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Romantic poets: second generation (BL2-R2)

Class 2 in British Literature 2: Readings

Irena Księżopolska

on 6 May 2018

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Transcript of Romantic poets: second generation (BL2-R2)

Romantic poets: second generation
Percy Bisshe Shelley
Romantic to the core
John Keats
Theory of negative capability
Ability to speak to the reader directly, identify with the humanity at large – Shakespearean impersonality, not self-expression.
(1792 - 1822)
Ode to the West Wind
To Autumn
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!
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 aery 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!
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled 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!
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 seemed 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 chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.
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 withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O, Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
an Ode – “a full dress poem”: a lyric poem, usually of some length; elaborately structured, voiced in a tone of marked formality and stateliness, containing lofty sentiments and thoughts
5 x 14-line stanzas
3 x tercets (3 lines) + couplet (2 lines)
terza rima invented by Dante
some rhymes are imperfect (eye rhymes)
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being
˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ /
Meter: iambic = stress falling on the second syllable
Rhythm: pentameter = each line contains 5 feet
Significant irregularities in the rhythm:
some of the lines have an extra syllable (catalexis):
Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean
˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ / ˘ /
some lines follow a different meter (hexameter):
Biblical references in a poem by the notorious atheist
Wind as the embodiment of the unseen, Holy Spirit
West Wind – associated with Autumn, decay and destruction -> apocalyptic significance
„from whose unseen presence the leaves dead / Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing” – the past being swept away not a moment too soon (dead bodies of the leaves, ghosts)
The colors of the leaves relate to the four horsemen in the Apocalypse: (white, red, black, and pale in the Bible: „They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague” in Ode: „Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red”)
Seeds compared to corpses
Spring blowing clarion – a signal of the second coming of Christ, New Heaven and Earth
West Wind is Destroyer (strips the Earth bare from the weight of the decaying past) and Preserver (hides the seeds in the „wintry bed” from the frost)
Stanza 1
Stanza 2
Stanza 3
Stanza 4
Stanza 5
Vision becomes cosmic: the trees shedding leaves are now „the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean”, clouds replace leaves
The references now are from Greek literature: clouds driven by wind compared the Maenad’s streaming hair (unobvious simile) – we enter the pagan temple:
Imagery: funeral song (dirge), domed sepulchre, exploding with rain, hail and fire
Connection to the myth of Orpheus murdered by the Maenads - perhaps the poet is celebrating his own death?
Nature is a system of symbols: clouds, storms, lightning bolts and gusts of wind all stand for something greater, some abstract ideas, their description is less precise than in Wordsworth, more bombastic and charged with mythical significance.
Cosmic and Pagan
The outrage of the autumn storm is contrasted by the peaceful image of the underwater forest – slow-motion, gentle colors, dreamy atmosphere
The dreamy Mediterranean seeing „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” symbolizes the escape of the mind into ancient beauty
It could be inferred from the above that the ancient castles are now under the sea – remains of the past
Reference to „a pumice isle” (volcanic) – suggestion of past catastrophes forgotten, a sinister sign of the fragility of peace and beauty
The underwater calm
Even though marine world may be supposed to be immune to the changes of inland weather, the storm makes it "grey with fear".
Natural phenomenon is the source of the metaphor: „The phenomenon alluded to at the conclusion of the third stanza is well known to naturalists. The vegetation at the bottom of the sea, of rivers, and of lakes, sympathizes with that of the land in the change of seasons, and is consequently influenced by the winds which announce it.”
Dejection, sorrowful prayer
The poem becomes not just an invocation to a power of nature, but a prayer to the pagan god.
The poet’s plea is to return to the state of freedom where dreams can spread limitlessly.
Yet the poet’s desire seems to be tamed by life: he no longer aspires to be as free as the wind (the creator of the great commotion in the sky and on earth), but merely strives to be the wind’s subject: „Oh, lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!”
Time is the tamer of the poet: it seems that more than actual troubles („thorns of life”), the mere separation from the youthful tamelessness through the passage of time bears the spirit down: „A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed/ One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.”
„Make me thy lyre” – another reference to Orpheus / Aeolian harp
The poet imagines himself as becoming one with the wind – overcoming death.
Embracing the wild element instead of fighting it
Reversal of power
if in the first lines of the stanza poet wishes to be merely an instrument in the Wind’s hands, the sixth line makes the poet and the wind equals
in lines 7-13 the wind becomes the poet’s vehicle: „Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth / Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind”
The mind of the poet is „creator and receiver both” (Wordsworth) – no longer a passive instrument, content to be moved by the external force, but an instigator of the commotion
„But poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and statuary, and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society, and the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion.”
Defence of Poetry (1819)
The belief in a better world to come supported by the realization of the current troubles: „If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
Commitment to poetry and only poetry
Stance of a prophet
vision of a utopian future where human propensity for evil will be exhausted
Biographical facts and legends
Mythopoetic imagination
Creating myths out of Nature (like Blake)
Neo-platonic attitude to Nature - Nature as a complex metaphor: „Ode to the West Wind”
Using mythological pattern to develop his own radical ideas: Prometheus Unbound
„I always seek in what I see the likeness of something beyond the present and tangible object”
Poet of Rebellion
Rejection of religion („The Necessity of Atheism”), search for alternative spirituality
Idealism, interest in anarchism (as the extremely rational solution)
poetry of rebellion and escape
extremely pessimistic vision of the human life as full of toil, despair and inhibition, with the only escape available through communion with Nature
Sense of guilt and artistic failure
The defendant of the weak, tyrannized by the selfish and the strong, Money, Trade, Family, State and Church
religion seen as illogical
the poet himself should have no identity, but be as a chameleon, able to identify with and give expression to a great variety of emotions, to a variety of beings, some drastically different from himself
"As to the poetical Character itself (I mean that sort of which, if I am any thing, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands alone) it is not itself - it has no self - it is every thing and nothing - It has no character - it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated - It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the camelion Poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both end in speculation. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity - he is continually in for - and filling some other Body - The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute - the poet has none; no identity - he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God's Creatures."
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.
Stanza 1
Stanza 2
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 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.
Stanza 3
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, 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.
Celebrating Nature for its plenitude and beauty, even in its twilight
Three-stanza structure with a variable rhyme scheme
Meter: iambic pentameter
each stanza = 11 lines
Each stanza divided into 2 parts (both thematically and in its rhyme scheme: 4 lines + 7 lines
When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be
Imagery full of subtlety:
"maturing sun" - sun itself is a ripening fruit
"moss'd cottage-trees" - image as if reflects the first line: the trees are old, with branches bent with heavy fruit, the air - humid -> "season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"
"Until they think warm days will never cease" - a darker lining - a hint that the mellow warm beauty of the early autumn will come to an end soon, despite the impression of timelessness it instills in the living creatures
the autumnal plenty is precious because it is perched over the brink of winter desolation
theme of mortality appears even though it is never mentioned directly
The swallows gather to fly away for the winter, and the image communicates both a sense of impending loss and a feeling of graceful resignation.
As the stanza progresses, the images become more visual than auditory: the line about the red-breast puts the emphasis on the bright colors of the bird (a fore-glance of winter), and swallows' "twitter" is not just a sound, but an image: the quick movement of the small birds in the sky that makes the very air shiver...
The last line is perfect: it closes the poem with a vivid image with deep metaphysical meaning to it
Loss and mortality
The sunny present invoking the future desolation...
The poem's speaker seems to deify the Autumn, giving her several incarnations
Autumn as a Goddess
Autumn as a simple country girl
"sitting careless on a granary floor"
"Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep"
"like a gleaner"
"Or by a cyder-press, with patient look"
Sleep and stillness
Most of the images communicate stillness and drowsiness: Nature seems to be falling into dreams, overwhelmed by the plenty and warmth of the summer, or perhaps by the heavy labor of harvesting.
This, too, looks forward to the winter frozen immobility.
The images of harvesting may work as a metaphor of poetic accomplishment:
Cf.: "When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactry,
Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain..."
Sunny creativity seems to be overshadowed by the stillness of the coming winter / death, yet perhaps because of it, the poet glories in the Autumnal abundance of his images and rhymes.
The Spring's songs are missed, but Autumnal melody seems to be just as lovely, with the combination of sounds more subtle than joyful.
The booming clouds over the reaped up fields signal the nearness of the other season, yet Nature still holds a promise (or tries to deceive us?) by the rosy tint the "soft-dying" day leaves off.
The melodies are made out of "wailful" song of the crickets and gnats, bleating, moaning and whisperings of the dying wind, sinking song of the quiet river - mournful, melancholy, and yet pleasant to the ear.
died at the age of twenty-five
Biographical facts
One of the greatest lyric poets in English
Explored and redefined a wide range of poetic forms: the sonnet, to the Spenserian romance, to the Miltonic epic.
"fusion of earnest energy, control of conflicting perspectives and forces, poetic self-consciousness, and, occasionally, dry ironic wit"
On Keats: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/john-keats
On Shelley: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/percy-bysshe-shelley
The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4800
"The concept of Negative Capability is the ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems."
"At once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."
Negative Capability
Ability to contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems.
Ability to empty oneself of the self - to become a vessel for the emotions of others.
"vulgar Cockney poetaster" in the eyes of his contemporary critics
writing "poetry ... devoid of mythic grandeur, poetry that sought its wonder in the desires and sufferings of the human heart"
a surgeon by education
happy early childhood, cut short by deaths of his parents and later financial problems
acute sense of beauty
fine poetic sensibility
A tale of love of a mortal Endymion for the moon goddess Cynthia
"Only through a love for the earthly is the ideal reached, the real and the ideal becoming one through an intense, sensuous love that leads to a 'fellowship with essence.'"
met by vicious attacks by the critics
"I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination—What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth—whether it existed before or not—for I have the same Idea of all our Passions as of Love they are all in their sublime, creative of essential Beauty."
The quest of transcendental beauty always entails engagement with the transient sensuous beauty:
Keatsean metaphysics
"engagement in the actual through imaginative identification that is simultaneously a kind of transcendence"
Theory of Negative Capability
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain,
Before high-pilèd books, in charactery,
Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starred face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.
The Eve of St. Agnes
Story of the fall of the Titans and their replacement by gods, more beautiful, with more knowledge and insight into the human nature
Apollo "dies into life" - the sense of grief and pain precedes life and is its constant companion
An aftermath of the fall - Titans impotently plotting rebellion
Poet, as Apollo's servant, is a creature keenly aware of suffering
poem left unfinished, later revised as The Fall of Hyperion
A self-less poet who merges with his object every time anew...
a romance in Spenserian stanzas
the story of romance, dream melting into reality as reality melts into a dream
"meditation on desire and its fulfillment, on wishes, dreams, and romance."
balance of the conflicting passions, artifice and reality, dream and awakening
La Belle Dame sans Merci
ballad on the dangers of enchantment and emptiness of disenchantment
the vision of a balance of good and evil gives way to a vision of them being intricately intertwined and inseparable
Ode on Melancholy
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf's-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss'd
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow's mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
Stanza 1
Stanza 2
Stanza 3
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
the paradox of desire
fulfillment as both the joy and the pain of desire
a poet by calling and intention
extremes of energetic rebellion, utopian hopefulness and brooding despair
Poet facing mortality and oblivion
meeting the void with images of plenty
A sonnet on the theme of death and poetic fulfillment: the fate is the cruel mistress
Rhyme scheme: ABAB, CDCD, EFEF, GG
3 quatrains and couplet
the couple of rhymes in the second stanza sound very much alike - double reflection
iambic pentameter
The poet seems to feel in himself the precious abundance that is likened to a garners full of grain.
The fullness is not entirely the poet's own - the "high-pilèd books" seem to indicate the ideas of others that live in his "teeming brain".
The fear of ceasing to be seems to be due to the loss of all these riches rather than the simple fear of the void.
The fear of death seems to release in the poet the appreciation of life:
"night’s starred face" - this personification of night invokes both wide-open eyes and tears - darkness and sublime beauty.
As a true Romantic, the poet reads Nature symbolically: "Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance"
His fear seems to be to not have time to decode the symbolic message that he intuits in Nature
He also admits that the decoding is more a work of chance and magic than his "teeming brain"...
However, "fair creature of an hour" may be addressed to a loved one, but equally - to any creature (living or dead, real or fantastic) that captures the poet's attention with its transient beauty and that will be left unsung (unnoticed) if the poet is no more...
"unreflecting love" may indicate the capability of the true poetic sensibility to become one with the object it contemplates and describes.
This seems to be the true heart of the sonnet - the invocation of the mistress whose love the poet fears to lose.
The final couplet sounds despondent, but may be read in various ways...
As sinking into death through melancholy thoughts before its time...
As finding peace through the final relinquishment of the desperate hold on "love and fame".
Or a defiant statement: I will continue to contemplate the world until death claims me.
Love (?)
The poet is moved not by arrogance, but by a fear of expiring before the promise that his talent gives to the world is fulfilled.
iambic pentameter
3 stanzas 10 lines long each
First 2 stanzas (the argument): ABAB CDECDE
Last stanza (explanation / resolution): ABAB CDEDCE
the last 3 lines reverse the rhymes
variation makes the final statement stronger
each stanza consists of a quatrain and a sestet
At first glance, the beginning seems to advise one to abstain from melancholy
This appears a strangely irrelevant advice - we do not generally choose to be sad...
The stanza lists poison, references underworld (Proserpine and Lethe), mentions symbols of death (beetle and death moth) and darkness (owl)
Yet, every image has an underside that is appealing: Proserpine is also a goddess of plenty, owl - a symbol of wisdom as well as of night.
The ending explains the strange beginning: true melancholy that educates the soul does not dwell in the darkness.
If melancholy is dim and dull for those who dwell in the shadows, it is full of intensity for those who remain in the light.
The imagery is both rewarding (rain fostering thirsty flowers, cloud gently enveloping the field, rainbow, peonies) and mournful (weeping cloud, a shroud around the field, salt water of the wave).
This combination of joy and sadness is fulfilling - the opposites are not reconciled, but gain intensity through contrast.
The last 3 lines introduce a new theme of the angry mistress, slightly incongruous until we read the next stanza
The sadness now is not caused by any external factor - darkness, cloudy sky - it is already contained in the joy of the beauty because it is transient by nature.
The theme of poison returns: the true poison is the honey of the joyous moment - because it will pass.
Thus, Melancholy should not be sought in darkness, but in the Temple of Delight - where it dwells, veiled but ever present.
The soul of the pleasure-seeker becomes the trophy of Melancholy while those who seek her in the first stanza cannot feel either pleasure or pain.
Died by drowning at the age of 29 with a book of Keats' poems in his pocket
Son of a baronet, who renounced his son after he made public his atheism and was expelled from Oxford
Eloped with two young girls from the household of his older friend Godwin: Mary Godwin and Claire Clairmont (later Byron's mistress)
Eloped with Harriet Westbrook to "rescue" her; other women were also part of the establishment; Harriet turned out to be unstable and later committed suicide
Queen Mab
the great potential of the uncorrupted human soul
a radical Bible to some of the Chartists
A believer and practitioner of free love
Nature appeals to us only through imagination:
"And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind’s imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?"
Prometheus Unbound
Friend of Lord Byron, later - Keats, both of whom feature in his poems (Byron in Julian and Maddalo and Keats in Adonais )
John 3:8: "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."
Resurrection theme
Destruction theme
"raving ones"
Female worshipers of Dionysus, following their god in a state of ecstatic frenzy
mad women
embrace contradictions
Poet as a chameleon
Harvesting also acquires a darker shadow: the scythe that is for a moment sparing "the next swath and all its twined flowers" - the image of tarrying death, the great reaper
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