QUESTIONS FOR E300 ANALYSIS OF LITERARY FORMS, CSU FULLERTON FALL 2014 (8/25/14)
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WILLIAM BLAKE (DOVER 1-22)
Songs of Innocence
Note: The William Blake Archive offers complete copies of Blake's major works, and is well worth using – below, I have included links to the plates for the specific poems we are covering, so please have a look at them if your time permits, especially if you are doing a presentation on Blake. Attending not only to the words but to the imagery surrounding and intertwining with them may help you develop some very promising ways to interpret the poems. Blake is not strictly a poet – even his words are part of works of visual art, so it's best to keep that in mind when you enjoy his poetry. The Archive allows you to magnify plate images and to view comparative copies.
1. What do you consider to be the task or purpose of Songs of Innocence? In other words, do the songs teach us anything? What might the title itself Songs of Innocence add to our understanding of this purpose – how does it lend itself to two different interpretations of the songs' perspective on innocence?
2. Are adult limitations in understanding different in kind from a child's limitations? What bounds the perceptions of an adult? What bounds the perceptions of a child? Can you remember some feeling, perception, or incident from your childhood that suggests the difference between a grown-up's understanding of either very joyful or very distressing things and the understanding of a child? If you can (and it's not something you don't want to write about) discuss it as part of your response.
3. In the Introductory lyric, what is the child's role in this poem? In what circumstances does he appear to the piper, and when does he choose to vanish? Also trace the progression of the boy's demands – what is the piper expected to do, and why?
4. How does the piper react to the child's requests – what does he do in response to them? How does his task take shape as he tries to do what the child suggests? Is that task simply to sing joyful songs, or is it more complex? If so, how?
5. In "Holy Thursday," how does the speaker describe the annual progression of the children from their charity schools to St. Paul's Cathedral in London? What images does the speaker employ to describe them, and to what effect? Is this poem less "innocent-sounding" than some of the others? If so, why – what do certain of its lines or phrases suggest about the true nature of "charity"?
"The Chimney Sweeper"
(Note: see link below; this poem isn't in our Dover edition)
6. In "The Chimney Sweeper," to what extent does the young speaker interpret his situation -- practically a form of industrial-age slavery -- in a positive light? Does the content of his narration undercut his innocent trust in God? If so, how?
7. In "The Chimney Sweeper," what is the speaker's relationship to little Tom Dacre? How does he try to comfort Tom? How do you interpret the significance of Tom's dream as well as the concluding stanza, with its final line consisting of an "if/then" moral pronouncement?
8. In "Nurse's Song," what is the difference in the way the Nurse perceives the children's playing and their own understanding of their day's events? How does an adult perceive time (and play) differently than a child? If this poem is a gentle competition between children and an adult, who wins – or perhaps the question should instead be, "what is the outcome?"
"The Little Black Boy"
9. In "The Little Black Boy," where might the young speaker have learned that he is "bereaved of light"? How would you characterize the way he initially interprets the significance of his race and that of the white "English boy" he mentions?
10. In "The Little Black Boy," how does the child's mother accommodate his understanding and yet correct it? What story does she tell him? What is the significance of "clouds" in that story? How does she teach him to view racial difference?
11. In "The Lamb," how are the child, the lamb, and Christ (the Lamb of God) set in relation to one another? Why is it so easy for the child to identify the lamb's creator, and so easy to invoke God's blessing on the lamb? What traditional perspective on (or dimension of) the religious symbolism is not part of this poem?
Songs of Experience
12. In the "Introduction," what is the difference between the "Piper" of the introduction to Songs of Innocence and the "Bard" in Songs of Experience? What might we suppose to be the Bard's task in the latter collection, which was created some five years after Songs of Innocence?
13. In the "Introduction," how do you interpret the persistent nature-symbolism – the references to "Earth," light and darkness, the "starry floor" and "watry shore," and so forth? What question does the poem ask by way of initiating Songs of Experience?
14. In "Earth's Answer," who does Earth say prevents her from being regenerated – in what manner and to what end does he hinder Earth's regeneration? What ideal relationship between nature and humanity does the poem imply, and what is the relationship as it stands in the poem?
"The Clod and the Pebble"
15. In "The Clod and the Pebble," is the Clod's interpretation of love privileged? Is the Pebble's? Or do both have some legitimacy or power? What "experienced" understanding of love emerges when you put both interpretations together?
(Note: see link below; this poem isn't in our Dover edition)
16. In "Holy Thursday," how has the speaker's perspective changed from the corresponding poem in Songs of Innocence? What allows the speaker to see things differently? What has been gained, and what lost, with the change in perspective?
17. In "Holy Thursday," how do you understand the poem's references to natural things -- sun, rain, fields, thorns, etc.? What do they add to our perspective on the children's situation? How do they differentiate the poem from its counterpart in Songs of Innocence?
"The Chimney Sweeper"
18. Compare "The Chimney Sweeper" to its companion poem in Songs of Innocence. What allows the speaker to see things differently? What has been gained, and what lost, with the change in perspective?
19. In "The Chimney Sweeper," what does the child say about his parents, their conception of God, and God's Priest and King? What enables the parents to constitute a heavenly realm from the misery that surrounds them?
"The Sick Rose"
20. In "The Sick Rose," what does the worm or caterpillar symbolize? Moreover, characterize the unhealthy sexuality figured by this poem: what has gone wrong?
21. Compare "The Sick Rose" with its unassigned companion in Songs of Innocence, "The Blossom," which runs as follows: "Merry Merry Sparrow / Under leaves so green / A happy Blossom / Sees you swift as arrow / Seek your cradle narrow / Near my Bosom. / Pretty Pretty Robin / Under leaves so green / A happy Blossom / Hears you sobbing sobbing / Pretty Pretty Robin / Near my Bosom." How does the latter poem re-imagine sexual experience?
22. In "The Tyger," the speaker in part imagines the creation of the tyger. How and from what "materials" is the tyger created? Who is the creator? What is the significance of the poem's references to "fire," "burning," and the "furnace" with respect to the tyger's creation?
23. In "The Tyger," do you understand Blake's beast to be a "tyger of the mind" – an imaginary or symbolic tiger -- rather than an existing, flesh-and-blood animal? Or would giving an either/or response oversimplify the matter? Explain the reasons for responding as you do.
24. In "The Tyger," what emotional stance or progression does the poem imply in the speaker's contemplation of the Tyger and the process whereby it came to exist? In particular, why does the speaker feel compelled to ask, "Did he smile his work to see? / Did he who made the Lamb make thee?" (19-20)? What great moral issue has the speaker raised in posing the questions that he has throughout the poem?
25. Examine the plate for "The Tyger" included in the Norton edition or in the link above, and describe the Tyger's appearance. (The William Blake Archive's "comparison tool" allows viewers to compare different versions of Blake's plates, so you can view several "tygers.") What sort of "tyger" is this that Blake has engraved – is it the one you expected based on the text of the poem? Why or why not? Also, what effect does the odd spelling "tyger" create?
26. What two troubling dimensions of love does "Ah Sun-flower" invoke? What thematic use does Blake make of the sun-flower's "aspiration" or growth skywards – to what dimension or experience of love does he relate this flower?
"The Garden of Love"
27. In "The Garden of Love," explain the speaker's perspective on religion-enforced morality as a power that crushes free sexual expression and connection. To what extent, if any, is the speaker complicit in what is happening – what in the poem leads you to respond as you do?
28. Articulate the system of oppression that the poem "London" describes: what kinds of oppression does the speaker mention, and how does he reinforce the idea that they all work together as a tyrannical system that destroys the human spirit? What stylistic features and word choices help the poet convey the intensity and pervasiveness of the injustices he describes?
"A Poison Tree"
29. What story does "A Poison Tree" relate? What is the apple, in symbolic terms, and why does the speaker decide to use it kill the foe? Why does the foe try to steal the apple? As with "The Human Abstract," what progression of mental states does this poem trace? What are the material consequences of those successive states?
From The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
"Proverbs of Hell"
30. Explicate three or more of the Proverbs and, if possible, relate them to one another. In what way might the proverbs be true, in spite of their apparent contradictoriness?
31. In Plate 11 (115), what is Blake's warning about the poetic device of personification? I.e. "The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses…"
"Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1802: read only these brief excerpts.
1. Wordsworth says that the material for his experimental work Lyrical Ballads has been drawn from "low and rustic life" (i.e. rural life) rather than from life in England's rapidly growing cities. What ideal relationship between the natural environment, language, and the deepest, most abiding qualities of human beings does he suggest in our excerpt?
2. Wordsworth believes that his poems, which boldly emphasize feeling over action, will prove satisfying because "the human mind is capable of being excited without the application of gross and violent stimulants." What is the source of this faith, and what "multitude of causes, unknown to former times" does he identify as responsible for reducing urban dwellers almost to "a state of savage torpor"? What is this state of being captured by the phrase "savage torpor"?
3. Wordsworth returns late in his Preface to the issue of poetic process. How does meditation figure in this process, and how does that idea modify what might otherwise be a straightforward doctrine of expression (i.e. poetry expresses raw, immediate emotions)? How does he describe the process whereby a poet gets into the right state of mind to compose a poem mentally? What must the poet keep in mind so that readers or listeners will receive a given poem with "an overbalance of pleasure" rather than simply being overwhelmed by genuine bursts of feeling?
"We Are Seven" (Dover 23-25)
4. In "We Are Seven," the adult speaker and an eight-year-old country girl debate the issue of death's meaning. Who wins this debate, if we can say that there is a winner, and by what means is it won (logic, feeling, something else?)?
"Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour. July 13, 1798" (Dover 25-29)
5. M. H. Abrams has described "Greater Romantic Lyrics" as divided into three stages: a) description of a particular scene; b) analysis of the scene's relation to a creative or spiritual problem; and c) affective or emotional resolution of that problem. In "Tintern Abbey," the first verse paragraph (lines 1-22) comprises stage one. What is the scene – what does the speaker see around him? What qualities do his natural surroundings possess? What effect do they presently have upon his consciousness?
6. In the first verse paragraph (1-22) of "Tintern Abbey," how does the speaker signal the presence of other human beings in the midst of nature? What inference might be drawn from the speaker's fanciful conjecture that perhaps the distant smoke may be coming from a fire set by some "Hermit" alone in the woods? What is a "hermit," and what comparison might be made between such a person and the speaker himself?
7. In the second verse paragraph (lines 23-49) of "Tintern Abbey," what sustenance has the speaker drawn from the "beauteous forms" of the locale around Tintern Abbey's ruins – what two "gifts" does he attribute to their influence? Regarding the second gift, what "blessed mood" does the speaker describe as flowing to him from the shaping influence of nature? In your own words, discuss the deliverance and insight the speaker says this mood makes possible.
8. In the third verse paragraph (lines 50-57) of "Tintern Abbey," what anxiety does the speaker reveal? What sense of loss or fear of self-delusion besets him? How does he begin to hem in or limit this anxiety – in what sense does the second half of the verse paragraph resemble a prayer?
9. In the fourth verse paragraph (lines 58-111) of "Tintern Abbey," the speaker analyses the stages of his relationship with nature, from his early youth to post-adolescence (five years prior) to the present when he must be around 26. The editor's note on lines 66ff characterizes those stages well, but there's more to say about the psychology of loss and compensation in this paragraph: what has been lost, and what two "gifts" (85) does the speaker go on to explore as constituting his "abundant recompense" (88) for any loss he has suffered? (Quote the text, but use your own words to explain what you quote.)
10. In the fourth verse paragraph (lines 58-111) of "Tintern Abbey," how do lines from "Therefore" (102) onwards not only refer to but also demonstrate the beneficial effects of the gifts the speaker believes he has received?
11. In the fifth verse paragraph (lines 112-59) of "Tintern Abbey," the speaker first specifies that another dimension of his anxiety over the loss that comes with maturity has to do with his creative powers, his "genial spirits" (113). How do the presence and voice of the speaker's sister (William's sister Dorothy, that is) protect him from sadness and offer hope for the future? How is Dorothy an integral part of what Meyer Abrams would call the poem's "affective resolution"?
"She dwelt among the untrodden ways" (Dover 31-32)
12. How does "She dwelt among the untrodden ways" express a democratic sense of subject matter? What kind of person was "Lucy"? What is unusual about addressing a poem to someone like her?
13. In "She dwelt among the untrodden ways," what do the "star" and "violet" metaphors for Lucy have in common? How do they differ? What do they imply about Lucy's qualities and the powers and habits of observation necessary to discern them? (This is not the only Wordsworth pairs flowers and stars -- can you think of some others?)
"A slumber did my spirit seal" (Dover 32)
14. "A slumber did my spirit seal" is usually read as one of Wordsworth's "Lucy" poems (along with "She dwelt…" and "Strange fits of passion…"; but the so-called "Lucy canon" varies) How do you connect the two brief stanzas? Do you take the poem's message as positive and uplifting, or dark and disturbing? Why?
"I wandered lonely as a cloud" (Dover 43-44)
15. In "I wandered lonely as a cloud," how does the sensation of something natural lead the speaker to an imaginative vision? How does Wordsworth's "poetry of nature" in this lyric transform itself into the "poetry of self-consciousness"? Why is the poet's choice of the word "host" significant in this transformation?
16. In "I wandered lonely as a cloud," describe the poet's epiphany and its aftereffects. What effect did the vision have "real-time," so to speak, and then what happens when the poet recalls his vision in the absence of the natural scene itself?
"The Solitary Reaper" (Dover 42)
17. In "The Solitary Reaper," as with "Lucy Gray," why is it important to Wordsworth's speaker that the Reaper is alone, singing by herself? What is the significance of her solitariness – is she an exemplary figure? If so, explain how she and her song might be understood that way.
18. In "The Solitary Reaper," what seems to be the difference in degree of self-consciousness between the solitary singer and the poem's observer-speaker? Moreover, how does the poem exhibit "democratic sensibilities" – what sort of person are we being asked to pay attention to here?
19. How is "The Solitary Reaper" both mimetic (i.e. an imitation of something) and expressive at the same time? Consider the phrase "the vale profound" (line 7) -- why is it significant that the vale is "overflowing with the sound" (line 8) of the woman's voice?
20. In "The Solitary Reaper," what imaginative, exotic interpretations does the speaker offer in his attempt to describe the reaper's singing? Does it matter that he cannot understand her words? What does he understand, or what spirit does he catch from her?
"My heart leaps up when I behold" (Dover 35)
21. In "My heart leaps up when I behold," how do you understand the implications of the speaker's claim "the Child is father of the Man"? What are the speaker's hopes for his future way of relating to nature?
22. What does "piety" mean in the context of "My heart leaps up when I behold"? (Consider what the editor's note suggests, and try to add something of your own.)
"Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood" (Dover 51-57)
23. In the first four stanzas (lines 1-57) of "Intimations of Immortality," what is the physical setting and the season? As usual in what Abrams calls the "Greater Romantic Lyric," the speaker is led by contemplation of his surroundings to certain emotions connected with a spiritual or creative problem. What problem begins to trouble the speaker in these stanzas? In addition, characterize the "back-and-forth" movement of these stanzas from joy to sadness or perplexity – at what points do these feelings show?
24. In the fifth and sixth stanzas, respectively (lines 58-76, 77-84) of "Intimations of Immortality," what variation on the ancient myth of pre-existence does the speaker advance? How does this variation emphasize the dark side of that myth, at least for the moment, pending the poem's resolution? And how is nature characterized in a way that seems unusual in Wordsworth's poetry?
25. In the seventh and eighth stanzas (lines 85-107, 108-28) of "Intimations of Immortality," what narrative about the process of attaining maturity does the speaker relate? How does the seventh stanza's "stage metaphor" help the poet convey his attitude towards this process? In the eighth stanza, how does the address "Thou best Philosopher" (110), along with the speaker's explanation of that phrase, signal the strangeness or ironic quality of children's eager pursuit of adulthood?
26. In stanzas 9-11 (129-203) of "Intimations of Immortality," we arrive at what Abrams calls the "affective resolution" stage of the Greater Romantic Lyric – how does the speaker further refine his sense of what has been lost, and what consolation or gift does he say has taken the place of the "glory" (line 18) and the "visionary gleam" (line 56) of childhood? To what extent does this gift invoke the romantic concept of sublimity?
27. General question regarding "Intimations of Immortality": compare the present ode's conclusion or emotional or "affective" resolution with the one you have already studied in "Tintern Abbey": what is similar and what is different? Do you find "Intimations of Immortality" more upbeat or less so? Explain your rationale.
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
Of Interest: Author Image | Literary History | Romantic Circles | The Samuel Taylor Coleridge Archive | Don Croner's Travel Notes on Shangdu or Xanadu | Purchas Pilgrimage Excerpt on Xanadu | Map of the Ancient Mariner's Voyage | Wikipedia's Laudanum Entry
"The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (Dover 63-81)
1. In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 1, the editor's note says that the Mariner uses hypnosis ("mesmerism") to stop the Wedding Guest in his tracks. That clearly the case, but why might we suppose the Mariner has chosen this particular person to hear his tale -- a man on his way to the wedding of his own "kin" (6)? What will he be missing when he misses the wedding?
2. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 1, the Albatross appeared suddenly "Thorough the fog" (64), says the Mariner, and was treated as a friendly spirit, a good omen. What unusual behavior does it exhibit, and what relationship does it begin to establish with the ship's crew? How does the tale affect the Mariner himself as he retells it? Why aren't we given an exact reason for the Mariner's deplorable act against the bird?
3. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 2, how do the Mariner's fellow crewmen judge what has done in shooting the Albatross? What aspects does the seascape take on now that the Mariner has killed the bird -- what has happened to the natural world, and what agent seems to be bringing about the changes?
4. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 3, the Mariner sees a ghost-ship and becomes the object of "Life-in-Death's" grim attentions. Why does Death get to strike down the other sailors, and why should "Life-in-Death" take particular interest in the Mariner who killed the Albatross?
5. "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 4, what are the effects of the curse that the crew, in dying, laid upon the Mariner? (Or we might say it's the curse that came upon the Mariner when he killed the Albatross.) This is the high point in the poem -- what descriptive techniques make this part so effective in making us see and feel what the Mariner tells us of?
6. In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 4, why is the Mariner at first unable to pray? What leads him to bless the sea-snakes "unaware" (285) and find them beautiful, even though he had been resentful of every living thing around him not long before? Why is it vital that he be able to bless the sea-snakes?
7. In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 5, the Mariner tells how a troop of angelic spirits took possession of the dead crew and drove the ship onwards without the aid of a breeze. What is the Polar Spirit's involvement in this new turn of events -- how has this Spirit been intimately involved in what has happened up to now? In what sense does the nature of the Mariner's sin become still clearer in this section of the poem? Why must he still do penance after suffering so much?
8. In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 6, what important stage in the Mariner's return to awareness and human contact does this section recount? What does it signify that the dead men's curse finally lifts? Why is it appropriate that Mariner should see the seraphs (angelic spirits) visibly take their leave of the crew members' corpses?
9. In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 7, the Mariner has arrived home, but only as a wanderer who must retell his tale again and again to repulse the "woful agony" (579) that comes upon him for his depraved killing of the Albatross. How might his sufferings be said to illustrate something about the way fallen humanity attains insight?
10. In "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" Part 7 and elsewhere, is the Mariner to some extent a poet-figure? If so, what might Coleridge be suggesting about the source and value of his own spellbinding, supernaturally charged poetry?
"Frost at Midnight" (Dover 100-01)
11. In "Frost at Midnight" lines 1-43, how is the child (Samuel Coleridge in his early years) the "father of the man" in this poem, to borrow a phrase from Wordsworth -- what marked the experience and character of Coleridge as a boy that still marks them now? How does the "stranger" and its fluttering establish a key connection between the younger and older Samuel Coleridge?
12. In the third and fourth verse paragraphs (lines 44-74) of "Frost at Midnight," Coleridge turns his attention to his seventeen-month-old son Hartley -- how will Hartley's relationship with nature be different than the one his father experienced as a boy (and, by inference, at present)? What "eternal language" (60) will Hartley be able to understand without painful effort?
13. The final verse paragraph (65-74) of "Frost at Midnight" references the "secret ministry of Frost" that will go to work if the temperature drops enough to prevent the raindrops from falling off the cottage eaves. What further connotations does this natural process bear -- what might we infer from Coleridge's description of it as a "secret ministry"?
14. In "Frost at Midnight," why might the poet so emphatically describe the silentness and reflectiveness of the icicles that will form because of the cold? How might such references point towards an analogy between "the secret ministry of frost" and the workings of the human imagination, or the powers of self-reflection?
"Kubla Khan" (Dover 105-06)
15. How seriously do you take the story Coleridge affixes to his poem "Kubla Khan" -- i.e. his claim that he was about to write down his complete vision when "a person on business from Porlock" (447) interrupted him? Why do you suppose he thought it advantageous to include such an explanation (almost an apology) for the poem itself?
16. Again with regard to the prose explanation or preface of "Kubla Khan," what extraordinary relationship between things, images, and words does this preface assert? How might this assertion shed light on what happens in the poem itself, if indeed it does?
17. What allows the speaker of "Kubla Khan" to compose this poem in spite of the alleged interruption of his opium-and-Samuel Purchas-induced reverie? How does the enabling factor or power differ from memory?
18. If you agree that Kubla Khan is a poet-figure in "Kubla Khan," by what means does he compose his "poetry" (his "stately pleasure dome" and its sublime surroundings)? What does this creative act do for him -- what knowledge or experience does it make possible?
19. "I would build that dome in air" (46), declares the speaker of "Kubla Khan" -- why would another vision of "A damsel with a dulcimer" (37) allow him to build the dome? Why do you suppose he's apparently unable to revive such a vision?
20. In "Kubla Khan," what does the speaker apparently mean by "building" in the lines just referenced? Does he mean "describing" or something more than that? Explain.
21. If the speaker of "Kubla Khan" were to build "the dome of pleasure," what relationship would thereby be established between him and his audience? What would the construction of such a dome do for that audience? How would they regard the poet? How might he regard himself?
22. In "Kubla Khan," the speaker avows his failure, but has he in fact failed? Or has he instead described/built the dome in some sense or to some extent? What major point about the nature of imagination (both the poet's and the listener or reader's) might "Kubla Khan" be understood to make? Another question might be, "has he failed at something it would be possible to do under any circumstances, however favorable?"
"Dejection: An Ode" (Dover 106-10)
23. In the first stanza (lines 1-20) of "Dejection: An Ode," what is the weather as the speaker utters his lines? What hopes does the expectation of a storm raise in him?
24. In the second stanza (lines 21-38) of "Dejection: An Ode," how does the speaker characterize his state of mind as he observes the "western sky"? What problem is this depressed state causing him as an observer of nature? How does this stanza itself (along with the third one, lines 39-46) both describe and demonstrate that problem?
25. The fourth and fifth stanzas (lines 47-58, 59-75) of "Dejection: An Ode" further refine the third stanza's statement that he "may not hope from outward forms to win / The passion and the life, whose fountains are within" (45-46). What is the "Joy" he describes in these stanzas, and what effects does it have on the person who is suffused with it? What is the ideal relationship between a human being and the natural world?
26. In the sixth stanza (lines 76-93) of "Dejection: An Ode," how does the speaker describe the felicity of his former connection to nature, and how does he describe the process whereby that happy connection was lost? In what sense is philosophical reflection (including the poem he utters now) not helpful, and perhaps even harmful, to his spirits?
27. In the seventh stanza (lines 94-109) of "Dejection: An Ode," the speaker bids his "viper thoughts" take their leave and turns his attentions to the stirring wind. What does he hear -- what is the wind "up to," what "tales" does it tell? What progression, if any, in the speaker's psychological process does this stanza mark? Does listening to the harsh wind help him somehow? If so, in what sense does it help him?
28. In the concluding eighth stanza (126-39) of "Dejection: An Ode," what wish does the speaker Coleridge make on behalf of his absent addressee, Sara Hutchinson? Meyer Abrams divides the Greater Romantic Lyric into three stages -- a description of the natural scene, an analysis of that scene and the problem it brings to mind for the speaker, and an emotional ("affective") resolution of the problem. Does the speaker resolve his own problem in the current poem? One way to respond would be to compare the transaction between Coleridge and Sara in this poem with that between William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy towards the end of the "Tintern Abbey" ode.
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
Of Interest: Author Image | Literary History | Romantic Circles | Keats-Shelley Association | Wikipedia Entry on Sirocco, "West Wind" | Skylark Images | Skylark Page, with Audio | Skylark Song, Audio | Wikipedia Entry, Mont Blanc | Ozymandias Statue
"Ozymandias" (Dover 147)
1. In "Ozymandias," the traveler suggests that the statue's sculptor intended his work to express the cruelty of Ramses II. The sculptor and time's ruinous effects appear to have issued their sentence against the Pharaoh, but in what sense has he defeated them both -- what statement do the ruins still make about human history and human nature?
"Ode to the West Wind" (Dover 151-53)
2. Describe the structure of "Ode to the West Wind." How does the interlocking Dantean terza rima verse form suit the poem's subject and aims? (If you know some Italian, read a few stanzas of La divina commedia out loud to get the best possible sense of how terza rima flows. Allen Mandelbaum's translation is also very good, although it abandons the rhyme scheme to capture something of the movement in English.)
3. With regard to the first three stanzas of "Ode to the West Wind," what are the West Wind's powers? What effects does it have on nature and the poet? In what way does it embody both danger and hope? How is the operation of Shelley's West Wind different from natural forces in Wordsworth and Coleridge (or Blake, or Keats)?
4. Alternately, concentrate on other kinds of nature description in the first three stanzas of "Ode to the West Wind" -- what qualities, what potential, do Shelley's descriptions draw from the natural world's processes and its beautiful or sublime objects? One possibility would be to consider how the "organic metaphor" operates in "Ode to the West Wind," making sure to address both this metaphor's positive, uplifting dimension and its darker implications.
5. In the fourth and fifth stanzas of "Ode to the West Wind," how does the speaker characterize his relationship to the Wind (both in the past and in the present)? How does that relationship involve deep affinity and, in a sense, strife (if that is the right term)? What assistance does the speaker ask of the West Wind?
6. When in the final stanza of "Ode to the West Wind" the speaker prays to the Wind to scatter abroad his words and thoughts like "withered leaves" (line 64) and "ashes and sparks" (line 67), what is he implying about poetic language? Is he certain that the West Wind will grant his prayer? What burden does he place upon his utterance with regard to his personal hopes and those of "mankind"? How, more generally, might we apply Shelley's theories in "A Defence of Poetry" about inspiration, expression, and poetry's value, to "Ode to the West Wind"?
"To a Skylark" (Dover 157-59)
7. In "To a Skylark," why can't the poet (by his own admission) sufficiently define the skylark? What seems to be responsible for the fact that the bird exceeds the capacity of human language to describe its qualities or the qualities of its song?
8. In "To a Skylark," what is the purpose of the similes that the speaker employs in place of the direct definition that he admits he can't properly accomplish? If those similes don't fully describe the skylark, what is their value to the poet and to us?
9. In "To a Skylark," what is the relationship between the skylark and physical nature? Does Shelley's speaker characterize the bird as just a little bit of nature, or does the bird somehow exceed that concept or framework? Explain why you answer the way you do.
10. In "To a Skylark," what prevents the speaker (and us) from singing as the skylark does? Why is the skylark's song better than even the best productions of human genius, language, and emotion? Ultimately, what would you set forth as the source of the bird's song? How does the poet himself try to get at this source?
11. In what sense might "To a Skylark" (like many other Romantic lyric poems) be said to efface the act of writing in favor of the spoken word? Why would a poet (especially a Romantic poet) do that, whether consciously or otherwise?
12. At the end of "To a Skylark," does the speaker seem confident that his words can have the same effect on future readers as the bird's pure song has upon him? Why or why not? What is the implication of the speaker's plea to the bird to teach him "half the gladness / That thy brain must know," if we consider the extent and intensity of the happiness that the speaker has already credited to the skylark?
Of Interest: Author Image | Literary History | Romantic Circles | Keats - Shelley Association | Nightingale Song, Audio | Chapman's Homer, Odyssey Book 1 | Wikipedia Entry, Saint Agnes | New Advent Entry, Saint Agnes | The Grecian Urn's Once-Supposed "Original" | British Museum Townley Vase Image
"On first looking into Chapman's Homer" (Dover 189)
1. In "On first looking into Chapman's Homer," what comparison does the speaker make between reading poetry and other kinds of experience? What value does the poem attribute to art? Keats is talking about a translation of Homer, not the Greek original -- we usually think of translation as entailing some loss of meaning, but what might Chapman's Elizabethan translation have added to Keats' experience of reading Homer?
"To Autumn" (Dover 222-23)
2. In "To Autumn," all of the seasons have found poets to sing their praises, or at least their significance. But what is special to Keats' speaker about Autumn? What associations does he draw from the season beyond the natural surroundings and the time of year?
3. In "To Autumn," how does the stanzaic patterning of this poem, along with other formal features, reinforce the seasonal mood that Keats explores?
"Ode to a Nightingale" (Dover 216-18)
4. In "Ode to a Nightingale," what emotions and desires does Keats' speaker describe in connection with the nightingale? How do his feelings and desires differ from those of Shelley's speaker in "To a Skylark"?
5. In "Ode to a Nightingale," what value does the speaker attribute to the nighttime setting of his composition -- that is, what opportunities does the night open to him? What associations does he make in connection with darkness?
6. How, in Stanza 7 of "Ode to a Nightingale," does the bird's song lead the speaker beyond his immediate surroundings? What draws him back to himself in the final stanza? What does the poem suggest about the nature and duration of vision that the speaker has attained as he listens to the nightingale?
"Ode on a Grecian Urn" (Dover 218-20)
7. In "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Keats respectfully opposes Wordsworth's poetry of the "egotistical sublime" (i.e. poetry that dives into the bottomless abyss of the poet's own feelings and personality). How does the present poem offer an alternative focus for poetry?
8. What makes the speaker question the urn in the first stanza of "Ode on a Grecian Urn"? What state of mind does Keats' poem seem designed to bring about?
9. In "Ode on a Grecian Urn," why are the figures on the urn called a "leaf-fringed legend"? (Look up the Latin verb "lego" or the gerundive "legendum" in a lexicon.) What does such a word have to do with the relationship between speaker and urn?
10. What paradox develops beginning with the second stanza of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and developing through the rest of the poem? What does art give us? What does it withhold, and why (if the latter is something we may conjecture about)?
11. In "Ode on a Grecian Urn," what subjects of address does the speaker draw from the urn? What do they have in common? What don't they have in common -- in other words, does the speaker have to address some subjects differently? Does the speaker put them into any working relationship? Explain.
12. People have sometimes said that line 25 of "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is not good poetry: "More happy love! more happy, happy, happy love!" But consider the placement of the line in the poem as a whole: why might Keats have included such a line where he does, thereby rendering it appropriate?
13. Critics argue over the meaning of "Ode on a Grecian Urn's" last two lines, with or without the parentheses. How do you interpret them? What does it mean to identify truth and beauty -- two realms that we generally insist upon keeping separate, just as we separate ethics or morality from aesthetics or beauty?
14. In a sense, the speaker in "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is playing "art critic" when he questions the urn about its meaning. Does the personified urn's response validate this questioning? What does the poem, and especially the final stanza as a whole, suggest about the status of attempts to address the meaning of a work of art?
15. Contemporary critics usually insist on interpreting art in terms of its social and historical context, with the understanding that context is always at least partly constructed by the critic and not simply available as objective data. But how does Keats' speaker in "Ode on a Grecian Urn" suggest we ought to consider a work of art, if indeed you take the poem as offering any insights about "context"?
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS (NORTON 955-965)
"The Lake Isle of Innisfree"
1. In "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," what does the speaker say he wants to do – why will he go to the Lake Isle and what will he do there? Also, compare this poem to a romantic nature lyric – how does the relationship posited between nature and the speaker in this symbolist-oriented poem differ from that of a romantic poem?
2. Aside from praising the Irish Easter Rebellion's executed leaders in "Easter 1916," what more complex attitude does the speaker adopt in "Easter 1916" towards the sacrifices called for during the struggle for Irish independence? How does the line "a terrible beauty is born" encapsulate this attitude?
"The Second Coming"
3. What do the last twelve lines of "The Second Coming" suggest about poetry's power to render great events intelligible, or to project future possibilities based on present conditions? Do the last twelve lines clarify the historical situation, or obscure it? Explain your reasons for responding as you do.
4. What is the source or provenance of the Sphinx myth referenced in "The Second Coming," and what was the point of the original version? What significance does it take on in Yeats' modern treatment?
"Leda and the Swan"
5. In 'Leda and the Swan," what is the source of the myth that Yeats employs? (See the Wikipedia entry above.) How does the speaker represent the transmission of poetic insight by means of this classical legend? To what extent does the poem respond to its own question about whether Leda "put on his knowledge with his power"? That is, what does the poem suggest about the connection between prophetic knowledge and creative power?
6. What suggestions does "Leda and the Swan" make about the origins of Greek civilization – how does it represent the foundational moments in the life of a people so important to the development of western history? What does this poem imply about the significance of Greek myth as a way of understanding history?
"Sailing to Byzantium"
7. The speaker begins "Sailing to Byzantium" with the line, "That is no country for old men," apparently in reference to the natural world and to youthful human beings. What is going on in that environment that makes it unfit for an aging person – how does the poet describe it?
8. In the second stanza of "Sailing to Byzantium," how does the speaker convey what it means to him to grow old? How does he represent the relationship between body and soul? And what becomes his priority, now that he knows his end is near? How does he present his decision to set sail for "the holy city of Byzantium"?
9. Who are the "sages" in the third stanza of "Sailing to Byzantium," and what does the speaker pray for in addressing them? How does this stanza reinforce the need for (and further specify the nature of) the transformation he must undergo from mortality to a state of being that lasts?
10. In the fourth stanza of "Sailing to Byzantium," what resolution does the speaker make about what he will do when he arrives in Byzantium? What does "Byzantium" represent in this poem? How does this final stanza (and the poem in its entirety) assert the value of artistic form and process over "Whatever is begotten, born, and dies" (6)?
"Byzantium" isn't in our Norton edition, so please use this link to view it.
11. In "Byzantium," what is the holy city like and what seems to be happening in it, now that the speaker has arrived there, as he said he wanted to in "Sailing to Byzantium"? And as for the speaker, what are his experiences, thoughts, and feelings in Byzantium?
12. How does "Byzantium" explore the distance between ordinary human affairs and the world of artistic production? In "Sailing to Byzantium," the aging speaker seemed to have figured this destination as an answer to his difficulties. What sort of answer does the present poem turn out to be? That is, do you find "Byzantium's" vision of the eternal city of art satisfying, reassuring, comforting, etc.? Or would some other terms better describe your own response and what you believe to be Yeats' aim? Explain your reasons for responding as you do.
"Among School Children"
"Among School Children" isn't in our Norton edition, so please use this link to view it.
13. In stanzas 1-4 of "Among School Children," the speaker's stroll among school children leads him to reflect on his present identity and his childhood past. (Yeats himself held a post as an inspector of schools in Ireland.) What does he apparently think of the children before him, and how does he say they regard him? To what reveries does his presence among them lead him, and what do those reveries mean to him emotionally?
14. How do stanzas 5-7 of "Among School Children" follow up on the meditation the speaker has already offered on childhood? What does he suggest about the philosophical systems of Plato, Aristotle, and Pythagoras, which tried to explain the nature and purpose of life? Why does he compare the "images" mothers worship with those venerated by nuns – what insight does he draw from that comparison?
15. How, and to what extent, does the final stanza of "Among School Children" resolve the speaker's quandary over his present identity and his earlier self? What role does the address to a great "chestnut tree" play in the speaker's attempt to deal with his disjunctive sense of who he was and is? And what does the reference to dancing add to our understanding of this problem? When the speaker asks, "how can we know the dancer from the dance?" How do you interpret the significance of that question?
"In a Station of the Metro" (Norton 1102)
1. Look up "imagism" in a good literary guide such as The Johns Hopkins Guide to Literary Theory and Criticism (Google it), or see the links above. Set down some of the most useful information you find: provide a definition of imagism in your own words and using your own examples, and mention the main practitioners and theorists of that style.
2. How is Pound's two-liner "In a Station of the Metro" an excellent example of imagist poetry? Consider the poem's treatment of its two images -- how are they conveyed, and what is the relationship between them? How do you explain the poem's perceptual and emotional impact?
T. S. ELIOT
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (Norton 1087)
1. How does "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" represent nature? What is the relationship between the humans in this poem and their environment, and how does that relationship help T. S. Eliot convey the strange sense of alienation and superfluity that many readers find in the poem?
2. How does "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" process and represent the passage of time? How does that kind of handling add to the alienation-effect mentioned in the previous question?
3. What keeps the speaker in "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" from acting or even making decisions? What decisions and actions does he seem to be referring to, anyway?
4. How do lines 122 through the end of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" affect your understanding of the speaker's situation? How do you interpret the symbolism involved in these lines, and how does the speaker's own response to such symbolism sum up what we have been led to believe about his sensibilities, his consciousness?
"Because I could not stop for Death" (Norton 807)
1. What gives way, in "Because I could not stop for Death," as the Coach and its grimly civil Coachman (Death) proceed? Why does the speaker still feel surprised by the first day of her passing even though it's centuries past? And what seems to be the point of treating death in such a strangely civil, slow-paced manner?
EDGAR ALLAN POE
"The Raven" (Norton 838)
1. Describe the psychological process the speaker undergoes in "The Raven": how does his state of mind change as the bird successively utters the word "nevermore"? What associations does he start making between his own concerns and "nevermore"?
2. In "The Raven," do you imagine the bird's utterance changing in tone, or should we read it in exactly the same way each time? Are we to take the bird as supernatural, or just invested with demonic powers by the speaker? How much difference does it make which is the case?
3. We are used to the representation of extreme violence in print and on the screen, and yet "The Raven" retains its ability to unsettle us even today. How do you explain its continuing hold? What is it about the strange bird and the poem that gets under a person's skin, so to speak, and stays there?
WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS
"The Red Wheelbarrow" (Norton 796)
1. How is Williams' artistry in "The Red Wheelbarrow" somewhat like that of a painter who wants to organize your view of a particular scene – i.e. to lead your eyes in certain directions in a certain order? Beyond questions of painterly technique, what emotional or other effect does this poem seem to be designed to generate in a reader?
"This is Just to Say" (Norton 797)
2. After you read "This is Just to Say," have a look at Williams' nearby explanation of what it accomplishes. To what extent do you agree with his explanation of the poem's value? Explain your own view on why (or whether) this sort of subject makes sense for poetry.
GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS
Of Interest: Author Image | Literary History | DMOZ Links | Victorian Web | Gerard Manley Hopkins Archive | Robert Bridges' 1918 Hopkins Edition | Kestrel, i.e. "Windhover" Arkive Image, Video | Kingfisher, Arkive Image, Video | Wikipedia Entry, Duns Scotus | Images of Oxford | Heraclitus Overview
"Pied Beauty" (Norton 798)
1. How does the poem "Pied Beauty" attempt to liberate nature from saturation by human consciousness? How might that attempt be said to distinguish Hopkins' treatment of nature from the romantics' treatment of it?
2. "Pied Beauty" ends with the line "praise him" -- i.e. praise God for the great diversity of things as described in the first ten lines. How is the appreciation of nature's diversity, for Hopkins, an affirmation of God's creative energy?
"God's Grandeur" (Norton 1094)
3. In "God's Grandeur," what failure does Hopkins charge common human beings with? What do they fail to perceive in nature, and why?
4. How does "God's Grandeur" assert the capacity of poetic language to celebrate God? What does the poet's description of nature have to do with his determination to praise God?
"The Windhover" (Norton 1095)
5. Compare "The Windhover" to Tennyson's "The Eagle." What is similar, and what differs between the two poems with respect to the speaker's way of observing a bird of prey in flight, and any broader significance that may be drawn from the observation of nature?
6. How does the sestet (the final six lines) of "The Windhover" complete the poem's meaning -- why, with regard to the speaker's perception of the Windhover diving, is there "No wonder of it," and what do the references to the shiny plough and "blue-bleak embers" add to your understanding?
E. E. CUMMINGS
"in Just" (Norton 1081)
1. What features of "in Just" help E. E. Cummings capture the joyfulness of a rainy day? How, more specifically, does this poem oppose the tragic sense of life? How does a child's logic and manner of expression help Cummings in this regard?
THE KING JAMES BIBLE
"The Twenty-Third Psalm" (Norton 810)
1. Consider the Twenty-Third Psalm's dominant metaphor, that of God as a shepherd guiding his flock. What, then, is the primary message (and emotional charge) that the poem delivers for those who consider themselves as members of the "flock" God is guiding? Furthermore, as a separate and more style-based issue, what features in the poem's language can you identify as contributing to its stately and uplifting qualities, i.e. to the great effect it has long had over the hearts and minds of those who read it?
Of Interest: Author Images Sassoon | Gurney | Rosenberg | Owen | Cannan | Graves | Literary History | DMOZ Links | Best History Sites WWI Links | First World War.Com: History Site | WWI Lit Course Blog | Poetry of WWI | Wilfred Owen Multimedia Archive | Robert Graves Archive
"Dulce et Decorum Est" (Norton 1101)
Horace's Odes, Book III, Ode 2 is Owen's reference point for his poem, so you might want to read Horace's ode for comparison.
1. It is sometimes claimed that language cannot do justice to extreme violence or suffering. To what extent does "Dulce et Decorum Est" do so? What is the poem's strategy of representation with regard to the horrible and violent events it references? How does that strategy help to undermine the glib attitude towards the carnage of war that Horace's Latin tag line "Dulce et Decorum est / Pro patria mori" ("It's sweet and right to die for one's country") is here made to stand in for?
"Design" (Norton 898)
1. In "Design," the speaker asks a question after William Blake's heart – as when Blake asks of the Tyger, "what immortal hand or eye / dare frame thy fearful symmetry?" What explanation, if any, does the speaker arrive at for the existence of "dimpled spiders" and other such creatures, found so unattractive by so many people?
"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (Norton 1091)
2. If "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is in part a "call of the woods," how would you give voice to it – what do the woods "say" to the speaker? But at the same time, why isn't it quite right to leave the matter at this primeval level – how are the woods part of the human world as well?
3. What are "promises" in the context of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"? Why must they be kept? How does the speaker seem to regard these obligations?
"Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame" (Norton 868)
Note: The rhyme pattern for an English sonnet is abab cdcd efef gg. Three quatrains (four-line units) and a concluding couplet that comments in some manner on the subject of the quatrains. "Sonnet 130" illustrates the possibilities of this structure well: the three quatrains make fun of Petrarchan over-praising, and the final couplet overturns the mocking tone by genuinely praising the love object. "Sonnet 73" with its succession of metaphors and neat summation-couplet, exemplifies the "sugared style" of many of the poems (i.e. the piling up and development of a series of metaphors, often one per quatrain) of sonnetry. The 154 sonnets are divided broadly between 1-126, which are supposedly addressed to "a fair young man" and 127-54, which are addressed to "a dark (-haired) lady."
1. Consider the imagery in Shakespeare's "Sonnet 129" -- how does such imagery constitute a departure from Shakespeare's "sugared style" (i.e. the piling up and development of a series of metaphors, often one per quatrain) of sonnetry? Why is the subject that the poem deals with difficult to render in images?
2. Explain how the rhythmic and descriptive qualities of Shakespeare's "Sonnet 129" accord with its theme. In other words, how do the poem's stylistic features suit its meaning? (Reading the poem aloud will help you respond.)
"Ars Poetica" (Norton 700)
1. Ironically, "Ars Poetica" with its famous line "A poem should not mean / But be" is often taken to be the most principled statement of New Critical Formalism. Explore what you think MacLeish's line implies – how can a poem be "mute," "palpable," and "wordless"? How can a collection of words simply exist rather than mean something?
2. What theories about literary art does MacLeish's poem thoroughly reject? What do those theories say poetry is and is for?
Of Interest: Literary History | DMOZ Links | Victorian Web | Author Image | The Lady of Shalott, Holman Hunt Sketch | D. G. Rossetti Shalott Sketch | Tennyson Page, Shalott Images | Wikipedia Entry, Arthur Henry Hallam
"Ulysses" (Norton 990)
1. What is the basic situation when "Ulysses" begins? At what point in his career does Ulysses (i.e. Odysseus, hero of Homer's Odyssey) find himself, and in what state of mind is he?
2. In "Ulysses," what is Ulysses' attitude towards his son Telemachus and towards the domestic realm that the young man will be left to tend? How does Ulysses understand his own people?
3. At what point in "Ulysses" does Ulysses begin addressing his old crew members rather than addressing himself in thought? How does his internal commentary on his past experiences and current state of mind differ from the rhetoric he aims at the crew?
4. To what extent is Tennyson's Ulysses in the poem by that name like Homer's Odysseus? How does he differ from the Greek hero in Homer's epic?
5. How indebted is Tennyson's construction of Ulysses in "Ulysses" to Dante's treatment of the epic hero in Canto 26 of Inferno? How does Dante cast Ulysses: what was the epic hero's sin? Is that sin something we need to consider in understanding Ulysses in Tennyson's poem?
"My Last Duchess" (Norton 1078)
1. Explain the action figured in "My Last Duchess": where are the speaker and his guest? Why is the guest present? What has the Duke done? What is he planning to do?
2. In "My Last Duchess," the Duke spends most of his energy talking about the late Duchess and her image. What effect does the painting have (or not have) on him as he views it? In what sense is the Duke's "art criticism" a kind of revenge against the Duchess?