Chapter One: Romantic Poems and Context
The difference between lyric and narrative
- Lyrics are poems written in the first person and they record the feelings of a particular moment or private thoughts, therefore they deal with private experience.
- Narratives may be written in the first or third person and tell a story. All stories will involve encounters with people and show their interaction, so narrative poems have a social dimension and they are likely to raise more public issues.
Writing in history
She dwelt among th'untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:
A violet by a mossy tone
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 ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!
In the beginning, the poem looks to be a narrative, it talks about a girl, but all we learn from the poem, is her name 'Lucy' and that she dies, so the poem is a lyric (an elegy or a love poem). In the second stanza, Wordsworth describes the girl through symbols drawn from the nature, figurative language (simile: A violet / Fair as a star). The use of the personal pronoun 'me' indicates the poet's voice 'narrator' and that the poem is composed on individual feelings.
* Two theories about the identity of 'Lucy' according to Critics:
- Wordsworth fancied the moment in which his sister 'Dorothy' might die.
- The absence of the poet from his homeland.
Two characteristics of romantic writing
1- An assertion on the self and what it wishes, feels, fears and so on.
2- The desire to transfigure or transcend the ordinary.
England in 1819
Percy Bysshe Shelley
An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king; a
Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow b
Through public scorn, mud from a muddy spring; a
Rulers who neither see, nor feel, nor know, b
But leech-like to their fainting country cling, a
Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow, b
A people starved and stabbed in the untilled field; c
An army which liberticide and prey d
Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield; c
Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay; d
Religion Christless, Godless, a book sealed; c
A Senate - Time's worst statute unrepealed - c
Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may d
Burst to illumine our tempestuous day. d
It is a sonnet – a poem of fourteen lines, with the rhythm Iambic pentameter and the pointed out rhyme scheme beside the poem. The poem is angry and that is clear through the poem's uncompromising vocabulary (mad / despised / dregs / scorn).
First stanza: Shelley illustrates that King George III is 'old, mad, blind, despised, and dying'. Then the poet used metaphoric device in 'mud from a muddy spring' to describe the Prince who succeeded the king because he came from the same muddy soil, which is his father. Then he used simile in 'leech-like' to describe the rulers as if they were insects sucking the blood of the people.
Second stanza: it is about the situation of the common people who were starving from extreme poverty 'starved and stabbed'. In the second line he illustrated that the army 'liberticide and prey / as a two-edge sword', who is supposed to defend the people rights, but in fact the army was the source of suppression, killing and torture.
Third stanza: the poet refers to the corrupted church and the parliament who twisted the constitution in favor of the king 'A senate, time's worst statute, unrepealed', but in the last two lines, the poet express his hopes for revolution and reform, that a 'glorious Phantom' may spring from this decay and 'illumine our tempestuous day' breaking the chains of tyranny.
Three poems about London
London's summer morning by Mary Robinson
Who has not walked to list the busy sounds
Of summer's morning, in the sultry smoke
Of noisy London? On the pavement hot
The sooty chimney-boy, with dingy face
And tattered covering, shrilly bawls his trade,
Rousing the sleepy housemaid. At the door
The milk-pail rattles, and the tinkling bell
Proclaims the dustman's office; while the street
Is lost in clouds impervious. Now begins
The din of hackney-coaches, wagons, carts;
While tinmen's shops, and noisy trunk-makers,
Knife grinders, coopers, squeaking cork-cutters,
Fruit barrows, and the hunger giving cries
Of vegetable-vendors, fill the air.
Now every shop displays its varied trade,
And the fresh-sprinkled pavement cools the feet
Of early walkers. At the privet door
The ruddy housemaid twirls the busy mop,
Annoying the smart girl 'prentice, or neat girl,
Tripping with band-box lightly. Now the sun
Darts burning splendour on the glittering pane,
Save where the canvas awning throws a shade
On the gay merchandise. Now, spruce and trim,
In shops (where beauty smiles with industry)
Sits the smart damsel; while the passenger
Peeps through the window, watching every charm.
Now pastry dainties catch the minute
Of humming insects, while the limy snare
Waits to enthrall them. Now the lamp-lighter
Mounts the tall ladder, nimbly venturous,
To trim the half-filled lamps, while at his feet
The pot-boy yells discordant! All along
The sultry pavement, the old clothes-man cries
In tone monotonous, while sidelong views
The area for his traffic: now the bag
Is slyly opened, and the half-worn suit
(Sometimes the pilfered treasure of the base
Domestic spoiler), for one half it's worth,
Sinks in the green abyss. The porter now
Bears his huge load along the burning way;
And the poor poet wakes from busy dreams,
To paint the summer morning.
Mary Robinson wrote forty two lines of poetry that are described as a blank verse poem. 'Blank here means not rhyming, but the term blank verse is used specifically to describe verse in unrhyming iambic pentameters'. It means the absence of any particular rhyme and the variation of line lengths and the rhyme scheme for this poem is 'abcddefgaaaaaidgejfkddlmiloiiagnaanodpqman'.
The poet throughout the poem gave a detailed description of the sounds and activities that happened in the crowded city of London in a hot summery day. She began the poem by using a rhetorical question about the different sounds that can be heard just by walking in the streets of London during the early morning 'Who has not walked to list the busy sounds of summer's morning in the sultry smoke of noisy London?' (1/2/3).
After the first scene which began with 'On the pavement hot' (3) Mary Robinson used the word 'Now' in lines (9/15/18/20/23/27/29/35/39), which broke the poem into short prose passages. Truly the poem is full of various words and meanings that recorded information about the daily life in London, with the use of repetition such as the previously mentioned word 'Now' and repeated line endings such as 'trade' (5/15), 'door' (6/17), 'feet' (16/31) and 'cries' (13/33) which are part of the rhyme scheme.
Mary Robinson used specialized poetic diction, periphrasis and over-reliance on adjectives, which are the characteristics of the language of eighteenth century poetry. And the poem is full of new scenes with new characters, sounds, places and objects such as 'The sooty chimney boy' (4), 'the sleepy house maid' (6), 'The milk-pail rattles' (7), 'The din of hackney-coaches, wagons, carts' (10), 'Knife-grinders, coopers, squeaking cork-cutters' (11), 'the hunger giving cries' (12), 'neat girl' (19), 'shops' (24), 'the smart damsel' (25), 'the passenger' (25), 'the lamp-lighter' (29), 'The pot-boy' (32), 'the old-clothes-man' (33), 'The porter' (39) and finally 'The poor poet' (41). Mary Robinson tried to capture the activities of daily life in London 'the industrial city' by using various words and meanings which described different characters, jobs, places, objects and sounds 'The poem's method is basically to list what is seen and heard'.
Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty.
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep.
The river glideth at his own sweet will -
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still.
Wordsworth's poem is a sonnet composed of fourteen lines, written in iambic pentameter with the rhyme scheme 'abbaabbacdcdcd'. The poem is full of cheerful images like 'fair' (1) 'majesty' (3) 'beauty' (5) 'bright and glittering' (8) 'beautifully' (9) 'calm' (11) 'sweet' (12) 'mighty' (14). The poet's voice is clear throughout the poem. He began the poem by saying "Earth has not anything to shew more fair" (1) and this is a conflicting statement because he is a romantic poet who is giving nature's qualities to the city, while denying that earth can give a fairer scene. In the third and fourth line, Wordsworth is more fascinated by the loftiness of the scene and continuo his admiration by using simile in 'The city now doth like a garment wear'(4).
In the last four lines of the octave, Wordsworth gave freedom to the city limits by expanding the view in the morning which is 'silent, bare'(5). He gave more space to the scene by mentioning 'Ships, towers, domes, theaters and temples' (6) beginning in the sea and reaching the sky then spreading to the fields. In the end of the octet he portrayed that entire scene in 'the smokeless air' (8) removing the real situation of the industrial city which is normally covered by the smoky of factories.
In the sestet, Wordsworth describes the beauty of the rising morning sun as if it was alive! 'Never did the sun more beautifully steep' (9) and shining over 'valley, rock, or hill' (9). In the following two lines, Wordsworth stated that he never saw or experienced such a tranquil view and then he used personification by giving life to the river ' The river glideth at his own sweet will' (12). Finally, Wordsworth ended the poem by describing the city of London which is full of houses as a heart which is 'lying still' (14) Therefore Wordsworth gave the city life when all people were a sleep with no working factories or smoke.
London by William Blake
I wandered through each chartered street, a
Near where the chartered Thames does flow, b
A mark in every face I meet, c
Marks of weakness, marks of woe. d
In every cry of every man, c
In every infant's cry of fear, d
In every voice, in every ban, c
The mind-forged manacles I hear: d
How the chimney-sweeper's cry e
Every blackening church appals, f
And the hapless soldier's sigh e
Runs in blood down palace-walls. f
But most, through midnight streets I hear g
How the youthful harlot's curse h
Blasts the new-born infant's tear, g
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse. h
- Language: the language that Blake has used in London is mainly negative, because he uses dark, gloomy adjectives such as blackening, hapless, plague.
- Structure: The lines are short and this makes the poem more compact, helping to get to the point quickly. It also makes the rhymes more noticeable. It is written in iambic tetrameter. It is written in four stanzas with the rhyme scheme as outlined beside the poem.
- Social background: William Blake presents his poem as a social protest against the suffering of those who lived in the city during the time of the revolutions. It deals basically with the difficulties and hard life of the time, seeing only the worst side of it, and reflecting Blake‘s extreme disillusionment. Blake lived during a period of intense social changes, being a witness of the transformation of an agricultural society into an industrial one.
First stanza: the first two lines of the poem include one of the basic ideas of what Blake is trying to show, using a great variety of images: a corrupt city in which everything is owned even the river, and a city where nobody can be free. The repeated word 'chartered' was used as a metaphor to mean that even those things that are impossible to be controlled by humans such as a river, are easily controlled when power and wealth are involved. Then the poet, once again, uses repetition 'And marks in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe' to get his aim, which is, basically, causing on his reader the impression that the whole of London society, without exception, are included in his poem. The use of 'every face' is the best example.
Second stanza: Living in a city like the one described in the lines above, it is, living in a city where everything is owned by others, the ones to whom you work for long hours, often being exhausted, but without escaping from poverty. It is obvious, then, that what the speaker is hearing is the cry of every man and the cry of every infant (In western-civilization, man has always been believed to be the stronger sex, and only permissible to cry in the most desperate of situations). Another image is the use of the expression 'mind-forged manacles' that the speaker hears in 'every voice' and 'in every ban'. The terrible situation, in which Londoners were obliged to survive in, induces them to think that there was no option and that their way of living was the only one possible.
Third stanza: Blake is showing the relation between the oppressed and the oppressors. In the first case 'how the chimney-sweeper’s cry / Every blackening church appalls', Blake is protesting about the poor young children that were sent to work, breaking their innocence and childhood, and without any institution, not even the church, is trying to stop and prevent it.
Fourth stanza: finally, 'the new born infant’s tear' who has been born from a 'youthful harlot’s curse' who at the same time, is going to 'blight with plagues the marriage hearse'. New birth at this time is not a happy event but a continuation of the cycle of misery, and the wedding carriage is seen as a 'hearse' leading to a kind of death, perhaps of innocence or happiness. According to critics, there were two kinds of 'harlots' at this time, there was the commonly known (streetwalker) selling her body for money to survive, and the second was the eighteenth century wife and mother who was selling her body, mind and soul for survival.
Q Which of the three poems of London is most useful to historians?
Mary Robinson's poem because it provides a lot of information and details about the city of London, from daily life to people, jobs names, places and so on.
Novelty and Nature
Q- Why does Wordsworth claim that the lives and language of the rural poor are suitable for poetry?
They provide for the essential passions of the heart a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, they are less under restraint, and they speak a plainer and more emphatic language. And because in that condition of life, our elementary feelings coexist in a state of greater simplicity and the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful forms of nature.
Their language is suitable because such men of the rural poor always communicate with the best objects from which the best part of language is originally derived, and because of their rank in society and the sameness and narrow circle of their intercourse being less under the influence of social vanity, they convey their feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions.
According to Wordsworth, the lives of the people in the countryside (rural) and their language provide a very suitable environment for the emotions (passions) of the poet's heart, in order that they reach awareness (maturity), and because rural people speak a simpler and emphatic language.
Wordsworth and Coleridge rejected the learned and highly sculpted forms of eighteenth century English poetry and brought poetry within the reach of the average man by using normal, everyday language in their poetry (leveling of language).
Children and the Romantic lyric
Anecdote for Fathers by William Wordsworth
I have a boy of five years old;
His face is fair and fresh to see;
His limbs are cast in beauty's mold
And dearly he loves me.
One morn we strolled on our dry walk,
Or quiet home all full in view,
And held such intermitted talk
As we are wont to do.
My thoughts on former pleasures ran;
I thought of Kilve's delightful shore,
Our pleasant home when spring began,
A long, long year before.
A day it was when I could bear
Some fond regrets to entertain;
With so much happiness to spare,
I could not feel a pain.
The green earth echoed to the feet
Of lambs that bounded through the glade,
From shade to sunshine, and as fleet
From sunshine back to shade.
Birds warbled round me---and each trace
Of inward sadness had its charm;
Kilve, thought I, was a favoured place,
And so is Liswyn farm.
My boy beside me tripped, so slim
And graceful in his rustic dress!
And, as we talked, I questioned him,
In very idleness.
"Now tell me, had you rather be,"
I said. and took him by the arm,
"On Kilve's smooth shore, by the green sea,
Or here at Liswyn farm?"
In careless mood he looked at me,
While still I held him by the arm,
And said, "At Kilve I'd rather be
Than here at Liswyn farm."
"Now, little Edward, say why so:
My little Edward, tell me why."---
"I cannot tell, I do not know."---
"Why, this is strange," said I;
"For, here are woods, hills smooth and warm:
There surely must one reason be
Why you would change sweet Liswyn farm
For Kilve by the green sea."
At this, my boy hung down his head,
He blushed with shame, nor made reply;
And three times to the child I said,
"Why, :Edward, tell me why?"
His head he raised---there was in sight,
It caught his eye, he saw it plain---
Upon the house-top, glittering bright,
A broad and gilded vane.
Then did the boy his tongue unlock,
And eased his mind with this reply:
"At Kilve there was no weather-cock;
And that's the reaon why."
O dearest, dearest boy! my heart
For better lore would seldom yearn,
Could I but teach the hundredth part
Of what from thee I learn.
This poem seems to be a hybrid of lyric and narrative and in this poem there is a narrator and another character with a speaking part (the narrator's son)
Q What is the difference between the narrator and the child?
The narrator can't gain from his son any rational answers to his question, because the child doe's not speak the language of reason spoken by the adult, therefore the narrator cannot prompt his son to give an answer that will satisfy his rational expectations. 'The poem displays two view points which are not opposed but simply different'.
Q Give some interesting points about the poem?
The poem gives a voice to a marginal figure ' a child'.
The dialogue in the poem is about an adult and a child who agree to differ.
Blake's songs of Innocence and of Experience (important)
The main theme of the poems in this work came from Blake's belief that children were born innocent, but they lost their "innocence" as they grew older and were influenced by the beliefs and opinions of adults and the ways of the world. Therefore, they grew to become experienced, and when this happened, they could no longer be considered innocent.
The poems from "Songs of Innocence" were written from an innocent child's perspective. Those from "Songs of Experience" were written from the perspective of a more experienced person who had seen all of the evil in the world and had, in a way, become bitter towards it.
The Chimney Sweeper' by William Blake
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue,
Could scarcely cry weep, weep, weep, weep,
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.
There's little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head
That curled like a lambs back was shaved, so I said.
Hush Tom never mind it, for when your head's bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair
And so he was quiet. and that very night.
As Tom was a sleeping he had such a sight
That thousands of sweepers Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black,
And by came an Angel who had a bright key
And he opened the coffins and set them all free.
Then down a green plain leaping laughing they run
And wash in a river and shine in the Sun.
Then naked and white, all their bags left behind.
They rise upon clouds, and sport in the wind.
And the Angel told Tom, if he'd be a good boy,
He'd have God for his father and never want joy.
And so Tom awoke and we rose in the dark
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm
So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm.
The chimneysweeper who is speaking is one who has had experience in the business for some time. He is trying to give advice to a new chimney sweeper little Tom Dacre. In lines (5 to 8) the older chimneysweeper is telling Tom that his hair can’t be ruined if it is shaved and that it is nothing to cry about because it is part of the job. Later that night, when they went to bed, Tom had a dream in lines (11-12) Here the coffins are used to represent the chimneys that the little boys have to shimmy through. Blake writes in lines (13-14) here the angel that comes to save the boys is the angle of death. The angel is setting them free because they are going to heaven. The angle tells Tom that if he does his work and is a good boy that God will take care of him. (19-20). Blake then goes on to write 'So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm' (24). this line is very ironic because that is what the little boys think, however, the children do not know that they will die young from an unpleasant death because of this job. By saying this, Blake illustrates how he sees the world through the eyes of a child.