads[230],
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot[231],
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—‘La Belle Dame sans Merci
Thee hath in thrall!’

I saw their starved lips in the gloam[232],
With horrid warning gapèd wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill’s side.

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

"To Autumn"

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers: And sometimes like a gleaner[233] thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows,[234] borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Activities

"On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"

  1. What is an extended metaphor and what metaphor does Keats use in “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”?
  2. How do we know “Chapman’s Homer” is a sonnet?
  3. Describe a personal experience, similar to the one Keats describes in “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer.” Have you ever read a book or seen a film or had another experience you could describe as awe-inspiring and inspirational?

"La Belle Dame Sans Merci"

  1. In what season is “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” set? How do we know? How is the setting significant?
  2. What is the answer to the question which opens “La Belle Dame Sans Merci?”
  3. How might you support an opinion that la belle dame sans merci symbolizes the poet’s muse?

"To Autumn"

  1. What qualities of Autumn does Keats stress in “To Autumn”?
  2. How would you describe the tone, the voice of “To Autumn”?
  3. How does Keats use personification to communicate his vision of autumn?
  4. How does Keats’ use of imagery help readers experience the sights and sounds of autumn?
  5. How do we know “To Autumn” is an ode?
  6. What is the effect of the last line of “To Autumn”?

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

"Ozymandias"[235]

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

"Ode to the West Wind"

I

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh hear!

II

Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine aëry surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: oh hear!

III

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull'd by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh hear!

IV

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seem'd a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chain'd and bow'd
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

V

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like wither'd leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguish'd hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

Activities

"Ozymandias"

  1. The story of “Ozymandias” is told not directly by the poet but by “a traveller from an antique land.” How is this remote point-of-view significant to the theme of the poem?
  2. Provide examples of and explain the significance of the dramatic irony and situational irony in “Ozymandias.”
  3. How does the poet’s use of half rhyme and the unconventional sonnet rhyme scheme add to the meaning of “Ozymandias”?

"Ode to the West Wind"

  1. What is the tone, the mood, the voice of “Ode to the West Wind”? Does the poet’s mood change as the poem evolves? Quote from the poem to help explain your answer.
  2. How and for what does Shelley use the west wind as a metaphor?
  3. What effect does the west wind have on land? In the sky? In the ocean?
  4. What does the poet want from the West Wind, in stanza 5?

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788–1824)

"She Walks in Beauty"

She[236] walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

"So We’ll Go No More A Roving"

So, we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

Activities

"She Walks in Beauty"

  1. How does Byron’s use of imagery and simile accentuate the beauty of the woman he describes in “She Walks in Beauty”?
  2. What is the other quality the woman possesses that accentuates her beauty? How does this emphasis help establish the theme of the poem?

"So We’ll Go No More A Roving"

  1. Why does the poet, in “So We’ll Go No More A Roving,” resolve to spend less time partying?
  2. Explain the metaphors Byron presents in the first two lines of the second stanza of “So We’ll Go No More A Roving.”
  3. The rhythm pattern of “So We’ll Go No More A Roving” is a combination of iambic and anapestic. What is the effect of the poem’s rhythm?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834)

"Kubla Khan; Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment."

In Xanadu[237] did Kubla Khan[238]
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph,[239] the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,[240]
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart[241] a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer[242]
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.[243]
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.[244]

Activities

  1. What is unusual about the gardens of Xanadu? Compare and contrast the gardens as they appear in the first and the second stanzas. What might the gardens symbolize. How might they act as a metaphor?
  2. The Romantic poets believed in the power of the imagination to effect social change. How does this belief influence the theme of “Kubla Khan”? Is this an optimistic or a pessimistic poem? Compare this poem with Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind.”
  3. How does the imagery in the poem help establish its tone?
  4. What is the effect of the alliteration of line 26?
  5. What is the verse form, the genre, the rhythm and the rhyme scheme of “Kubla Khan”? What is the effect of form and language and theme of the poem?

William Wordsworth (1770–1850)

"She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways"

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,[245]
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
—Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy[246] ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

"The World Is Too Much with Us"

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon[247]!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.[248]

Activities

"She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways"

  1. Consider the form in which “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways” is written and the effect the form has on the poem’s theme.
  2. What is the nature of the poet’s relationship with Lucy?

"The World Is Too Much with Us"

  1. “The World is Too Much with Us” was written in the earliest years of the 19th century. How does it maintain its relevance today?
  2. How is the rhyme scheme of “The World Is Too Much with Us” deviate from usually sonnet patterns?

William Blake (1757–1827)

"The Tyger"

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

"London"

I wander thro' each charter'd[249] street,
Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,[250]
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,[251]
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls[252]

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear[253]
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.[254]

Activities

"The Tyger"

  1. Is the tiger, as described by Blake, beautiful or ugly? Is it a product of heaven or of hell? Does it symbolize good or evil or something else?
  2. What is the theme of the “The Tyger”?
  3. How does the poem’s trochaic rhythm complement the tiger’s nature?

"London"

  1. Why do the citizens of London, as Blake describes them, seem so downcast?
  2. What do you think Blake means by “mind-forged manacles,” in line 8 of “London”?
  3. Explain the metaphors Blake uses in the third stanza of “London.”
  4. Blake describes the London of the late nineteenth century. How have the world’s largest cities changed since then, and how have they remained the same?

Richard Lovelace (1617–1657)

"To Lucasta, Going to the Wars"

Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
Lov’d I not Honour more.

Activities

  1. Who is Lucasta? How do you think she might have responded when she received this poem? Will she “adore” the poet’s “inconstancy”?
  2. Identify examples of alliteration in the poem and explain why Lovelace uses alliteration.
  3. This poem was written in the 17th century. Is its theme still relevant today? Support your answer.

Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672)

"To My Dear and Loving Husband"

If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Activities

  1. The poem is written in rhyming couplets. How does the form support the theme?
  2. What is hyperbole, and how is it used in this poem?
  3. The poem was written in the 17th century. Is it old-fashioned? Would a spouse express such sentiments today?

John Milton (1608–1674)

"When I Consider How My Light Is Spent"

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,[255]
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide[256];
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Activities

  1. What is the double meaning of “spent” in line 1?
  2. How do we know “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” is a Petrarchan sonnet?
  3. How does Milton use personification in this sonnet?
  4. What is the meaning of the last line, and how does the line inform the theme of the poem?

John Donne (1572–1631)

"The Sun Rising"

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,[257]
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou think[258]?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and to-morrow late tell me,
Whether both th’ Indias[259] of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “All here in one bed lay.”

She’s all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is;
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

"The Indifferent"

I can love both fair and brown;
Her whom abundance melts, and her whom want betrays;
Her who loves loneness best, and her who masks and plays;
Her whom the country form’d, and whom the town;
Her who believes, and her who tries;
Her who still weeps with spongy eyes,
And her who is dry cork, and never cries.
I can love her, and her, and you, and you;
I can love any, so she be not true.

Will no other vice content you?
Will it not serve your turn to do as did your mothers?
Or have you all old vices spent, and now would find out others?
Or doth a fear that men are true torment you?
O we are not, be not you so;
Let me—and do you—twenty know;
Rob me, but bind me not, and let me go.
Must I, who came to travail through you,
Grow your fix’d subject, because you are true?

Venus heard me sigh this song;
And by love’s sweetest part, variety, she swore,
She heard not this till now; and that it should be so no more.
She went, examined, and return’d ere long,
And said, “Alas! some two or three
Poor heretics in love there be,
Which think to stablish dangerous constancy.
But I have told them, ‘Since you will be true,
You shall be true to them who’re false to you.’”

"The Apparition"

WHEN by thy scorn, O murd'ress, I am dead,
And that thou thinkst thee free
From all solicitation from me,
Then shall my ghost come to thy bed,
And thee, feign'd vestal,[260] in worse arms shall see:
Then thy sick taper will begin to wink,
And he, whose thou art then, being tired before,
Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think
Thou call'st for more,
And, in false sleep, will from thee shrink:
And then, poor aspen wretch, neglected thou
Bathed in a cold quicksilver[261] sweat wilt lie,
A verier ghost than I.
What I will say, I will not tell thee now,
Lest that preserve thee; and since my love is spent,
I'd rather thou shouldst painfully repent,
Than by my threatenings rest still innocent.

"Break of Day"

’Tis true, ’tis day; what though it be?
O, wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise because ’tis light?
Did we lie down because ’twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.
Light hath no tongue, but is all eye;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well I fain would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honour so
That I would not from him, that had them, go.

Must business thee from hence remove?
O! that’s the worst disease of love,
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.

"Love's Alchemy"

Some that have deeper digg’d love’s mine than I,
Say, where his centric happiness doth lie.
I have loved, and got, and told,
But should I love, get, tell, till I were old,
I should not find that hidden mystery.
O! ’tis imposture all;
And as no chemic[262] yet th’ elixir[263] got,
But glorifies his pregnant pot,
If by the way to him befall
Some odoriferous thing, or medicinal,
So, lovers dream a rich and long delight,
But get a winter-seeming summer’s night[264].
Our ease, our thrift, our honour, and our day,
Shall we for this vain bubble’s shadow pay?
Ends love in this, that my man[265]
Can be as happy as I can, if he can
Endure the short scorn of a bridegroom’s play?
That loving wretch that swears,
’Tis not the bodies marry, but the minds,
Which he in her angelic finds,
Would swear as justly, that he hears,
In that day’s rude hoarse minstrelsy, the spheres[266].
Hope not for mind in women; at their best,
Sweetness and wit they are, but mummy[267], possess’d.

"The Flea"

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two;
And this, alas! is more than we would do.

O stay,[268] three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,
And cloister’d in these living walls of jet[269].
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence[270]?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
’Tis true; then learn how false fears be;
Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

"A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No.”

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
’Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.[271]

Dull sublunary[272] lovers’ love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just
And makes me end where I begun.

"Holy Sonnet 10"

Death be not proud, though some have callèd thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,[273]
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charmes can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.

"Holy Sonnet 14"

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Activities

"The Sun Rising"

  1. What is the meaning of “busy” in line 1?
  2. Give the dramatic situation; i.e., the setting and the speaker.
  3. If you were filming this poem, how many actors and what props would you need?
  4. Paraphrase lines 11–14.
  5. What is the meaning of “reverend”?
  6. How does the speaker’s tone change in the last stanza?

"The Indifferent"

  1. Define “indifferent”
  2. What is the one kind of woman the speaker cannot love? See line 9.
  3. Explain the paradox in the use of the word “vice" in line 10.
  4. Clarify who is meant by “you” in line 10.
  5. Explain the shift in dramatic situation beginning in line 19.
  6. Who was Venus?
  7. Identify the speaker in lines 23–29.

"The Apparition"

  1. Define "apparition."
  2. List at least two Petrarchan conventions in this poem. Name one that is used straightforwardly, another which is parodied.
  3. What is the dramatic situation at the beginning of the poem? If you were filming a dramatization of the poem, how many actors would you need? What props would be essential?
  4. What is a taper and why would her taper “wink”?
  5. What dramatic movement do you see in the poem?
  6. How is the conflict resolved?
  7. What does "preserve" mean (l. 15)?
  8. What does "still" mean in the last line?

"Break of Day"

  1. Show how this poem is a good example of an aubade.
  2. What is the probable gender of the speaker?
  3. What quality does the speaker insist is incompatible with being a lover?

"Love's Alchemy"

  1. The title can be read as “the alchemy of love”, but also “Love is alchemy”. If the latter, what does the title suggest about the nature of love?
  2. What does the speaker suggest about his man servant in lines 15–17?
  3. What is the speaker’s opinion about platonic, spiritual love?
  4. Look up the word “charivari”. What kind of “music” was associated with a wedding day charivari?

"The Flea"

  1. Who is the speaker and his audience?
  2. What is the best way to kill a flea by hand?
  3. Look up the word “jet” in a good college dictionary. Why do you suppose jet is used in the phrase “jet-black”?
  4. What is the fate of the flea?
  5. Why does the speaker ask the lady to spare the flea?
  6. How does the speaker use the lady’s killing of the flea to his advantage?

"A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"

  1. What is a valediction? Look up this word and find its etymology. What is the purpose of the valedictorian’s address at a high school graduation?
  2. As with “The Sun Rising”, if you were directing a film adaptation of this poem, how many actors and props would you need?
  3. Why would a virtuous man die “mildly”? What might “mildly” mean here?
  4. Who is speaking in this poem, and to whom is he speaking?
  5. Define “laity” and “profanation”. Both are terms associated with religion. Is Donne suggesting a “religion” of love here? If so, explain.
  6. The title of the poem suggests that the poem might be discussing death as its main subject. Is this the case? If not, what is the main subject of the poem?
  7. What property of gold does the poet highlight in line 24?
  8. What kind of compass is described in the famous metaphor of stanza 7: a navigational or a geometrical one?

"Holy Sonnet 10"

  1. Donne's sonnets follow the Petrarchan pattern distinguished by its octave (first 8 lines) and its sestet (last 6 lines rhyming cde cde or variation). Analyze Donne's Holy Sonnets according to the following description of this twofold division: "The octave bears the burden: a doubt, a problem, a reflection, a query, a historical statement, a cry of indignation or desire, a vision of the ideal. The sestet eases the load, resolves the problem or doubt, answers the query, solaces the yearning, realizes the vision." Quoted in Holman and Harmon, Handbook to Literature, 6th ed., p. 449.
  2. Does the octave in this sonnet serve one of the functions listed above by Holman and Harmon?
  3. Explain the personification in this poem.
  4. In what way is Death a slave?
  5. Cite one example of paradox in this poem.
  6. Why does Donne use the second person singular form of the pronoun (thee, thou) rather than “you”?
  7. Is this an Elizabethan or a Petrarchan sonnet?
  8. What is the poem’s rhyme scheme?

"Holy Sonnet 14"

  1. Define paradox, and then give two examples in this poem.
  2. Explain the simile “like an usurped town”.
  3. What is meant by “three-personed god”?
  4. What is a viceroy? Why does Donne call “reason” god’s viceroy?
  5. Who is “You” in line 9?
  6. Define “fain”, then provide a more modern word.
  7. In line 14, what does “except” mean? Substitute a word that you think would be clearer.

Activities

  1. In an extended definition essay of around 600 words, show how Donne’s poem “Love’s Alchemy” (or another Donne poem) is a good example of a metaphysical poem. Be sure to jot down several characteristics of metaphysical poetry. See the following definition:
    • When it was first applied to Donne and his imitators by the poet John Dryden in dubbing them the "Metaphysical school", it meant intellectual poetry, poetry characterized by WIT. Metaphysical wit means the combining of dissimilar images in which the poet brings together things normally remote. The two prime characteristics of metaphysical poetry are LEARNING and SUBTLETY. In addition, the verse is marked by FRANKNESS, REALISM, and a deliberate SHOCK effect. DISCORD is evident in the deliberate harshness in tone and diction and in the distortion of rhythm. There is a fondness for PROSAIC DICTION; the diction is blunt, matter‑of‑fact, explosive. The poetry reveals a POWERFUL DRAMATIC AND VISUAL SENSE. There is a SCIENTIFIC PREOCCUPATION evident; the poet draws for his imagery on geography, alchemy, navigation, and medicine. The poets SEARCH FOR NOVELTY; they avoid the stock conceit and search for freshness and surprising originality. Finally, there is a SPECIAL KIND OF ATTITUDE TOWARD LOVE AND DEATH. Love is often turned into religion, but Donne regards love as all‑consuming and emphasizes the tyrannical demands of love, both physical and spiritual.

      ….We are always aware of the speaking voice in the poem, a feature which makes many of Donne’s poems approach the Dramatic Monologue in form. The conversational diction, the shifting tones, the tangled, tortuous, sinewy development of the thought all combine to produce an intensely dramatic and realistic situation as though we are the onlookers to the workings of the human mind. (Renaissance Prose and Poetry, John Stumpf, Toronto: Forum, 1969.)

  2. Contrast Donne’s “The Apparition” with Spenser’s “Men Call You Fair” paying particular attention to how Petrarchan love conventions are followed or parodied.
    • Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) from Amoretti Sonnet 79

      Men call you fair, and you do credit it,
      For that yourself ye daily such do see:
      But the true fair, that is the gentle wit,
      And vertuous mind, is much more prais'd of me.
      For all the rest, however fair it be,   5
      Shall turn to naught and lose that glorious hue:
      But only that is permanent and free
      From frail corruption, that doth flesh ensue.
      That is true beauty: that doth argue you
      To be divine, and born of heavenly seed:     10
      Deriv'd from that fair Spirit, from whom all true
      And perfect beauty did at first proceed.
      He only fair, and what he fair hath made,
      All other fair, like flowers untimely fade.

  3. For a good overview of Donne, look at these excellent public domain Creative Commons websites at the British Library:
  4. According to one critic, Donne capitalizes on “the witty depravity, the entirely unidealized and unspiritualized sensuality, of Ovid, . . .” J.B. Leishman, The Monarch of Wit, 149). Compare Ovid’s Amores II.IV (2.4) and “The Indifferent”. Have a look at J. Lewis May’s 1930 English translation of Ovid’s Love Books, particularly the Amores, 2.4. How do you think Donne used it as a source for “The Indifferent”?Also, perhaps Ovid’s Amores I: XIII (1.13) can be seen as a rough source for Donne’s “The Sun Rising”.

Feature Unit: The Sonnets of William Shakespeare (1564–1616)

The Sonnets of William Shakespeare

Introduction

William Shakespeare began to write his famous collection of sonnets, in the early 1590’s, when he was in his late 20’s.

He was mainly a playwright, of course, but outbreaks of a horrific and highly contagious disease, known as the bubonic plague, occasionally forced the theatres to close, and it may have been one such epidemic which forced Shakespeare to take a reprieve from play writing and turn to poetry instead.  There was also a vogue for sonnet writing, in the latter half of the sixteenth century, another reason which likely motivated him.  And he had found the love interest upon which a sonnet collection will focus.

The sonnets tell a story of a young writer who forms a deep friendship with a young man, apparently of noble birth.  The poet praises his dear friend’s beauty and intelligence, and urges him, possibly at instigation of his friend’s mother, to marry and raise a family.  Such rare beauty and intelligence must be passed along; you owe it to the world, the poet argues.

As time goes by, the poet seems to realize that his advice is misplaced because a wife and family would threaten the amount of time his friend could spend with him.  He turns his attention away from recommendations his friend marry and raise a family and more towards expressions of praise for his friend’s beauty, grace, intelligence, generosity, and charm.  He resolves to immortalize his friends’ many virtues, a resolution he certainly fulfilled.

But paradise always has its troubles, and trouble comes in the form of a rival poet who turns the friend’s head and secures the patronage Shakespeare now must share.  Suddenly Shakespeare is worried about his place in his friend’s universe, and he pours out his anguish and insecurity, convinced of his own inferiority in this new chapter in the story.

The influence of the rival poet fades and passes, but another crisis arises.  The poet has fallen for a beautiful dark-haired woman, and expresses his love, and, more so, his desire her for her.  He is insecure in this relationship.  The Dark Lady is something of a free spirit.  He suspects that his dear friend and his Dark Lady are cheating on him.  He is devastated.

The crisis is not resolved.  The story ends inconclusively, the poet unable to resist the Dark Lady’s charms, even while he suspects her of infidelity.

The real-life identities of the characters in the Sonnets, are the great mystery of English literary history.  Who is the handsome noble friend?  There are intriguing clues.  When the Sonnets were published in 1609, possibly without the poet’s permission.  The title page announced “the only begetter” of the sonnets as one W.H.  Scholars who define begetter as author believe the printer simply mistook the H for an S or omitted the S before the H, which would have established the “begetter” clearly as W. SH.

Scholars who define begetter as muse suggest the W.H. refers to the handsome young nobleman, who inspired the poems.  Shakespeare knew well two such men.  Both were generous patrons of poets and playwrights.  One was Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton; the other was William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke.  Southampton’s age and physical appearance match the contents of some of the sonnets, but his initials are reversed on the title page, possibly by error, possibly as an attempt to conceal his true identity.  Pembroke’s initials are correct, but he was only twelve when the sonnets were written, inappropriately young to be the muse of a thirty-year old man.  The debate continues, with other even less likely identities suggested, but it will probably never be resolved.

Nor can the identity of the other major characters in the story be established with any certainty.  The rival poet may be one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries: Christopher Marlow or George Chapman or Samuel Daniel.  The Dark Lady may be Amelia Lanier, the daughter of Queen Elizabeth’s musical director, though this recent essay on Lanier leads away from the thesis that she was the origin of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.

All of the main characters may be fictitious, products of Shakespeare’s magnificent imagination.  In the end, it makes little difference to the integrity of Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence, one of the crowning achievements of English literature.

Sonnets

Sonnet 3

Look in thy glass,[274] and tell the face thou viewest
Now is the time that face should form another;[275]
Whose fresh repair if now thou not renewest,
Thou dost beguile the world, unbless some mother,[276]
For where is she so fair whose unear'd womb
Disdains the tillage of thy husbandry?[277]
Or who is he so fond will be the tomb
Of his self-love, to stop posterity?[278]
Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee
Calls back the lovely April of her prime:[279]
So thou through windows of thine age shall see
Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time.[280]
But if thou live, remember'd not to be,
Die single, and thine image dies with thee.[281]

Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,[282]
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;[283]
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines[284] to time thou grow'st;
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Sonnet 20

A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change[285], as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue[286], all 'hues' in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd[287] thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.

Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless[288] cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
Desiring this man's art and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Sonnet 73

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,
Bare ruin'd choirs[289], where late the sweet birds[290] sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by[291].
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Sonnet 80

O, how I faint when I of you do write,
Knowing a better spirit doth use your name,
And in the praise thereof spends all his might,
To make me tongue-tied, speaking of your fame![292]
But since your worth, wide as the ocean is,
The humble as the proudest sail doth bear,
My saucy bark inferior far to his
On your broad main doth wilfully appear.[293]
Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat,
Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride;[294]
Or being wreck'd, I am a worthless boat,
He of tall building and of goodly pride:[295]
Then if he thrive and I be cast away,
The worst was this; my love was my decay.[296]

Sonnet 97

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee,[297] the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December's bareness every where!
And yet this time remov'd was summer's time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lord's decease:[298]
Yet this abundant issue seem'd to me
But hope of orphans and unfather'd fruit;[299]
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And, thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or, if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments[300]. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark[301],
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom[302].
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Sonnet 129

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame[303]
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind[304], a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

Sonnet 138

When my love swears that she[305] is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor'd youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.[306]
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,[307]
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress'd.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie[308] with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be.

Sonnet 144

Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest[309] me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman colour'd ill.
To win me soon to hell, my female evil
Tempteth my better angel from my side,
And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,
Wooing his purity with her foul pride.
And whether that my angel be turn'd fiend
Suspect I may, but not directly tell;
But being both from me[310], both to each friend,
I guess one angel in another's hell:
Yet this shall I ne'er know, but live in doubt,
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.

Sonnet 146

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
[Thrall to][311] these rebel powers that thee array;
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there's no more dying then.

Activities

  1. Why does the poet urge his friend to marry and have children in Sonnet 3? What is a modern synonym for “glass”? What is meant by the verb “beguile”? What is the theme of this poem?
  2. How does the poet support his view expressed in Sonnet 18 that his friend’s beauty is superior even to the beauty of nature? What, according to the poet, will make the person addressed (“thee”) live on, even after death? Define “temperate” and “temperance”. In what ways is the beloved more temperate than a summer’s day? Which meaning of the transitive verb “untrim” listed in the Oxford English Dictionary seems most apt in line 8: a. to deprive of trimness or elegance, to strip of ornament or b. to unbalance. Give an example of personification in the poem. What is the rhyme scheme?
  3. What is the gender of the person praised in Sonnet 20? What is the vice the speaker’s “master mistress” does not share with the “false women” of lines 4 and 5? How does the speaker personify Nature? Paraphrase lines 11 and 12; 13 and 14.
  4. Why is the poet depressed in Sonnet 29, and how does he overcome his depression? How would he like to change his life? Why is such change not necessary?
  5. How old was Shakespeare when Sonnet 73 was published in 1609? Of course, it is possible that he wrote it before that year, since at least two (138 and 144) were published in 1599 in “The Passionate Pilgrim”, an anthology of some 20 poems. How many sentences make up this poem? What are the four main similes? Where does the variation from the iambic foot come in line 4, line 8, 13? Give a few examples of assonance (repetition of vowel sounds) in the first five lines. What is the effect of alliteration in line 7?
  6. What does the poet mean when he writes, at the end of Sonnet 80, “my love was my decay”? Who might the rival poet of line 2 be? See this article on the Rival Poet. “Speaking of your fame” Who might the poet be referring to here? Which meaning in line 14 seems most apt, “my beloved” or, “the love I feel for you”?
  7. How does the use of irony, in Sonnet 97, underscore the theme of the poem? Explain the metaphor around which this sonnet is built.
  8. For the context of the first two lines of Sonnet 116, see the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
    How does the speaker define love? How is time personified? Paraphrase line 3. Define “bark” in line 7. Which star is suggested in line 7? Is each line written in iambic pentameter? Which are not? In each of the three quatrains, state the main idea about love.
  9. What is a cliché, and how does the use of cliché in Sonnet 130 help establish the theme of the poem? Give some examples to demonstrate that this is an anti-Petrarchan poem. What does the word “reeks” mean here? Is the poet suggesting that his lady has bad breath? Paraphrase the last two lines, paying special attention to the meaning of “rare”, “she”, and “belied.” Is the word “she” in line 14 being used as a pronoun? If not, what part of speech is being used here?
  10. Assess the health of the relationship between the poet and the Dark Lady, based upon the content of Sonnet 138. Why does the poet believe “her,” when “he knows she lies”? Why does she believe him? What is the theme of this sonnet?
  11. Paraphrase the first line of Sonnet 144. Look up the term “psychomachia” in a good college dictionary. Then show how this poem is a kind of “psychomachia”. Look up Prudentius, a Christian Latin poet, whose poem “Psychomachia” was written in the 5th century. What does “still” mean in this instance (line2)? “Suggest”? Paraphrase lines 11 and 12. What suspicion troubles the speaker? Look up the term “hell” in Eric Partridges’s reference book Shakespeare’s Bawdy, then paraphrase the last line.
  12. Does line 1 of Sonnet 146 use imagery that suggests astronomy, or does “earth” suggest “body”?
    What are the powers that rebel against the soul? What does “array” mean? Note it sometimes has a military sense. See O.E.D., “To set or place in order of readiness, to marshall. esp. To draw up prepared for battle, and in obsolete phr. to array a battle. List some of the real estate metaphors.
    Is the verb “aggravate” being used in the sense of “annoy”? Look up this verb in a good college dictionary.
  13. You might enjoy looking at the historical documents in the unit on Shakespeare’s sonnets from the British Library.

Text Attributions

  • All poems included in full text in this chapter are free of known copyright restrictions in Canada.

  1. The magician/healer of the African village. The ostrich is native to Africa. It cannot fly; hence it might have symbolic overtones in a poem which touches on African American freedom and oppression.
  2. A religious service held in the late afternoon/early evening.
  3. In Greek mythology, Tantalus was left stranded in a pool of water, as punishment for his offenses against the gods. Above him were branches filled with ripe fruits, but they were always just out of reach, whenever he tried to pick them. Below his was sweet water, but it receded whenever he tried to drink. Our word “tantalize” comes from the Tantalus myth.
  4. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was forced to push a heavy boulder up a hill (in some versions of the myth, climb a never-ending staircase) as punishment for his offenses against the gods. Whenever he was about to crest the hill, the boulder rolled back down.
  5. Explication of a Christian text.
  6. The articles were later published in book form as The War That Will End War (https://archive.org/details/warthatwillendwa00welluoft>)
  7. Owen alludes in the title and in the last two lines to Horace, Odes 3.2.13: “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.”
  8. 5.9-caliber shells.
  9. Siegfried Sassoon helped Owen with the revision of this poem and suggested the word "anthem" for the title.
  10. Jon Stallworthy notes in his edition of Owen’s poetry, “WO was probably responding to the anonymous Prefatory Note to Poems of Today: an Anthology (1916), of which he possessed the December 1916 reprint: 'This book has been compiled in order that boys and girls, ...may also know something of the newer poetry of their own day. Most of the writers are living...while one of the youngest...has gone singing to lay down his life for his country’s cause....there is no arbitrary isolation of one theme from another; they mingle and interpenetrate throughout, to the music of Pan’s flute, and of Love’s viol, and the bugle-call of Endeavour, and the passing-bells of Death.’”
  11. Stallworthy reminds the reader that “the drawing down of blinds, now an almost-forgotten custom, indicated either that a funeral procession was passing or that there had been a death in the house. It was customary to keep the coffin in the house until taking it to church; it would be placed in the darkened parlour, with a pall and flowers on it and lighted candles nearby. Relatives and friends would enter the room to pay their last respects. The sestet of the poem, in fact, refers to a household in mourning.”
  12. Innisfree is a small island in the middle of Lough (Lake) Gill, near Sligo, the town in the northwest of Ireland, where Yeats spent many happy summers, holidaying with his mother’s family. He was living in London in 1888 when he wrote the poem. The poem expresses the universal desire to “get away from it all,” to retreat from a busy life in the city and find a quiet haven, surrounded by nature’s beauty. Though one of his most famous poems, he, ironically, grew weary of reciting it at his lectures, so often was it requested.
  13. Thin branches woven together.
  14. Maud Gonne, the beautiful Irish revolutionary leader, whom Yeats loved for much of his life. She was to him the reincarnation of Helen of Troy, in the ancient world a major trading port in what is now Turkey. Helen was so beautiful, she was abducted by the Trojan Paris, and her husband, Menelaus, King of the Greek city of Sparta, attacked Troy to get her back.
  15. Yeats proposed to Maud, but she admitted to him she had two children with a married French journalist. Later, she married John MacBride, a major in the Irish Republican Army, a man Yeats despised.  (cf. “Easter, 1916”).
  16. On Easter Monday, April 24, 1916, a paramilitary group of Irish republicans occupied central Dublin and proclaimed Ireland independent of Great Britain. The British government regained control within the week, and, ultimately charged the republican leaders with treason. They were tried quickly and executed, compounding rather than solving the problem, in that many moderate republicans were outraged and radicalized. Yeats was among them. His bewildered new perspective is expressed in the poem’s famous refrain, “A terrible beauty is born.” He knew many of the revolutionary leaders, including Maud Gonne’s estranged husband whom he despised, as “A drunken vainglorious lout,” but whom he nevertheless acknowledges in this poem.
  17. Colourful, often ragged clothing worn by a court jester.
  18. Constance Gore-Booth (1868-1927), the only woman among the revolutionary and the only one spared execution, sentenced instead to a long prison sentence, later commuted.
  19. Padraic Pearse (1879-1916), a teacher and a poet.
  20. Pegasus, the winged horse, upon whom rode the poets’ muse.
  21. Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916), Yeats's fellow poet and dramatist.
  22. John MacBride, Irish Republican Army major, whom Yeats despised because he had married and abused Maud before she left him.
  23. That is, may grant independence to Ireland, as Britain finally did in 1921.
  24. James Connolly (1870-1916), prominent trade unionist, one of the rebellion’s paramilitary commanders.
  25. The second coming of Jesus Christ—whom Yeats envisions here as an anti-Christ—on Judgment Day.
  26. A spiral that continues to widen until it collapses. The gyre is Yeats’s symbol of a civilization spiralling out of control, at the end of its 2,000-year cycle.
  27. The spirit of the world. Similar to Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, it is a storehouse of knowledge shared by all; here, knowledge of a saviour or demon.
  28. The anti-Christ, similar to the Beast of the Apocalypse, described in the “Book of Revelation” in the Christian Bible.
  29. The 2,000 years before the birth of Christ.
  30. Wherein lay the baby Jesus.
  31. Town in the Middle East, famous as the birthplace of Jesus.
  32. Yeats was 54 when his first child, a daughter Ann, was born on February 26, 1919. An artist, she never married and died in 2001. Yeats’s son, two years younger, was an Irish politician. He died in 2007, survived by three daughters and a son.
  33. On Lady Gregory’s property (cf. “The Wild Swans at Coole”), and near the ancient Norman tower, Thoor Ballylee, in Galway, which Yeats renovated, and where he lived, on and off, from his marriage in 1917 until his death.
  34. See “No Second Troy,” note 1.
  35. Venus, the goddess of love.
  36. Vulcan, lame; i.e., bandy-legged, blacksmith to the gods.
  37. Yeats is likely thinking of Maud Gonne, who married a man vastly inferior, in Yeats’s opinion, to him.
  38. In Greek myth, the horn of the goat that suckled the chief of the gods, Zeus, filling Zeus with nectar and ambrosia; hence, the horn of plenty is a symbol of abundance, “plenty.”
  39. Maud Gonne again.
  40. Leda was the queen of the Greek city state, Sparta; the Swan was Zeus, supreme god of Greek mythology. According to the myth that inspired this sonnet, Zeus came to Leda in the form of a swan and raped her. Nine months later, Leda gave birth to two girls. Helen would precipitate the Trojan War when she ran off with the Trojan prince, Paris, escaping from her Greek husband Menelaus. Clytemnestra would marry and murder Agamemnon, the leader of the Greek army and the brother of Menelaus. Leda also gave birth to two boys: Castor and Pollux.
  41. References events of the Trojan War.
  42. In A Vision, the book wherein he outlines his personal philosophy, Yeats identified sixth-century Byzantium (present-day Istanbul in Turkey) as his idea of Utopia. The unity of purpose among citizens from all walks of life to create a city that revealed their reverence for art, poetry, music, and architecture was, for Yeats, a model all nations, especially Ireland, should follow.
  43. Ireland.
  44. One of Yeats’s favourite poets was William Blake (1757-1827), who claimed he saw the soul of a brother who had just died, rise out of his body and ascend to heaven, clapping its hands for joy as it did so. Here Yeats says old age is “a paltry thing” unless we can renew our spirit.
  45. To “perne” means to spin; the gyre is the ever-widening spiral, Yeats's favourite symbol of the progress of life and civilization. The “sages” on the Byzantium mosaics approach the poet in this manner to symbolize his spiritual rebirth.
  46. In Yeats’s own note to this poem, he references the golden mechanical birds which sat in a tree in the emperor’s palace in Byzantium and sang. Yeats wants to be reincarnated as one of these birds, to end the cycle of birth and rebirth, once he is “Out of nature.” The singing echoes his own profession as a poet.
  47. Yeats was a politician when he wrote the poem, a senator in the Irish Free State. The inspiration for this poem was an official visit he made to a school in Waterford in 1926.
  48. Maud Gonne, who was to Yeats the reincarnation of Helen of Troy, the “Ledaean body,” in that her mother was Leda. See notes to “Leda and the Swan.”
  49. The reference is to Greek philosopher Plato’s Symposium, the parable being that the primitive human was spherical, like an egg, divided in the process of evolution. Love is the desire to form the sphere again.
  50. Some 15th-century (“Quattrocento”) Italian painters painted women in the anorexic way Maud now appears to Yeats.
  51. The neo-Platonic philosopher, Porphyry, believed that an ambrosia, honey-like drug was released at birth, and if the infant tasted it, he or she would forget about the bliss of prenatal happiness; but if he or she did not taste it, the infant would be condemned to a sad life because he or she would always search for the unattainable happiness of a previous life.
  52. Froth; insubstantial matter, in contrast, in Plato’s view, to a real substantial ideal world, a “paradigm of things.”
  53. Aristotle was “solider” in that he believed the physical world we experience is the real world, not the “spume” Plato believed it was.
  54. Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC), leader of the Greek confederation, student of Aristotle who strapped him, “played the taws,” when he needed discipline.
  55. Greek philosopher, venerated by his followers who thought he had a golden thigh, the sign of a god. He believed that the beauty of music reflected a universal harmony.
  56. Stem or trunk.
  57. In “Sailing to Byzantium,” written four years earlier in 1926, Yeats expresses his desire to be reincarnated as a work of art, a golden bird, living in sixth-century Byzantium (now Istanbul), his ideal city. In this poem, he imagines he has achieved his dream, and he watches as other souls are purified.
  58. Of the sprawling Greek Orthodox basilica, St. Sophia (now a museum).
  59. After death, when the soul is in Hades (the underworld), the bobbin or spool or gyre of life may unwind, in preparation to enter the realm of pure spirit.
  60. To announce a reincarnation.
  61. A bundle of sticks tied together, used to fuel fire.
  62. Here Yeats describes the ritual process whereby the mortal soul is purified to render it immortal.
  63. Overwhelmed by the number of sprits who come on the backs of dolphins, which in Greek mythology carried souls to the Isles of the Blessed, the goldsmiths call a halt to the purification process, unable to accommodate any more, for now.
  64. From the ringing of the gong, the funeral bell.
  65. Between 1929 and 1932, Yeats wrote seven poems featuring the wisdom of an old peasant woman who lived in Galway.
  66. Pronounced “Usheen,” Oisin was a hero in Irish mythology, a warrior poet, and the subject of Yeats’s early epic poem, The Wanderings of Oisin.
  67. Maud Gonne, who starred not in Yeats play The Countess Cathleen, but in his 1902 play Cathleen ni Houlihan. She hated the British and was, indeed, a fanatical and active opponent of their rule in Ireland.
  68. A hero in Irish mythology, and a recurring character in several of Yeats’s plays and poems.
  69. Pathans, people on the northwest frontier of India.
  70. Sudanese followers of the Mahdi, so called because of their frizzled hair (Durand, Ralph. A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling [London: 1914]).
  71. A halfpenny’s worth.
  72. A port in northeast Sudan on the Red Sea, it was the headquarters of British and Egyptian troops operating in the eastern Sudan against the dervishes in 1884 (Durand, 22).
  73. Khyber Mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  74. Dutch-speaking settlers in South Africa who fought against the British in the Boer Wars.
  75. In the Burmese campaign, the British forces came down with malaria near the Irrawady River.
  76. A regiment of the Zulus, a Bantu ethnic group in South Africa.
  77. Ginger beer.
  78. Swallow.
  79. A rifle in general use in the British Army from 1871-1888.
  80. In 1884, near Tamai, the Sudanese army broke into the first British brigade square (a formation of soldiers) and “temporarily captured the naval guns” (Durand, 23).
  81. Colloquial term for a British soldier.
  82. Pretending.
  83. Good fellow.
  84. Nice chap.
  85. Darling.
  86. A drunken binge.
  87. A sail in the shape of a triangle.
  88. Psalm 90:10 “The days of our years are threescore and ten....” A score is 20, so threescore and ten is 70 years.
  89. Afrikaans for "small hill."
  90. South African grassland.
  91. Semi-desert region of South Africa.
  92. Short and familiar form of Amelia.
  93. Weeds.
  94. Farmyard.
  95. Sigh.
  96. Low spirits.
  97. A strong-scented, woody herb. Also, sorrow, regret.
  98. A trap.
  99. The title refers to gunnery practice in the English Channel in April 1914. World War I began on August 4, 1914.
  100. Part of the church nearest the altar.
  101. A portion of land assigned to a clergyman as part of his benefice.
  102. King Alfred’s Tower was built near Stourton in the county of Wiltshire, to celebrate a victory by the Saxon, King Alfred, over the Danes in AD 878. Camelot was the legendary site of King Arthur’s court, and Stonehenge is the site of the prehistoric stone circle at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain.
  103. The Lievre is a tributary, flowing into the Ottawa River, about 97 kilometers north of Ottawa. A camping trip with fellow poet Duncan Campbell Scott inspired Lampman to write this poem.
  104. A morning prayer, especially in the Anglican Church.  Lampman’s father was an Anglican minister.
  105. A precious stone, violet or purple in colour.
  106. Here meaning a projection from the base of the mountain.
  107. Likely olive oil, a sacramental oil in the Catholic faith. Hopkins was a Jesuit priest.
  108. Obey God’s commands.
  109. The Holy Spirit, the resurrected soul of Jesus.
  110. Bullaces, greengages, damsons are all varieties of plum. A bilberry resembles a blueberry.
  111. Oblong red berries of a barberry shrub.
  112. A burrowing marsupial resembling a small bear.
  113. A nocturnal animal resembling a badger. Pronounced “ray-tell.”
  114. A small brook.
  115. cf. Deuteronomy 32:13, “...suck honey out of the rock.”
  116. Irises.
  117. Succulent.
  118. Considered.
  119. Feverish.
  120. Strange.
  121. Dickinson did not number or title her poems.  In 1998, Belknap Press published The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition, edited by R.W. Franklin, who numbered the poems in chronological order, based upon the best available evidence on the order in which Dickinson composed them.  He used the number followed by the first line, the line enclosed in square brackets, to identify the poems.  His numbering has become the standard.
  122. A loved one has died, and Dickinson is reminded of two others now dead and buried.
  123. Perhaps her nieces and/or nephews, children of her brother Austin.
  124. God stole from her; then He deposited two more loved ones into the bank of her love; the third name she gives to God—“Father”—seems to suggest she is reconciled to inevitable change.
  125. The victorious army which defeated—took the flag—of the enemy.
  126. The universe evolves and revolves in its orbits.
  127. Jewels of monarchs.
  128. Chief magistrates; important people.
  129. Known for producing fine white wines.
  130. Angels.
  131. Caretaker of a church and churchyard.
  132. Hot winds.
  133. Part of the church behind the altar.
  134. Pole that supports the mast of a ship.  The poet is shipwrecked and there is not even a remnant of the ship to save her.
  135. Without splashing.
  136. Her shawl, which is made of the fine light fabric tulle.
  137. A small war ship.
  138. Vesuvius is a volcanic mountain in Italy.
  139. In Roman mythology, Pluto is god of the underworld, of Hell.
  140. A drug of Greek mythology. When ingested, nepenthe induces relief from pain, sorrow, and grief.
  141. In the Bible, Gilead is a region in Jordan associated with despair; hence, it is the name of the nation in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale.  The speaker asks “Is there…balm in Gilead”?  Will I ever have relief from my suffering.
  142. Arabic word for paradise; Eden.
  143. In Greek mythology, the Goddess of Wisdom.
  144. A plain.
  145. Bloom.
  146. The white underside of the willow leaves are lifted by the wind.
  147. A small, open boat propelled by oars or sails and used mainly in shallow waters.
  148. Pause.
  149. At her loom, the lady faces the back of her tapestry, and weaves by consulting a mirror in which the design is reflected.
  150. Peasants.
  151. Armour for the leg below the knee.
  152. A belt worn over one shoulder to support a sword or bugle.
  153. In Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, (4.3: 11-12), Autolycus sings about “tumbling in the hay” with his “aunts” (whores).
  154. A cluster of stars in Taurus, associated by the ancients with rainy weather.
  155. cf. Ulysses’ speech in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida 3.3. 144-47: “Perseverance.../Keeps honour bright. To have done is to hang/Quite out of fashion, like a rusty mail/In monumental mockery.”
  156. The companions of Ulysses.
  157. The Elysian Fields, or Greek paradise.
  158. Greek hero of the Iliad who defeated Hector in the Trojan War. When he died, his arms went to Ulysses.
  159. He died in 1883.
  160. Sun and moon.
  161. Systems of philosophy.
  162. Before mind and soul came to sing different tunes with the advent of science.
  163. The 11 stanzas that Tennyson wrote as a prologue were written after the rest of the poem was complete.
  164. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).
  165. The clock of the church tower behind the yew.
  166. The yew tree, symbolic of grief, has a very long life.
  167. cf. “Planets and Suns run blindly thro’ the sky,” Pope, “Essay on Man”, I. 252.
  168. Mourning clothes.
  169. Sailors were often buried in their own hammocks, which were weighted to allow the corpse to sink.
  170. Tennyson’s sister Emilia (1811-87), who had been engaged to Hallam. She later married Richard Jesse, a British naval officer, and their eldest son was given the names Arthur Henry Hallam.
  171. The house at 67 Wimpole Street where Hallam had lived.
  172. Hallam wrote a positive review of Tennyson’s early poems in 1831.
  173. Hallam’s body was brought back by ship from Trieste, the Italian port.
  174. The morning star.
  175. An upland plain.
  176. A spiny evergreen shrub.
  177. Calm sea.
  178. Hallam died in Vienna, on the Danube River, and was buried in the church at Clevedon on the Severn River in southwest England.
  179. As the first Christmas (1833) after Hallam’s death approaches, the poet listens to the church bells from four villages. A.C. Bradley suggests that the second part of "In Memoriam" begins here in XXVIII. A Commentary on Tennyson’s In Memoriam.
  180. Arrangements of church bell ringing.
  181. The churchyard yew. This section was written in 1868; cf. II.
  182. The inner consciousness—the divine in man [Tennyson’s note].
  183. Species; i.e., Nature ensures the preservation of the species but is indifferent to the fate of the individual.
  184. Tennyson’s son Hallam writes in the biography of his father, “...by ‘the larger hope’ that the whole human race would through, perhaps, ages of suffering, be at length purified and saved” (Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir, I, 321-22).
  185. Nature.
  186. The new science of geology, particularly in Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology (1830) , which Tennyson had read, was providing evidence that countless forms of life have disappeared from the earth.
  187. Temples.
  188. Hallam was buried near the Severn River in southwestern England.
  189. The first anniversary of Hallam’s death, September 15, 1884.
  190. State of happiness.
  191. Reversal of fortunes as the result of Hallam’s death.
  192. The second Christmas (1884) after Hallam’s death.
  193. Yule log.
  194. Tableau-vivant; literally, “living picture," a silent and motionless group of people arranged to represent a scene or incident.
  195. This poem signals “the full new life which is beginning to revive in the poet’s heart and to dispel the last shadow of the evil dreams which Nature seemed to lend when he was under the sway of...Doubt and Death” (Bradley, 223).
  196. After leaving Cambridge, Hallam became a law student in London.
  197. Dante and Petrarch.
  198. Vessel for boiling water for tea or coffee.
  199. Cows.
  200. Age-old music.
  201. Hallam.
  202. September 15, 1835, the second anniversary of Hallam’s death.
  203. The third Christmas since Hallam’s death.
  204. Waltham Abbey.
  205. Tennyson’s family has moved to a new home in Epping, Surrey, where they spent their first Christmas in 1837, four years after Hallam’s death.
  206. New Year’s resolutions. Tennyson is determined “to re-shape his attitude to Hallam’s death: ‘let him die….Year by year, Tennyson’s cause has been to keep Hallam’s memory alive; all of a sudden, he sounds resolved to let his memory fade in the comforting knowledge that he lives forever in Christ’ (‘Ring in the Christ that is meant to be’)” (Cash 9).
  207. February 1, Hallam’s birthday.
  208. Hawthorn hedge.
  209. Fields.
  210. Seabird.
  211. The Titan giant Cronus (Saturn) regarded as the god of devouring time.
  212. Do not dream that love and fidelity are merely transient things.
  213. Scientists.
  214. Prefigures.
  215. Faunus. Also Pan, Roman god of country life, half-beast, half man.
  216. The doors of Hallam’s London house at 67 Wimpole Street, to which Tennyson has returned.
  217. Automatons.
  218. Tennyson rejects the argument of God’s existence from the design of nature and hence the need for a designer.
  219. Tennyson equated this with “Free-will, the higher and enduring part of man” (Alfred Lord Tennyson: A Memoir, I, 319).
  220. Christ. cf. 1 Corinthians: 10.4
  221. The poem comes full circle with a description of the wedding of Tennyson’s sister Cecilia to Edward Lushington and to the birth which will result from their union.
  222. Repetitious.
  223. The Elizabethan poet George Chapman (1559 – 1634) translated the great epic poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey, by the ancient Greek poet, Homer.  Keats had not read Chapman’s translation of Homer, until his old school friend, Charles Clarke, shared his copy which the two friends read together on evening in October, 1816.  Keats was so enthralled with Chapman’s translation, he wrote this sonnet the same night and gave Clarke a copy the following morning.
  224. In other words, I have read a lot of wonderful poetry in my day.
  225. I have read much of the work of western European poets, those bards who pay homage to Apollo, the god of poetry.
  226. I often heard about the dominion, the “demesne,” described by Homer,
  227. Likely a reference to the discovery of the planet Uranus by William Hershel in 1781.
  228. Hernan Cortes, Spanish explorer—though it was actually a different Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa, who was the first European explorer to see the Pacific Ocean from a peak in the Panama region of Darien.
  229. French for the beautiful woman without mercy or pity.  The 15th century French poet Alain Chartier wrote a poem with the same title though with different content.
  230. The meadow.
  231. Her home, her cave, her grotto.
  232. Short for gloaming; the twilight, just after sunset or before sunrise, when the sky is in semi-darkness.
  233. The farm worker who gathers any remains of a crop, after it has been harvested.
  234. Willow trees.
  235. The Greek name for the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, Ramesses II, who ruled Egypt from 1279–1213, B.C.E. He expanded the Egyptian empire into what is now Syria and Libya.
  236. Probably Byron’s aristocratic distant cousin, Anne Horton (Lady Wilmot).  He met her at a London party in June, 1814 and was struck by her beauty.
  237. A region in China, around what is now Beijing. 
  238. Thirteenth century Chinese emperor, grandson of Genghis Khan.
  239. There is no Alph River in China, but Coleridge may be referring to the Alpheus River in Greece.  It flows into the Ionian Sea.  Legend has it that its waters rise again in fountains in Sicily, similar to the Alph fountain of line 20.
  240. Curving streams.
  241. Diagonally from corner to corner.
  242. Young woman playing a small stringed instrument. Likely representing the muse who inspires poetry, though she has deserted the poet at this point in the poem. According to a note Coleridge prefaced to this poem, he had taken some medicine—probably opium-based laudanum—and had fallen asleep, while reading a travel book, describing the magnificent gardens of Kubla Khan’s palace. The description in the book gave rise to a vivid dream, which he planned to transform into a long narrative poem about Kubla Khan’s reign. Upon awaking, he began to write the poem, the lines coming swiftly and easily to him. He was interrupted by a knock on his door, the visitor taking up an hour of his time on an unspecified matter of business. When he returned to his desk, he found his inspiration had vanished. Instead of the epic poem he had planned, “Kubla Khan” becomes a poem about the loss of poetic inspiration.
  243. There is no Mount Abora, but the first draft of the poem read “Mount Amara,” which is in Ethiopia, known as Abyssinia in Coleridge’s time. Not clear why Coleridge changed the name.
  244. The poet is frustrated that the muse has deserted him because the inspired artist is a force to be reckoned with, one who, having drunk the nectar of Eden, deserves to be worshipped.
  245. There is a Dove River in England’s Lake District, where Wordsworth famously lived.
  246. Wordsworth wrote a series of poems—the “Lucy Poems”—about a beautiful young woman, who died young and unknown.  Efforts have been made to identify a real-life counterpart, but they have not been successful.
  247. An inappropriate gift.
  248. Wordsworth suggests that in Pagan times people had more respect for nature.  Proteus was a sea creature who could assume many shapes.  Triton was a sea god who played a conch shell like a trumpet.
  249. Mapped out in a way implying constriction, as if private property.
  250. Rules suppressing human freedom.
  251. Chimney sweeping epitomizes cruel child labour, to which the Church turns a blind eye.
  252. The implication is that the rulers forge the mindless foreign policy which leads to the wars the common soldier pays for with his life.
  253. Probably referring the blindness that can result when the harlot’s venereal disease is passed on to her infant.
  254. Prostitution destroys, kills marriages.
  255. Milton gradually lost his eyesight, becoming completely blind by 1652, when he was 44.
  256. He is worried that God will “chide,” scold him for his inability to put his “Talent” as a poet to good use, though he would complete Paradise Lost, the great English language epic poem, after he lost his sight.
  257. Apprentice workers angry (“sour”) about getting to work so early.
  258. i.e. why do you think your beams are so strong, when all I have to do is close my eyes to blot them out?
  259. The West Indies were associated with mineral wealth (gold), and India or the East Indies, with spices.
  260. Pretending to be a virgin.
  261. A treatment for sexually transmitted disease.
  262. Alchemist.
  263. The alchemists held that the elixir prolonged life indefinitely and that it could change ordinary metals into gold.
  264. A cold, short night.
  265. Manservant.
  266. Pythagoras theorized that the planets made harmonious sounds in their motions.
  267. Body without mind. Paste or wax. See Swift, Gulliver’s Travels Bk. 4, 12, hypothetical warfaring horses, “battering the warriors’ faces into mummy.”
  268. The young woman threatens to kill the flea.
  269. Black, as in “jet black.”
  270. She kills the flea by scraping it with her nail against her skin.
  271. We feel an earthquake but not tremors that occur in outer space.
  272. A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. In the Ptolemaic depiction of the universe, the concentric sphere below the moon was considered less perfect and more time-bound than the spheres above the moon and furthest from the earth.
  273. Since we take pleasure in rest and sleep, we must take even more pleasure in death.
  274. Your mirror.
  275. You should have a child to replicate your good looks.
  276. You deny the world and the mother of your child the pleasure of adding another beautiful person to the population, if you do not renew yourself.
  277. Any woman would be happy to bear your child.
  278. Don’t be so vain as to think physical beauty ends when you end.
  279. Your mother was very beautiful, and you have inherited her beauty. She sees this when she looks at you. Details like these in lines 8 and 9 lead many Shakespeare critics, scholars, and biographers to believe that the sonnets are autobiographical, that Shakespeare did have a handsome friend, and that the sonnets chronicle the course of their friendship. Opinion about the true identity is divided, though most experts believe the handsome friend is either Henry Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton, or William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke. Both men had mothers known for their beauty. Pembroke’s mother was the sister of Philip Sidney, the author of another famous sonnet sequence.
  280. You want to be able to look at your child and remember your own beauty, which will fade as you age.
  281. If you want to deny yourself this form immortality, don’t marry and have children.
  282. Everything that is beautiful—“fair”—declines with time.
  283. That beauty you own.
  284. The wrinkles on your face; also the lines of this sonnet.
  285. Sonnet 20. Trending, according to the latest fashion.
  286. Appearance.
  287. Obvious sexual pun.
  288. Useless. Heaven does not answer the poet’s prayers for a happier, more fulfilled life.
  289. Sonnet 73. The area in the church where the choir sang.
  290. Choir members.
  291. The image is that of a burnt-out fire-log.
  292. The poet is jealous because his special friend has befriended another poet, one better, he thinks, than he is. The other poet’s genius makes Shakespeare tongue-tied. The identity of this other poet, known as the Rival Poet, is also the subject of endless speculation among Shakespeare biographers, critics, and scholars. Contenders include Christopher Marlowe and Samuel Daniel.
  293. Still my smaller boat—“bark”—continues to sail on the ocean of your love.
  294. I don’t ask for much—just a bit of help to keep me afloat. Both the Earl of Southampton and the Earl of Pembroke—assuming one of these two is the dear friend Shakespeare writes about in his sonnets—were patrons of poets an playwrights: they would provide some financial support so writers had the time they need to work.
  295. If I am shipwrecked—if your patronage ends—I will be worthless, while the “tall building” of the Rival Poet’s ship sails on, proud of his victory over me.
  296. The irony is that my love for you has caused my feelings of worthlessness.
  297. The Earl of Southampton was imprisoned in 1601 for his support of the Essex Rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. Some Shakespeare biographers cite this fact as evidence that the special friend is Henry Wriothesley.
  298. As if a widow had become pregnant after her husband had died. The poet stresses his point that richness of autumn is muted because his friend is away.
  299. He reiterates the point of lines 7–8. Autumn is the season of abundance but it is diminished for the poet because his friend is not around.
  300. Sonnet 116. Obstacles. See Study Questions.
  301. Small boat.
  302. Judgement Day.
  303. Sonnet 129. Sexual puns: spirit (semen). Waste (desert, but also waist.)
  304. Afterwards.
  305. The final major character of Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence is a Dark Lady, with whom the poet falls is love, or, perhaps more accurately, in lust. (See Sonnet 129, easily accessible online). Predictably, biographers have speculated industriously on the identity of the Dark Lady, but proof of her identity remains elusive. The poet suspects the Dark Lady and his nobleman friend are in a clandestine relationship. (See Sonnet 144). The poet confronts her; she denies it; and he pretends to believe her.
  306. He pretends to believe her because he wants her to think he has the naivety of youth.
  307. Shakespeare was probably in his late 20’s, early 30’s, when he wrote his sonnets.
  308. We tell each other lies and continue to lie, that is, to sleep, together.
  309. Sonnet 144. Seek to influence. “Still” Always.
  310. Away from me.
  311. Sonnet 146. The edition of 1609 incorrectly repeats the last three words of line 1. “Thrall to”, as well as “Starved by” are among several guesses by scholars as to the original words. A thrall is a slave or captive, hence the word “enthralled”: “to hold in slavery” but also “to hold spellbound”.

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Composition and Literature by James Sexton and Derek Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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