Sensuality and Provençal Song

No matter how many times I read John Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale,’ the second stanza strikes me as particularly beautiful because of its sensual expression and parallelism of the stanza that it follows.  As we discussed Keats’ use of the five senses and contrasting opposites to emphasize key elements in his poem, I want to focus on the alternate sensuality found in the first 20 lines of the poem. Additionally, the nightingale’s presence within these lines will be exposed and examined.

Alternate Sensuality
Keats’ poem evokes strong romantic imagery. The first two stanzas of ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ appeal to the conventional senses of touch, sight and sound.  However, I would argue an alternate spiritual sense is also illustrated.
Keats, poet and barman, offers up a series of eclectic drinks to the reader:

  • Hemlock: a sedative potion derived from a plant.
  • Lethe waters: a river in Hades, from which all those who drank would experience complete forgetfulness.
  • Hippocrene waters: another Grecian reference – a fountain dedicated to the Muses as it enhances poetic inspiration to those who would drink from it.
  • Southern French Wine: wine, probably something akin to Bordeaux wines.

All of the above have mind-altering qualities in common, whether that be positive or negatively connoted to the poet’s intent. Hemlock and the waters of Lethe, both mentioned in the first stanza, are both mind-numbing agents whereas the latter two are mentioned in stanza 2 and have more enjoyable effects on consciousness. Keats describes his senses, relative to these elixirs, as: drowsy, numb, and dulled moved then to refreshing memories associated to nature and “sunburnt mirth” (14).  Not one of these sensations can be affiliated to any of the five senses separately, but is more of an awareness of Keats’ state.  Nonetheless, Keats’ description still fuels the readers sensual experience of the poem. Arguably, the growing positivity in the referred drinks reflect the acoustics of the poem as Keats listens to the nightingale’s song and begins to reminisce.

"Lavender Fields of Provence"
“Lavender Fields of Provence”

The Nightingale

The nightingale surfaces in the first stanza as the “light-winged Dryad” (7) brightening the poem’s somber tone like colour bursting from shadow.  As she begins to “singest of summer” (10) in Provençe, the mood of the poem shifts and transitions into a new stanza. Arguably, it is precisely the song of the nightingale the evokes such memories of Provençe, due to the lively chorus of her song sounding similarly to that of *The Farandole. My favorite line, “with beaded bubbles winking at the brim, and purple-stained mouth” (17-18) suggests to me the winking, beady eyes of a nightingale, and berries she could be eating.  The following lines “leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim,” (19-20) impress that Keats is drunk on memories, and wishes only to fly away with the bird that reminds him so fondly of those sweeter times.

*The Farandole is an upbeat traditional chain dance of south-eastern France, namely: Provençe.

Comparisons of the Nightingale’s Song and The Farandole dance are available here.  Note the high notes, quick rhythm, and drawn-out intervals between the patterned “chorus.”



Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 927-929. Print.

Nightingale Song. Youtube, 2009. Web. 27 Apr 2013. <>.

“The Farandole.” Sonny Watson’s Sonny Watson, n.d. Web. 26 Apr 2013. <>.


Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G3} | 3 Comments

Words and Music

Being interested, as I am, in the confluences of the arts particularly how literature and music work together I have come across a few interesting pairings and since I know that we are all looking for ways to respond to each other’s posts I thought I would throw this one into the mix and see what other poems have been successfully set to music, at least in the opinion of my classmates.

In addition to The Lady of Shalott, which I mentioned in an earlier post, Lorenna McKennitt has set Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman to music. Noyes isn’t in the anthology but I recall this as one of the poems I had to memorize in school and Anne of Green Gables recited it for a contest in the book by the same name.  I find the piece too long, but my daughter likes it a lot, so I include it here. McKennitt does a good job of evoking the Celtic music of Ireland which is where the poem is set.

One of the most successful pairings of poet and composer, apart from the financially successful but otherwise saccharine efforts of Andrew Lloyd Webber in Cats, was Benjamin Brittan and A.H. Auden. Brittan set several of Auden’s poems to music and the two actually collaborated to write the acutely ironic Tell Me the Truth About Love for Hedli Anderson, a cabaret singer.  The collaborations are noteworthy in this context because they represent the ‘modernity’ of both the poet and the composer and are a good example of where 20th century ‘classical’ music was going. You can hear the dissonance and disconnection in both they lyric and the music.

The first is Tell Me the Truth About Love.  (I apologize for the quality of the video) The poem is both funny and sad when viewed against Auden’s struggle to be accepted as a homosexual in a world where it was still illegal.

Some say love’s a little boy,
And some say it’s a bird,
Some say it makes the world go around,
Some say that’s absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn’t do.

Does it look like a pair of pyjamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does its odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It’s quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I’ve found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,
Or boom like a military band?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand?
Is its singing at parties a riot?
Does it only like Classical stuff?
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

I looked inside the summer-house;
It wasn’t over there;
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton’s bracing air.
I don’t know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn’t in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all its time at the races,
or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of its own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I’m picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

A more serious, and moving piece is Now the Leaves are Falling Fast. In it Auden explores the heartache of trying to be a couple in an England that would not accept homosexuality. The images are stark and barren with little sense of hope.

Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse’s flowers will not last;
Nurses to the graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.

Whispering neighbours, left and right,
Pluck us from the real delight;
And the active hands must freeze
Lonely on the separate knees.

Dead in hundreds at the back
Follow wooden in our track,
Arms raised stiffly to reprove
In false attitudes of love.

Starving through the leafless wood
Trolls run scolding for their food;
And the nightingale is dumb,
And the angel will not come.

Cold, impossible, ahead
Lifts the mountain’s lovely head
Whose white waterfall could bless
Travellers in their last distress.

If you are interested, I recommend that you have a look at Brittan’s Peter Grimes.  It is a complete departure from the operas of the 19th century and a great window into the way Englishmen viewed the world in the wake of two world wars.

I would be interested to hear about any other examples of poetry set to music that you have come across- from heavy metal to rap.





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“Afternoons and Coffeespoons”

Hello all,

I know we’re not quite on The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock yet, but I’m really excited to get to it because it happens to be my absolute favorite poem. I remember studying it in high school and my English teacher played this song for us. I’m sure we’ve all heard it at some point, but I just thought it was cool to know that the song that I thought was totally overplayed on the radio when I was a kid, (I remember not liking it, and always changing the station when it came on), is inspired by T.S. Eliot, (which is now obvious to me considering the title of the song).

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The Gulf

For my close reading I will focused on a short paragraph about marriage. I’m a sucker for love stories, even failed love stories, so one of the most intriguing parts of the novel for me was Clarissa’s relationship and history with both Richard and Peter. I love the complexity of the relationships, romantic or otherwise, in Mrs. Dalloway. They tend to be fluctuating and ambivalent, which is an excellent reflection of human nature and the way we ourselves interact with one another.

The following passage is on page 2223:

“And there is a dignity in people; a solitude; even between husband and wife a gulf; and that one must respect, thought Clarissa, watching him open the door; for one would not part with it oneself, or take it, against his will from one’s husband, without losing one’s independence, one’s self-respect—something, after all, priceless.”

This passage does an excellent job of summing up some of the significance of the novel. Woolf wants to show the shared experiences between people (the entire narrative is created by the unknowing links that people have) and yet the “solitude” or the “gulf” they feel as a result of being unable to connect in the conscious, tangible ways that they desire. Despite any closeness these people might share, they are still very much stuck in their own bodies and their own concerns. They will never be able to know what the other is thinking or feeling despite the curiosity and even eagerness they sometimes experience. Each character seems to feel the weight of the human experience as an individual one. When reading this book this gulf that they are all unable to cross has a palpable presence.

The preceding passages include Richard determined tell Clarissa he loves her, out of jealousy of her past relationship with Peter Walsh. As he walks through Green Park (page 2220) he thinks to himself “For he would say it in so many words…Because it is a thousand pities never to say what one feels.” But once he arrives he is only able to give her flowers and assures himself she “understood without his speaking”, having no clue earlier she was questioning the choices that led her there.

Clarissa’s missed connection with Peter, followed by a too brief to be satisfying moment with her husband, causes her to contemplate solitude in a marriage and even justify it to herself. I mentioned earlier in class that I believe Clarissa is restless, and trying to assure herself of her ordinariness and contentment with life. This is yet another section in the text where Mrs. Dalloway rationalizes her restless loneliness (loneliness seen through her jealousy involving Richard and Elizabeth, and her interaction with Peter). It appears to be true that she highly values her independence, and is suggested at various points throughout the text that this influenced her decisions in the past. On page 2221 Richard acknowledges that she married him for support, and this could arguably be seen as support so she has her independence, the opposite of the life fidgety, intimate, and unpredictable Peter offered. But that also doesn’t change the fact that Clarissa is lonely in a marriage characterized by a gulf, highlighted by her passionate ambivalence towards Peter.

It is not only revealing about her marriage, but also her character. Clarissa views this separation or gap between people as “dignity.” It is dignifying to expect and allow space between people. Any relationship, even a marriage, to Clarissa, should not be characterized by claustrophobic intimacy. Her “self-respect” is “priceless,” her identity and sense of self is all she really has and she is unwilling to jeopardize that. It is suggested that even for love, the loss of freedom was not worth it. So while her marriage with Richard might be lacking, he afforded her the independence that she views as crucial to her survival. She is an admirable character in her resolve; Mrs. Dalloway knows her priorities and accepts her circumstance despite any dissatisfaction (though I was still hoping maybe she’d change her mind and leave with Peter).

Since Clarissa values her privacy so highly, she “would not part with it,” perhaps the discontent I sense stems not from her solitude but rather her inability to escape it. She has the space she desires, but consequently that also seems to be all she has. Her daughter is growing up and preoccupied, her husband has his career and social standing, and all her old friends (until the evening of the party) were far away, so she craves the social reassurance of lunch dates or political parties to fill the gap.


Work Cited

Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G7} | 5 Comments

Virginia’s Violent Verbalizations

I’ll start by apologizing for the alliteration, I’m not a fan of it myself but it fit so well with such an odd letter that… well… I had to.

Down to business! I’ve decided to have a look at a particular paragraph from Mrs. Dalloway which I found very exciting. I’ve left my textbook at school, so I’m using a PDF copy of the book (which I’ve cited at the bottom of this post, if anyone wants to pull it up, just go to the link and download the PDF), so my citations will not match up with the textbook (clearly).

I’m looking at this paragraph (pp 9 in the PDF):

“It rasped her, though, to have stirring about in her this brutal monster! to hear twigs cracking and feel hooves planted down in the depths of that leaf-encumbered forest, the soul; never to be content quite, or quite secure, for at any moment the brute would be stirring, this hatred, which, especially since her illness, had power to make her feel scraped, hurt in her spine; gave her physical pain, and made all pleasure in beauty, in friendship, in being well, in being loved and making her home delightful rock, quiver, and bend as if indeed there were a monster grubbing
at the roots, as if the whole panoply of content were nothing but self love! this hatred!”

I know I’m not supposed to put the passage down, but I think this is probably easier since I’m using a different version.

What is it that makes this passage amazing? For me, the beauty of this passage is in the diction and the metaphor. For me, this passage defines Woolf’s writing.

The dark word choice in this passage makes the image of hatred which she’s trying to describe come to life. Words like “rasping,” “brutal,” “scraped,” and “monster” all carry very violent and vivid (there’s that alliteration again…) connotations with them. Since she is describing hatred in this passage, Woolf has opted to liken the feeling to an all-consuming monster, which is also a violent image, and she has used these words to back up and strengthen her point. And her likening the soul to a forest, a dark and distressed one at that, what with it being full of horses and (in my imagination) dead leaves and twigs scattered about, made the hatred metaphor sink even deeper. The reader can almost feel the depth of darkness and evil that arises in the soul when such true hatred is felt.

I absolutely love when she uses these kinds of metaphors. If anyone has read another of her works, A Room of One’s Own, specifically the section “Professions for Women,” you will be familiar with her metaphor of violently murdering the angel in the house in order for the woman to have the freedom to embrace her voice as a person. This is an equally powerful metaphor, and just as violent.

The depth and power of this paragraph captured me while I was reading it. How she can make such a small thing, like an emotion, feel so all-consuming, violent, and ultimately real through such a simple thing as word choice is truly amazing. Every time I read her work, this is what draws me into the piece and what keeps me absorbing her work.


Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. 1925. Goodreads. Web. 19 Mar. 2013. <>.

Woolf, Virginia. “Professions for Women.” The Broadview Anthology of Expository Prose. Ed. Laura Buzzard et. al. 2nd ed. Toronto: Broadview, 2011. 100-04. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G7} | 5 Comments

More Mrs. Dalloway-esque examples!

After talking today in class about examples related to Mrs. Dalloway (like Run Lola Run and Community) that showed how intricately our lives are interwoven and how they can affect each other unintentionally, I found myself coming up with a couple more examples and I just thought I would share them.

I’m sure (or I hope) that most of you have read Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban.  If so, you will be very familiar with this:

Hermione’s time-turner.  In the book and the film, we see how delicate time really is.  Any single action can alter what happens in the future, and Hermione uses the time-turner not only to attend more classes than her schedule can handle, but she also is able to save Buckbeak from his untimely death by altering history.  Everything Hermione did while going back in time worked in a domino affect and created an alternative outcome to what originally occurred.

The same sort of outcome happens in the movie series Back to the Future.  When Marty McFly initially travels back in time, he accidentally attracts the affections of his own mother (which is very disturbing…).  As he alters history simply by being present in a place/time he shouldn’t have been, parts of the life he once knew (like the house he grew up in) slowly begin to disappear, and he has to help his own two parents fall in love so that he will still be born one day.

One last example I thought of was the collective works of author Sarah Dessen. Most of Dessen’s books (which have been written over the span of 15 years) are based in the fictional town/area of “Lakeview”. Dessen writes the stories as if they are all happening simultaneously.  Her characters cross paths throughout her novels because they all live in the same town, but they appear in a “cameo” sort of way. I’ve had to read her books more than once so that I could actually pick up on the appearances of the characters from other books, because she interweaves them so subtly you wouldn’t pick up on it if you hadn’t read the book that character was from.  So basically she’s taken Woolf’s idea of Mrs. Dalloway, and instead of writing in a continuous flow of streams of consciousness, she writes a complete novel about each person’s life that appears in her stories.  You get to see how the main character in the story you’re currently reading perceives the presence of a character who to them is anonymous but to you, so much more.   By doing this, it makes Dessen’s writing seem that much more realistic!

Anyway, I just love the idea that every single person you meet or action you carry out will put your life down a certain path.  I’m sure I’m going to be noticing other examples of this everywhere now, but I just felt like sharing these three for now!

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Commentary on Mental Illness in Mrs. Dalloway

While reading Mrs. Dalloway, the one thing that found myself doing was trying to connect to Virginia Woolf herself. I found in fascinating that a writer who was able to describe simple things and mundane aspects of everyday life in such beautiful detail took her own life. Woolf suffered from bipolar disorder, and I think this novel is a testament to her suffering. Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of elevated mood alternating with a depressed state; I look at Clarissa Dalloway as the elevated mood, and Septimus as the depressed state. I think both are one in the same and both are written to represent the author herself.

Clarissa, as the “elevated mood” has an appreciation for life, and it is described in the second paragraph of page 2157, “For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so…” The sentence is written like poetry and it conveys a sense a beauty for her surroundings. Septimus is the contrast character to Clarissa. He’s not so much her exact opposite but a progression of her mood; from beautifying everything to a depressed state. He is what Clarissa’s character could become, but never does in the course of the novel.

At one point in the novel, Septimus’ “condition”, or rather lack-of condition is addressed; “Dr. Holmes might say there was nothing the matter. Far rather would she that he were dead!” (Top of page 2168). This sentence is a direct notion to mental illness. The idea that there is nothing actually wrong, and one is better off acting a certain way than being dead. What’s really interesting is that Clarissa and Septimus never actually encounter each other in the novel and that also speaks to Woolf’s internal struggle with her illness. The two sides of herself are always separate and there was never a middle ground where she could come to a sense of balance and normalcy. At the end of her party when she learns of the suicide, Clarissa reflects on Septimus’ death; “She felt somehow very like him-the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away… He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun.” (bottom of 2259). I think this makes it clear that both characters are one in the same and the characters are in fact a manifestation of Woolf’s struggle with mental illness.

Work Cited

Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G7} | 7 Comments

Beauty is Everywhere

In Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, I found Septimus Warren Smith to be one of the most intriguing characters, and was drawn to the passage where he addresses beauty in the world (2194 – second paragraph). I found this passage to be both lovely and yet very sad, especially after reading the novel in its whole and knowing Septimus’ fate. As Septimus sits in Regent Park, he takes in his surroundings, and is filled with “exquisite joy” (2194) as he observes a “leaf quivering in [a] rush of air” (2194), or swallows flying through the sky. All that is beautiful and true is “made out of ordinary things” (2194), these simple pleasures of the sights and sounds of Regent Park that – albeit ordinary – become something extraordinary for Septimus. This notion of a collection of ordinary things becoming something extraordinary is prevalent throughout Mrs. Dalloway, as the whole novel takes place during one apparently average day with that is far from ordinary.

While reading this passage I almost felt like I was reading poetry, Woolf makes use of alliteration when Septimus looks up to the sky to see the “swallows, swooping, [and] swerving” (2194), and on numerous occasions personifies the non-human objects that Septimus observes. Leaves “quiver” (2194) and the sun shines “in mockery” and “in pure good temper” (2194). The swallows, which “fling themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them” (2194) foreshadow Septimus’ suicide. While deciding how to kill himself, Septimus does not choose “the bread knife”, “the gas fire”, or the “razors” (2238), but instead chooses to end his life by jumping out of a window. He “flung himself vigorously” (2239) similarly to how the birds fling themselves through the sky, but unlike the birds, Septimus does not fly up again.

Septimus does not want to die, why then did the man who believed that “beauty was everywhere” (2194) kill himself? Is his suicide in fact an attempt to preserve what is true and beautiful? The tone of the passage is rather optimistic, but there is an underlying sadness, because although Septimus can see the beauty around him, he cannot fully be apart of it.

Interesting that despite the importance of his character, Septimus' name appears considerably less times than Clarissa's, Peter's, and even Sally's. Also I just really wanted to use Voyant.
Interesting that despite the importance of his character, Septimus’ name appears considerably less times than Clarissa’s, Peter’s, and even Sally’s. Also I just really wanted to use Voyant.


Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G7} | 5 Comments

“People come and go so quickly here!”

The first time I heard of Mrs. Dalloway was in my postcolonial literature class last semester when its title was briefly mentioned during a class discussion regarding modernism. I was immediately intrigued by the concept of the story occurring over a single day, and I quickly added it to my lengthy list of “Things I Would Eventually Like To Read”. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it on our reading list for English 340, and I am happy to say that it far exceeded my expectations. Oddly enough, I was most surprised by the amount of detail throughout the novel, as I originally assumed that the plot would revolve around simple observations. However, I enjoyed being guided through the story as it maintained a balance between simplistic events and characters that were both minor and complex.

The particular section that I found most interesting was between pages 2166 and 2171, because of the quick and brief introductions of many different characters in such a short time.

In a single paragraph, the second paragraph on page 2166, we are introduced to three characters: Sarah Bletchley, the mother whose voice resembles that of a “sleepwalker” (2166), Emily Coates, who seems to completely forget about her child who is “lying stiff and white in her arms” (2166) while she watches the plane soar across the sky, and “little Mr. Bowley” (2166), who is equally as engaged with the flying object.

Continuing onwards to page 2169, I was surprised to find even more characters being introduced so quickly: Maisie Johnson, the young girl “visiting London for the first time” (2169), Mrs. Dempster, the older women observing and wishing she could “whisper a word to Maisie Johnson” (2170), and Mr. Bentley, an inquisitve man focused on the aeroplane as “a symbol…of man’s soul” (2171).

I found myself having to read this section over and over until I could figure out exactly what Woolf’s intentions were when including these minor characters in such close proximity, and although I am not sure of the exact reason, I will explain the significance it had for my reading experience.

Recently, I have been thinking about interactions with people and the shared experiences we all have, maybe without ever realizing it. I have been considering how everyone who is at the same place at the same time has the potential to have similar experiences, even though we all take something different away from that particular place and time. It is odd that this book has come to me at this time, and I see it as a sort of fate because of its similarities to my life right now.

Virginia Woolf including these minor details is a characteristic that is simply reflective of real life and its complexities; specific details being designated to such minor characters is representative of our everyday lives. We share experiences with people, much like the characters in this section (all observing the plane and each other), but will we ever see these people again? This is something I constantly think about, and I think it is the point Woolf is trying to make: when we are reading the novel, will we remember these characters later on? As English majors, I think we tend to try to remember characters and all of their attributes because we believe that they may become important later in the story. However, life is not always like that; people often come into our lives and leave just as quickly as they came, our interactions soon forgotten.

Much like this novel, our lives are filled with small details that may or may not be significant later on. Although I will most likely not remember these six characters in the future, nor the name of the friendly women with whom I had a conversation with on the train the other day, all were significant at their respective moments in time, and that is what makes our lives, and literature, meaningful and significant.


Work Cited

Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.

Posted in 1: DQ Response, {G8} | 8 Comments

Connecting Caves

Connecting Caves

When I first began reading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (and apart from being thrown off by her complex sentences and multiple characters), I found her diary statement in the Norton to be rather interesting and true: “I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters” (2155). Beautiful caves, the characters and minor characters in Woolf’s novel do not simply ‘exist’–their past, history, miniscule details are numerous in the “caves”, and at times I even found myself getting lost in all the vast perspectives and information she highlights.

But to answer the question: Why does Woolf add details like street names and full names for (even) minor characters? I believe it is as she purposely intended; Woolf adds these details to carve out an intricate world of description, but also to remind the reader of the various, random, and even indirect ways in which all people are silently connected.          unitedkingdom_bigben_2002_03_07

Starting out with Mrs. Dalloway’s grand adventure to the flower shop, one can’t help but notice the amount of traveling one tends to do. Being illiterate as I am in reading maps and directions of all kinds, I had a difficult time imagining ‘where’ exactly everything was located, and ‘where’ exactly all the characters were headed to; the eyes of each individual is constantly changing (and sometimes in fast progression), as Woolf goes about this normal day in June.

But people have names. People have stories. People have reasons for where they are going. Woolf gives everyone a name, and a story, and it’s almost impossible to imagine all the things she didn’t say in this single text alone. By passively, yet intentionally, attributing  names for all the different characters we see (and don’t see), by changing characters view-point to all perspectives low and high, Woolf creates a sense of realism and truth–that existence is not just one straight path, but people come and people go, “rising and falling” on the waves of life. Everyone is involved in different ways, and everyone has the potential for their ‘own’ story.

Streets are named throughout, and streets are naturally connected to each other. But why does Woolf even bother using so many locations again and again, or telling the reader where ‘exactly’ everyone/anyone is going? By creating these names and directions for (all) the characters to follow, by giving multiple characters a specific purpose, Woolf creates the suspense that anyone has the chance to pass by anyone. And just as all people have the possibility to know each other, all these characters have the possibility to ‘collide’: when Mrs. Dalloway first runs into Whitbread, or when Peter Walsh just barely misses Septimus Smith and his wife (yet both see the poor old lady singing), indirect connections are formed through the progression of a single day; the ringing of the bell, the motor car and airplane, characters of all kinds are shown to be brought together by these strange events, by the streets they walk through, and the interconnected lives they randomly see.

I noticed while reading, lots of ‘rumours’ float by the characters heads; they form ideas about each other yet hardly speak of them. They all seem to be intensely fascinated with others, yet never put their thoughts to action–connections are formed, but no one ever knows; they live in the same world and city yet all are preoccupied in their own little thoughts. Woolf adds these tiny details into her story for many purposes, many examples, and the novel is so overly complicated that it feels impossible to note it all down in one blog post. The world she creates, the characters lives and personalities, all the caves are connected, but whether anyone in the story realized it was another issue altogether.

As a final note, I wanted to add a random ‘map‘ I found of some of the routes (I thought it was sort of interesting): map

Ramazani Jahan and Jon Stallworthy, eds. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-56. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.

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Society As Seen Through Woolf’s Keen Lens

Virginia WoolfWhile reading Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf I found myself entrapped by her vivid imagery, her unfailing detail of all objects around her characters and her story of a day in a life. Her keen imagination made me feel like I was the camera and I was panning around London fallowing around people, and going places. She definitely has a way to make you see the big and the very small details. (Although, I must admit, at times I wanted her continue the story and not the description). For this blog post we are to focus on why she gives names to minor characters and places. After days of contemplating and reading, Virginia Woolf names minor characters and places for the purpose of social commentary but also to draw our attention to everyone and everything. Make the reader notice that we are all human and we all have a voice.

Reading Mrs. Dalloway has shifted my view of a prose and the internal monolog. Her focus on every detail of her characters makes the reader have a better understanding of each one but also makes us realize we are all connected. Woolf stressed that we are to “look within” and “examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day” (2155). When the airplane flies overhead and people stop to see what the airplane is writing in the sky, Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus and all the others are connected for a brief moment in time. We stop, look up and see the airplane through everyone’s eyes. We hear their voices and their thoughts and we know everything is connected in our giant world.

Woolf’s narrative shifts from the wealthy and the privileged characters of Jane Austen or Bronte sisters to characters that struggle physically and mentally. She dives into the harsh realities of what is human and ordinary gives them a voice and a story. Her goal was to “criticize the social system and to show it at work, at its most intense”(2156). I truly believe Woolf has done so in Mrs. Dalloway. Long gone are the days of prefect women, in perfect houses and indulgences. Now we get to hear the stories of Septimus and his struggles of posttraumatic stress disorder, or how Mrs. Dalloway has “the oddest sense of being herself invisible” (2161). Her prose makes us see the world “by the sane and the insane side by side”(2155). She pulls the taboo subjects from under a rug and makes them her masterpiece.

This was an extremely hard post to write, since there are so many topics and themes within this novel. So much to analyze and focus on! Mrs. Dalloway is a hauntingly beautiful description of an “ordinary” day. Woolf shines a light on the faults of our society and makes us know we are all connected and we are all human.



Works Cited

Ramazani, Jahan and Jon Stallworthy, eds. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-56. Print.

Woolf, Virginia. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-2264. Print.

Posted in 1: DQ Response, {G8} | 6 Comments

The Universe in Virginia Woolf’s Mind

Group 8, DQ Response

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Discussion Question: Why does Virginia Woolf add details like street names and full names for (even) minor characters?


The initial answer that I could come up with was also the most obvious: that she wanted to achieve a sense of verisimilitude for the reader so that the reader would be immersed into the fictional world she has created.

This made sense to me. The most commonly cited reason why a writer would include such specificities is to portray a nuance of realism to draw the reader in. Full names grant the reader a kind of intimacy, a kind of knowledge into the characters’ lives. Similarly, names to locales, particularly real-world locales, give an aura of place and time that helps to orientate the reader. Both of these tools, coupled with Woolf’s elaborate and ornate descriptions (what the streets look like, what the character is wearing, etc.) further propels the visual aspect of the writing, allowing the reader to further comprehend the work. The streets, cities and towns which Woolf alludes to all refer to real places (or at least places that existed in the past), and the informed reader would be able to garner further understanding through insights of the location, the environment and the setting.

Indeed, specificity and detail both add depth into the writing.

Yet, as I read the short biography on Woolf, as well as the Norton’s passage on Mrs Dalloway, I began to realize that perhaps Virginia Woolf had other, ulterior reasons to include such minute and intricate details, and that her motive was not primarily for the reader, but instead, for herself.

As a writer, I am told by the Norton, Woolf did not agree with the method of depicting topics “through gritty realism” but rather she “sought to render more intricately those aspects of consciousness in which she felt the truth of human experience lay” (2143). In essence, she prefers “stream of consciousness narration” (2144). So Woolf desires to go further than to simply inject scenes of realism through including names of locations and people, but rather, those things function as the rudimentary base of which she launches from. As the Norton goes on to say, she “found inspiration and material in the physical realities of the body and in the heavily trafficked and populated streets of London” (2144). For Woolf, she did not want specifics and details to rule as the primary focus of her work, but as the bolstering which would couch her streams of consciousness and give it structure and depth. In her own words: “I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters”  and “the caves shall connect” (2155). Therefore, Woolf added these details, not necessarily for the reader’s benefit, but for her own. She acquired and imagined these intricate characters in her mind to such a acute degree that when she sat down to write in her stream of consciousness manner, the specifics simply came. She had designed her characters so that they came alive in her mind and became, as it were, real to her. Similarly, for street and city names (especially the streets of London, where she resided), there were innate and intimate ideas that she has related to those places and this gives her the inspiration and authority to write about those locales with confidence.

In conclusion, once Woolf’s own personal understandings of her characters and places are solidified within her mind and her writing, the readers are also then able to benefit from the rich complexities and elaborate details of the world which she has created, not only to be experienced, but also inhabited.


Ramazani, Jahan and Jon Stallworthy, eds. “Virginia Woolf”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 2143-44. Print.

Ramazani, Jahan and Jon Stallworthy, eds. “Mrs. Dalloway”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. F. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 2155-56. Print.


John Dieu


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Random post: Lady of Shalott song ?

So one afternoon i got bored.I was cruising instagram and decided to use the hash tag of my favorite poem so far… Lady of Shalott. I wasn’t expecting to find anything spectacular, but i did find two interesting things.  First, a picture was posted of a user’s favorite song called “Shalott”, written by Emilie Autumn, who actually happens to be some what famous. check it out below (lol)

Next, i was surprised to see that a lot of girls posted photos of nail polish/ painted nails. Surprisingly the colors named “Lady of Shalott” all happen to be dark, Gothic like colors. what is the significance or reason for this? I sure do not see any nice pinks or light blues…..

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The Lady of Shalott vs. Orpheus and Eurydice

While reading The Lady of Shalott, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The Greek myth tells the story of two lovers, who tragically lose the chance to share their life together, when on the day of their wedding, Eurydice is bitten by a poisonous snake, and dies. Orpheus – who is the most talented musician of his time – enters the Underworld and plays his lyre for the king and queen of the underworld – Hades and Persephone – who allow him to bring Eurydice back with him. However, Hades warns Orpheus that he cannot look back while his wife is still in the dark. He should wait for Eurydice to get into the light before he looked at her. The moment Orpheus stepped on the world of the living, he turned his head to look at his wife, but Eurydice was still in the dark. Since Orpheus looked at his wife before she had seen the sun, like Hades warned, Eurydice was dragged back into the underworld.

Orpheus looks at Eurydice and she is taken back to the Underworld.
Orpheus looks at Eurydice and she is taken back to the Underworld.
Eurydice in Orpheus' arms, reminds me of the images of Lancelot holding The Lady of Shalott.
Eurydice in Orpheus’ arms, reminds me of the images of Lancelot holding The Lady of Shalott.

The Lady of Shalott in Lancelot's arms.

Like Orpheus, The Lady of Shalott cannot help but turn her head from her mirror and look at Lancelot, knowing that this will bring the curse upon her. And it was only in her death that Lancelot has the chance to see her, musing that “she has a lovely face” (1166). I noticed in our anthology that The Lotos-Eaters, is another one of Tennyson’s works, which is based on a short episode from the Odyssey. Since Tennyson obviously had knowledge of Greek mythology, I wonder if the story of Orpheus and Eurydice had any influence on The Lady of Shalott.


Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “The Lady of Shalott” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

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Pictorial Interpretations of ‘The Lady of Shalott’

A quick Google Images search of ‘The Lady of Shalott’ shows a large amount of Pre-Raphaelite depictions. Pre-Raphaelites focused on abundant detail and intense colours. They found a rich source of pictorial inspiration in Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” most likely because of the subject matter: a beautiful but unattainable woman tragically dying for love. The theme of the woman destroyed/victimized by love dominated not only Pre-Raphaelite but Victorian paintings and poems for much of the nineteenth century.

I decided to search for other lesser-known depictions of the Lady of Shalott, ones that aren’t necessarily ones we see on the Google Images results. The variances in styles/portrayals show an interesting mix in interpretations. Here are just some that I found and thought to share (note: the first and last two are by female artists):

(Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, The Lady of Shalott, 1853)


(Howard Pyle, The Lady of Shalott, 1881)


(Florence Rutland, 1896)


(Inez Warry, The Lady of Shalott, 1890)

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The Most Irrational Lady of Shalott

In the lines 55-72 of The Lady of Shalott, it seems like the lady is musing about the lives of the people who pass by towards Camelot, and how she secretly longs to have one of her own. Seeing these “damsels glad” (55), “a curly shepherd lad” (56), and the “long-haired page in crimson clad” (58), she sees how happy ordinary folk are with their ordinary lives. Like it was already said in the post, ‘Tennyson’s Lady’, it is assumed that the Lady’s life is meant to represent that of an artist removing him/herself from society in order to stay true to what she had dedicated her life to. In order to have a full commitment to creating something truly beautiful, the ultimate sacrifice must be made. But is creating something beautiful through the medium of art as valuable than potentially creating something beautiful through the medium of life experience? It seems that this is what the Lady of Shalott is struggling with here.

I think that the idea of the ‘mirror’ (line 60) in itself (a traditional tool of vanity) represents the superficial sense of a final art form. It is a privilege to take part in an art form that creates beautiful things, but what is the point if you don’t have life experience to even compare it to? Also, in acknowledging that a mirror, in that vain sense, allows a woman to indulge in the vanity of admiring herself, Tennyson might be playing on that idea in that the Lady can only indulge in the pleasures of a life beyond her discipline (an intentional double-meaning here) through the mirror and not in reality. Vanity is frowned upon, as a modest woman in that age should not acknowledge her beauty in fear of having her worth reduced to just that. It seems that beauty plays a big part in Tennyson’s day despite this (The Lady’s value is later reduced to ‘she’s pretty’ when she is found dead), but the discipline in proving worth non-reliant on looks (on art instead) demonstrated here is what is most important.

“She hath no loyal knight and true,” (62) because the idea of ‘love’ is the most powerful force for any 19th century woman to be seduced by. It is the epitome of irrationality that women in this age had assumed into their very souls before even having the chance to prove anyone otherwise. Even in Tennyson’s The woman’s cause is man’s”, he says “For woman is not undevelopt man, but diverse: could we make her as the man,” (259-60). The genders are completely different species, according to Tennyson, which I suppose is a step in the right direction for feminism as he states that women are not necessarily worse, just different. Different, as the traditional literary idea that woman is irrational: end of story. Love is irrational: that’s a fact. Woman falls in/ desperately longs for love: she causes her own downfall and/or that of any number of others. The Lady seems to be doing well in a rational sense (male-approved… thus more desirable?) by ‘still delighting’ in her art and being more or less content with observing the world she is detached from through a mirror, but only because she is enchanted by the “plumes and lights and music” (67) or “two young lovers lately wed” (70) and the mysteries surrounding them.

I would think that the Lady must have developed quite the imagination, out of necessity, in order to construct her own stories about the things she sees in the world. But in order to assume this, we must assume that she has a basic knowledge of how things work outside her tower. But, who has taught her these things? How does she know what love is? Does she know she is beautiful? How does she have the capacity to say, “I am half sick of shadows,” (71) if she does not know any different, even if she is imagining?

Works cited:

Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “The Lady of Shalott” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “The woman’s cause is man’s” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

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The Lady of Shalott as a weak female character?

Whilst reading The Lady of Shalott, I couldn’t help but take somewhat of a feminist stance. I found it intriguing that Tennyson depicted her in such a helpless, somewhat weak character with the way in which he focused on her beauty and inability to do almost anything.

The way that she just sits watching the knights, shepherds and reapers who are engaging in physical labour and are defined by their jobs when we are not really shown what activities she engages in whilst in her tower apart from looking into the mirror. The jobs also have connections to being male dominated, so is Tennyson is suggesting that while the men contribute to society all that Lady Shalott does is sit and stare in the mirror? The mirror in itself has connotations of beauty and self obsession, the way in which she is constantly staring in the mirror puts a focus on her beauty as opposed to any other quality she may possess such as her willpower to not look out onto Camelot, for majority of the piece anyway.

The focus on her beauty is even reinforced when she dies and the somewhat beautiful nature of her death. Her death is described as “a gleaming shape she floated by” (line 156) and she is described to just lay down rather than to fall or injure herself, anything that would subvert that soft and sensitive image of femininity that Tennyson employs. He even describes her to be “lying, robed in snowy white” (line 136) and image of innocence and again a soft, sensitive description of her that was the stereotypical image of a woman who’s purpose merely surrounded looking beautiful.

The way in which she is waiting for a knight to save her also reiterates the helpless nature of her character. Tennyson writes that before she saw or, more accurately, heard Lancelot, “she hath no loyal knight” (line 62) to save her. The fact that she faces the outside world because of the knight and then dies, again emphasizes her vulnerability and inability to survive in the real world – What does this say about women in the Victorian Era? That their lives should be confined to the household while the men contribute to society because they would not survive?

Also, the way in which she had basically sacrificed her life for Lancelot and then all he says at the sight of her death is, “she has a lovely face” (Line 169) reinforces the idea that she is defined by her beauty and despite her actions being heroic and passionate, she is reduced back to her looks by the man she essentially died for.

I do think that the way that she has the courage to face the outside world suggests the strength of her character and it could be interpreted that her death is out of her control, it’s the curse, therefore perhaps does not suggest her inability to survive in the real world. However, personally I think that this does still make a negative comment on the status and purpose of Victorian era women.

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The Death of a “Disney” Princess


As young girls grow up they look up to the ideal Disney Princess, whether that is Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Snow White etc. All these have princesses survive adversity by being beautiful, fragile and have a handsome knight to rescue them. This imagine stayed with me while reading Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. It was the fairy tale plot structure that Disney follows and the image of a woman cursed in a tower, singing. Both of them screamed Disney.


I have re-read it several times since my original reading and the picture of a Disney princess kept forming. However, I have to applaud Tennyson for giving me an ending I did not see coming. I wonder if Tennyson wrote this with the original folklore in mind? Was that why magic, the curses and the knights are involved? Or, what was Tennyson’s influence while writing The Lady of Shalott?


Did anyone else notice the similarities to the Disney princess and/or the fairy tale?





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Two Imaginatives Of Their Century

With this opportunity (or rather invitation) to write another blog post on Tennyson in association with his life/works and our interests, I chose to investigate more into my favourite era of literature:

Elizabeth Gaskell, Elizabeth Browning, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë.
Charles Dickens, Robert Browning, Lord Tennyson, Thomas Hardy.

The Victorian Era had extremely profound writers throughout. That’s a fact. Those writers and their works are still captivating and interesting.  Also, most of the quintessential Victorian pieces are still recognisable by many. Writers like Charles Dickens, the Brontës, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Oscar Wilde, the Brownings, and of course Lord Tennyson infused the literature movement in the mid to late 1800s.

To understand and develop my thoughts on Tennyson, I decided to use resources to accumulate a quick comparison. This comparison will be focused on Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning. Also, it will be conducted through two aspects: life and works.


Sometimes the best way to understand someone is by learning about their background and beliefs. Both Tennyson and Browning have interesting biographies and both were friends. George Herbert Palmer writes in his article the The Monologue of Browning that “the two poets never conceived of themselves as rivals” (Palmer, 122).

He had “spent three-quarters of his life in the country” (Palmer, 126).

Tennyson was born, as we know from reading our handy Norton Anthology, to a reverend and lived a “small rectory in Somersby” (1156). And after attending Cambridge until 1831, he began writing poetry heavily (1157). Ultimately, as we know, he wrote some of the best pieces in literature, became Poet Laureate, and a favourite of Queen Victoria.

Browning, who is also in our Norton Anthology, was born in 1812 in London (1275). When he first started producing poems, he was a “relatively unknown experimenter” until his marriage to another poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1275). He was unlike most poets during the era as he approached writing with new perspective. Browning wrote unstable poems which make it “difficult to discern the relationship of the poet to his speaker” (1275). As his work grew, he became a “forerunner” in poetry (1278).

In The Monologue of Browning, Palmer states some of the key differences between the two poets’ lives:

“Tennyson is English for many generations; Browning is of compound nationality. Tennyson lived in England and found his subjects there; Browning lived long on the continent and gathered his subjects from everywhere except England. Tennyson is a university man; Browning had a miscellaneous education. Tennyson is acquainted with physical science; Browning only with literature, many literatures. Tennyson’s life is rooted in institutions; Browning cares little for them. Tennyson has a strong interest in the social and religious questions of his age; Browning only in the problem of self-development. Through many generations Tennyson was connected with the Established Church; Browning, his parents, and his wife were Congregationalists. Tennyson was an idealistic recluse; Browning a realistic man of the world.” (Palmer, 122)

“Browning had earlier written in his volume of Selections ‘Dedicated to Alfred Tennyson. In poetry -illustrious and consummate. In friendship-noble and sincere.'” (Palmer, 123)


Tennyson and Browning vary in stylistic, thematic, and linguistic techniques.

It is apparent that Tennyson admired the medieval age as the Arthurian legend is an active idea in his more popular works. Although in reading his works it is also evident that he was a passionate mind. His works are thought-filled and emotional, especially In Memoriam.  As Palmer puts it, Tennyson wrote “the shimmering charm, the ideal beauty, the refinement, the wistfulness” in life (144)

Whereas Browning is not exactly the opposite, but definitely antithetic in his writing choices. Browning was much more spontaneous with format, expression, and thought. Palmer gives an appropriate summary of Browning in that his “aim too is not moral instruction but the dispassionate study of individual character, good and evil qualities are allowed to intertwine in the same perplexing fashion as in actual life” (Palmer, 133)

In The Monologue of Browning, Palmer also explains some of the differences between the two poets’ writing:

“Tennyson’s figures are generalized; Browning’s particularized. Tennyson’s favorite time is that of the medieval myth; Browning’s the later Renaissance. Tennyson aims at beauty, through approved and standard language; Browning at force and expressiveness. Tennyson chooses for subjects graceful and harmonious incidents; Browning unusual and startling ones. Tennyson is the conscious artist, ever correcting; Browning the spontaneous improvisatore. Tennyson has an exceptional mastery of poetic technique; Browning is rugged and bizarre. Tennyson has many of the traits of a refined and timid woman; Browning is all manliness and optimism. Tennyson was a dramatist at the end of his life; Browning at the beginning.” (Palmer, 122)

These Victorian poets differed in so many ways, yet were captivating for society and given the highest recognition. I find both of their portfolios of work wonderful, no matter how different they are from each other. And through this comparison, my knowledge of both men grew.

Now George Herbert Palmer writes that “Tennyson and Browning summarize the imaginative life of their century” (Palmer, 144). Do you agree?  Does Lord Tennyson do so? Does Browning?

Links and sidenotes are always fun too:

  • Few lines from The Passing Of Arthur in Idylls of the King read by Alan Rickman right here

  • All of Robert Browning’s poems can be located here

  • If you like the Arthurian legend, I hope you have seen the BBC’s Merlin


Christ, Carol T. and Catherine Robson, eds. “Alfred, Lord Tennyson.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. E. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 1156-1159. Print.

Christ, Carol T. and Catherine Robson, eds. “Robert Browning.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. E. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 1275-1278. Print.

Palmer, George H. “The Monologue of Browning.” The Harvard Theological Review 11.2 (1918): 121-44. JStor. Cambridge University Press. Web. 3 Mar. 2013. < >.


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The Lady of Shalott as commentary on women in the early 19th century

I was curious if anyone else agreed with me that Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott could be considered a commentary on gender in his time? Particularly, it seems to speak about the role of women in Europe in the early 19th century. It was socially expected for women to stay at home. On the occasion a woman attended a social event, she was expective to remain passive, awaiting the arrival of potential suitors. Women were equally as confined in society as the Lady of Shalott is in her tower. Even once married, women were expected to be wholly domestic, focused on caring for the household and children. To seek a role in the male-dominated world or to pursue any external desires was not even considered an option. As we witness in the ballad, the lady eventually meets her doom by attempting to escape her confinment.

My question is – if Tennyson did consider this theme while writing The Lady of Shalott, is he defending or condemning her for her decision to venture into the world?


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Tennyson’s Lady

One of the earliest interpretations of The Lady of Shalott, that I was taught, and still one of my favorites, is that it was an allegory for the life of an artist. Tennyson was saying that he believed that the artist must remain removed from life, an observer of it only, if he wished to create art or poetry. If one became too immersed in life the reality of it, the ugliness that it contained, would overwhelm the artist and he would loose his gift. Thus the Lady of Shalott is in her ‘ivory tower’, not only above the life going on below her, but also only observing it through a mirror. In this way she only apprehends images of life and nature not their reality, she sees the shadows of the world (line 48) but not the world itself.  The language of the poem reflects this romanticized view of the world. This is a place where everything is picturesque.  ‘Little breezes dusk and shiver’ (line 11) while shallops with silken sails skim down the river (line 22) all in ‘unclouded weather’ under a ‘dazzling sun’ (line 75). Even funerals, normally dark and somber affairs, become mystical with their plumes, lights and music as they move through the ‘purple night’ (96). At the centre of the poem’s images is the most romantic ideal of all, the kingdom of Camelot.

The world does not see the Lady of Shalott either. It hears her singing, and has knowledge of her art but not of the artist herself. This inner life of the artist is something that the world cannot truly understand only guess at by interpreting what they see in the artist’s work. Thus the reapers believe the Lady of Shalott to be a fairy, a mystical being, rather than a flesh and blood woman (35-36).

 Into this world of idealized shadows rides what is probably one of the best known  illusions of all, Sir Lancelot. When the Lady of Shalott sees Lancelot in the mirror she sees the image of a chivalrous and handsome knight, a knight that we know, courtesy of Mallory, has already, or soon will, seduce another woman away from her ‘duty’. The image on his shield, that of a knight kneeling before a lady, is highly ironic given that Lancelot’s relationship with Guinevere destroyed not only the harmony of Camelot but also the lady he professed to love. But the Lady of Shalott doesn’t see Lancelot’s true nature. She sees exactly what Lancelot wants the world to see, a loyal and true knight’ (line 62). This image is so appealing that it draws her away from her loom and she looks out the window seeing the world directly for the first time. What is interesting in the poem is that the description that Tennyson gives of what the Lady sees includes no mention of Lancelot himself. She sees the water lily, the castle at Camelot and Lancelot’s helmet and plume (111-113). Perhaps in this moment she realizes that the man does not live up to his image. This confrontation with reality causes the tapestry (web) to disintegrate and the loom to break. The Lady’s art, and her ability to create it is destroyed.

The last part of the poem is the most poignant. Laying in her boat while she dies the Lady of Shalott literally becomes her last work of art, what we would call, today, performance art.  Tennyson describes her in a robe of snowy white floating gently down the river singing as she dies. Eventually she arrives at the kingdom that she has so long idealized in her tapestries. Lying dead-pale (line 157) in her boat ‘gleaming’ (line 156) as she floats by her appearance is so extraordinary that she draws the castle occupants away from their revels and stuns them into silence. 

As an allegory for the life of an artist I think that Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott works very well. It shows how the artist must idealize the world around them, to not see what is ugly and filled with despair. It also shows how the world reacts to the artist’s need for this emotional distance, filling in the blanks as it were, with their own interpretations. Tennyson’s artist is also, ultimately, unknowable save by the art they leave behind them and even that is subject to misinterpretation. When Lancelot sees the Lady of Shalott he remarks that she has a lovely face (line 169) apparently content not to solve the mystery of who she was or how she came to be there.

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The Finally

In the story Beowulf, Beowulf is a character who is idealized for his achievements and his bravery. He does not approve of praising others, being put down, or allowing others to help him.

In contrast, the noble King Arthur in Idylls of the King is a king who is idealized for his nobility, honour, and approval of his followers. Continually they are praised for their right doings, accepted for their wrong doings (such as Guinevere’s infidelity), and he rules the kingdom to teach his people morals.

It is ironic that Beowulf does not like having help in battle, whereas the King continually accepts help, but both pass-on with equal sorrow from their people and mention of their ‘greatness’. Why is this? And do we accept that they are equally as great (just in different ways)? Is it because of the time they were written? Is it even fair to compare two kings who have such opposite morals?



Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “Idylls of the King.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

“Beowulf.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

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The Importance of Women in ‘Idylls of the King’ vs. ‘Beowulf’

In comparing these two works, a few things stuck out for me. Most interestingly was the contrast of women’s roles. In Idylls of the King, the very first sentence is describing Guinevere, and how beautiful and lovely she was. I found it interesting that Tennyson thought it important to establish this before discussing politics, or the state of England, and even mentioning the main character. When Arthur is crowned, he doesn’t immediately think of the changes he wants to make for his country, but of how beautiful Guinevere is and how he would only be able to do these things with her by his side. I’ll just fast forward here with a few points:

-Arthur even rules his kingdom under the idea that four ‘ladies’ (Lady of the Lake, and the Three Queens) embody the virtues he must portray as a leader.

-Geraint and Enid are madly in love, and though their road is rocky, Enid refuses Doorm’s advances and Geraint seems to feel guilty for everthinking any less of his wife.

– Vivien seduces the old, wise magician, Merlin, in order to obtain a spell. She takes advantage of his loneliness and pretends to be in love with him, surpassing his ‘wise’ demeanor. He resists, but is ultimately helpless to her compliments.

– Elaine has a schoolgirl crush on Lancelot, but since he is off with Guinevere he does not return the feeling, and so like any irrational woman, she kills herself.

-Ettare just wants Pelleas to give her his trophy, so she takes advantage of his affection before she dumps him and he ends up waiting outside her residence for days on end in the hopes that she’s only kidding.

– Arthur finds out about his wife’s affair with his dear friend, but because he is the epitome of a perfect human, he is only slightly faded with his impressions of his impeding demise.

All in all, the woman’s role as wicked seductress, angelic wife, or heartbroken girl is so crucial throughout the story. These women are able to manipulate and influence the most powerful men in the kingdom. The power of beauty alone is a factor in bringing the strongest and most noble knights to their knees.

In Beowulf, however, there would never be any mention of a man being influenced negatively by a woman. In fact, the only ‘woman’ (I use this term loosely) is Grendel’s mother. Granted, she is quite the irrational being considering that she is literally a monster, but of course not even this fact brought down the great and mighty king. It seems that in the Beowulf days, the only important thing a man could focus on was fighting and winning. Of course women had no power there. Apparently, men did not have emotions back then; such signs of weakness were unheard of from great warriors and kings. But does Arthur’s sadness at Guinevere’s infidelity prove to be the one hit to the soul that ultimately makes him realize he is growing weaker? Is this a flaw in this portrayal of an ideal human, or does it make him even more perfect?

Vivien seduces Merlin

Image retrieved March 1, 2013 from:

Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “Idylls of the King.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

N/A. “Beowulf.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print

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Comparing Beowulf and King Arthur

While both Beowulf and Arthur do have their similarities, I noticed an interesting difference. I noticed how the two kings behaved during their final moments and the opposite relationships they have with their people. Beowulf, as you can recall, is deemed a fierce warrior and ultimate hero. It is through these titles and reputation that Beowulf is eventually bestowed the title of king. Arthur on the other hand is questioned by his people and is generally disliked from the get go. His people do not consider him legitimate and therefore struggle to trust in a king who may not even be the rightful heir to the throne. Beowulf and Arthur may both be kings, but the people they govern take to them very differently. What I noticed was this difference continues and is evident right until the final moments of the two kings.

Beowulf, for example, acknowledges that fighting the dragon in order to save his people “would be hard to survive unscathed near the hoard, to hold firm against the dragon in those flaming depths” (95), yet he very rashly goes off to fight the dragon thereby leaving his people to fend for themselves if he dies. He is fully aware he will probably die in the battle, yet goes anyway. Some could argue that it is the heroic warrior in him, but it seems to be an easy escape. A cover up in which the king tried as a last effort to nobly protect his people, when in fact he seems to accept his defeat and accept that his reign as king is over. This way he still looks like the hero and is positively remembered. What better way to die than in battle, right?

Arthur dies in a similar fashion, however his death is spontaneous not anticipated like Beowulf’s. Additionally, Arthur instructs Sir Bedivere to throw away his sword and thereby forgetting his legacy. This parallels Beowulf in the sense that it was vital to Beowulf to be remembered as a heroic king. It is Sir Bedivere that believes Arthur should be remembered. Arthur knows his people do not fully support him, yet I believe he understands the role of a king more than Beowulf does, making the two of them different in the end. Despite the fact that Arthur does not have the full support of his people, he still acts like a king, protecting and fighting for them. He acknowledges that a “king who fights his people fights himself” (1250), proving he understands the responsibilities of his title. He still has the obligation to care for his people even if they do not fully care for him. Beowulf in contrast swiftly abandons his people revealing that he does not possess all the qualities that make up a good king.

In summary, what I wanted to highlight what the contrast in how the two kings act in their final moments. Arthur dies nobly, despite the fact that he is generally disliked. Beowulf jumps the gun to end his life, yet is adored and admired by his people. In the end, Arthur makes a better king due to the fact that he, up to the end cares for his people, whereas Beowulf abandons his people, which is not very noble for a king.  


Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.37-80. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “Idylls of the King.” Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume E The Victorian Age.  New York: NY, 2012. Print.


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King Arthur vs Beowulf

When reading Idylls of the King I found that focusing on similarities between Beowulf and King Arthur was actually quite difficult. There are specific things about the two men that are similar, for instance the fame and the virtuousness and strength of their characters that is described but to me the key similarities lay in the intentions behind their actions.

When first reading Beowulf at the beginning of the year, I viewed his character in the way he was described; virtuous, kind hearted, and strong. However after reading Idylls of the King I no longer believe that his intentions were purely helpful. I believe there was a selfish element to his actions because it seems somewhat arrogant to travel to a foreign country to help a stranger you have never met and assume that they willow welcome your arrival with open arms. There are also no passages where Beowulf speaks as kindly to his followers as King Arthur speaks to his nights.

When reading Idylls of the King I truly believed that King Arthur is as virtuous as described. It seems that he wants to marry Guinevere because he truly loves her and that he wants to unite the kingdoms not to gain more power but to bring peace to the lands. Any time the Round Table is spoken of, it is said that all the knights have been taught good morals by King Arthur and that everyone is viewed as an equal. Even at the beginning of the poem, after Arthur has been crowned King he still “rode a simple knight among his knights” (51). Even after most of his friends have deserted him to fight for Modred, Arthur still claims that he loves his friends. He has kind words for Sir Bedivere even though Sir Bedivere does not follow his wishes. I feel that King Arthur should be viewed as unlike Beowulf rather than similar to him.

“Beowulf”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol A. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton Company & Inc, 2012. 36-108. Print

Tennyson, Alfred. “Idylls of the King”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol E. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton Company & Inc, 2012. 1237-1259. Print

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The Withering Visage of a King

In Idylls of the King, the changing seasons coincide with the rise and fall of Arthur. In contrast, Shelly’s Ozymandias depicts a “boundless and bare” (13) scene lost in the progressing sands that “stretch far away” (14). A timeless, rhythmic static represents the seasonless period of history where the wholeness of men erodes with time, and mighty faces become a “shattered visage” (4). But what sustains history? Is it only through the breath of fantasized fragments? I think there are always “fragments of forgotten people” (“The Passing of Arthur” 84) under the surface waiting to be rediscovered, and I think Tennyson’s endeavor to write an epic depicts how cycles of civilization map history.

King Arthur’s shattered face becomes a “withered moon” (381), “parched with dust” (386)—the fullness of his reign waning into the sands of nothing. Is fear of the forgotten face what drives kings to imprint themselves on materiality? Unlike Ozymandias, I think Arthur accepts the reality of fleeting bodily existence, and the cycle of civilization. He requests a barge so he may “vanish into light” (468) and “pass on” (467). He does not want his “shattered column” (389) to remain in fragments, because he would rather “come again” in the memories and breaths of future kings. His end yields place for the new year (469). Ozymandias comes across as much more vain, and a king unwilling to face his end and accept how sands of history will fade the marks of his existence. His imprint on stone becomes a “lifeless thing” (7), while Arthur survives through somber acceptance of his fall. Arthur requests Excalibur’s disposal because he does not want a lifeless thing to summarize and encapsulate his reign. Sir Bedivere lacks faith in Arthur’s decision, and questions the importance of a king’s “things”:

What record, or what relic of my lord

Should be to aftertime, but empty breath

And rumors of doubt? But were this kept

Stored in some treasure-house of might kings,

Some one might show it at a jousts of arms,

Saying, ‘King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur’ (266-271)

Hypothetically, the preservation of Excalibur would foreshadow the seasonless history in “Ozymandias.” The sword would transform into mighty work of despair (11).

Arthur has the desire to live “one life” (“The Coming of Arthur” 90) and reign “one will in everything” (91). In “The Coming of Arthur,” the knighthood’s song describes the hallowed existence of the King—anointed by the oneness of God,“[t]he King will follow Christ” (499). “Ozymandias” shadows the same tone. He is a “King of Kings” (10) who desires oneness; he fashions a statue to outlive his bodily existence and mark history with his essence. But like bodily existence, the whole body of history decays and renews in the “ever-shifting sand” (“The Passing of Arthur” 86). There is no “oneness” to history, but rather fragments and traces—an old statue eroding and yielding place for the new (“The Coming of Arthur” 508). Is history ever truly written, or is it only composed of traces fashioned to suit the current cultural context? In the case of Idylls of the King and “Ozymandias”, how do these writings of history appease the Romantics and Victorians? How would these texts change if written now?




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King Arthur and Beowulf: Parallels in incentives and the submission to fate, and contrasted in the nature and extent of their struggles.

English 340 A/B- Foundations: Literature in English from the Middle Ages to the Present

Dane Thibeault

February. 27, 2013

King Arthur and Beowulf: Parallels in incentives and the submission to fate, and contrasted in the nature and extent of their struggles. (Idylls of the King participatory Blog Post Assignment Submission)

A Response to the Discussion Question: How is Arthur like or unlike any of the other kings from the previous texts of study?

Arthur is ultimately distinguished from Beowulf (an example of a king addressed within a previous assigned text of study) in his obstacles encountered in asserting and proving his legitimacy, while conferring the loyalty of his subjects. Where Arthur is similar to Beowulf, is his yielding to fate, and his resolve to achieve his ambitions of consolidating grandeur and admiration. Thus, an aspiration of glory correlates Arthur with Beowulf, while the capacity to achieve it, on Arthur’s behalf is more complicated than is the case with Beowulf, who perishes having satisfied the unrelenting loyalty and devotion from his subordinates and subjects.

Arthur, within Tennyson’s text Idylls of the King, must surmount the adversity of simultaneously supressing a revolt waged against his authority by Modred, and confronting the adulterous betrayal of his steadfast associate Lancelot, and his cherished wife Guinevere. Beowulf, on the other hand, during his tenure as king of the Geats, is encountered with the perils of a malicious dragon, undermining the security of his subjects. Thus, both sovereigns within the texts of Idylls of the King and Beowulf are taxed by forces serving to undermine the stability of their dominions, prompting each of them to submit to a fate of death in directly engaging these impediments. In other words, each textual king assumes their premature demise, under the incentive of establishing their prominence and heroism, and protecting those under their governance. Arthur, however, exhibits arrogance uncharacteristic of Beowulf in insisting upon the disposal of his coveted sword Excalibur, so as to prohibit his subordinates and adversaries the ability to repeat his exploits, or sustain his established prosperity. Beowulf, to the contrary, acknowledges  the valiant Wiglaf’s prospects to carry on his legacy.

Where Arthur fundamentally differs from Beowulf is in his enduring struggles with a contested legitimacy, culminating into Modred’s rebellion conducted against him. Beowulf on the other hand, upon vanquishing Grendle, is bestowed with continuous praise and support. Thus, Arthur’s ambiguous lineage serves to compromise his conjuring of loyalty from his followers, in some respects ensuing in an enhanced adversity to that encountered by Beowulf. For instance, Arthur eventually experiences betrayals from those closest to him, including his subordinate regarded as most loyal, Lancelot, and the wife for which he expressed unwavering affinity, Guinevere, while Beowulf, prior to engaging the dragon in his concluding skirmish, must actually bid his followers to refrain from assisting him. In essence, while Beowulf and Arthur both serve to restore prosperity to the kingdoms featured in the settings of their respective texts, Beowulf in expelling Grendle from Hrothgar’s dominions, and Arthur in unifying the fractured kingdoms comprising Britain, Beowulf is not constantly faced with the stigma of constantly having to assert and affirm his identity and legitimacy. Ultimately, Beowulf must contend with supernatural forces alone, while Arthur must vanquish the forces of skepticism regarding his origins, and diminishing loyalty from his subjects and peers.

To conclude, Arthur is similar to the other kings chronicled within the assigned texts of study, in this case, Beowulf, in his commitment to yielding to fate to protect his subjects and consolidate glory, yet differs in the challenges to his legitimacy, and questionable origins that ultimately ensue in the undermining of the support from his subordinates, and the extent of his authority.


Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.37-80. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “Idylls of the King.” Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume E The Victorian Age.  New York: NY, 2012. Print.



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“That last weird battle”

Twice in Tennyson’s “Passing of Arthur” section of Idylls there’s the phrase “that last weird battle”: on lines 29 and 94. Then on line 444 the word recurs; “the weird rhyme.” What’s so weird about these things? (Aside from the weirdness you might be feeling about this poem.)

When you come across a word that doesn’t seem to fit its context, at least by our modern understanding, the answer usually lies in the Oxford English Dictionary. I keep it bookmarked, but you’ll need to log in to the UofC Library’s proxy server (or be on campus) before you can access it.

The OED tells me that “weird” is a noun, an adjective, and a verb. Since “battle” and “rhyme” are nouns, evidently Tennyson’s using it as an adjective. So when you click on meaning #2, you get this:

Screen Shot 2013-02-27 at 11.13.39

“Eureka!” you say (as one does), “So Tennyson means that the battle and the rhyme had something to do with Arthur’s fate or destiny.” And so they do, as you know from reading the poem: he meets his fated death in the battle, and the rhyme has something to do with his water-birth in “The Coming of Arthur,” page 1245.

Those who remember their Macbeth will know that the witches who forecast his fate are repeatedly called “the weird sisters.”

What does this have to do with our modern meaning of “weird”? It’s a word whose meaning has changed over the centuries, from specifically supernatural to (more generally) unusual or strange, out of the ordinary. You can see how the meanings are linked. It’s another example of how the history of words can help you understand how we use English today.

And if that subject interests you, I can recommend a great book I’ve been reading by the historical linguist David Crystal, The Story of English in 100 Words.

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Comparisons between King Arthur and Beowulf

Looking back on the texts we have studied this course, Beowulf is the one which stands out as having the most similarities with Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.  Each King follows an epic-type plotline, similar to those in Greek mythology: in both texts a hero is needed by a fellow kingdom to destroy a beast or monster that is ravaging the community.

I noted some important aspects of their character which represent the parallels between the Beowulf and King Arthur:

Reputation: Both Kings had a reputation of power and godliness as described in the following lines:

  • Beowulf “There was no one else like him alive. In his day, he was the mightiest man on earth, highborn and powerful.” (196-198)
  • King Arthur “Those who deem him more than man, and dream he dropped from heaven.” (181-182)

The Quest for a monster:

  • Beowulf travels from his own Kingdom to Heorot to try and kill Grendel: “Grendel was the name of this grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fens.” (102-103)
  • Beowulf  “All were endangered; young and old were hunted down by that dark death-shadow who lurked and swooped in the long nights on the misty moors.” (159-163)
  • While King Arthur travels to Cameliard in hope of destroying the beasts that live in the forest surrounding the court:“Many a beast therein, and none or few to scare or chase the beast; so that wild dog, and wolf and boar and bear came night and day, and rooted in the fields, and wallowed in the gardens of the King. (21-25).

Death: Beowulf and King Arthur are warriors, in a way both chose to die in battle beside their fallen comrades.

  • Beowulf “‘Fate swept us away, sent my whole brave highborn clan to their final doom. Now I must follow them.'”(2814-2816)
  • King Arthur “‘I perish by this people which I made…I am so deeply smitten through the helm that without help I cannot last till morn.'” (190-194)

arthurAlthough I listed the similarities between the two Kings (and stories) there are also aspects of their character which differ. For example, King Arthur’s lineage (and birth) is unclear and often speculated throughout this lifetime. Whereas Beowulf is known because of the Kingdom he was born into. A major plot of King Arthur’s story revolves around the sword Excalibur; although Beowulf relies on shields and armour, there is no specific weapon he choses to fight with. beowulf




These are just some of the similarities and differences I noticed while reading King Arthur. However, had we read the entirety of Idylls of the King, it is possible that the plots would differ more in the middle of the text than they did in The Coming of Arthur and The Passing of Arthur.



Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “Idylls of the King.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

N/A. “Beowulf.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print



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The Lady of Shalott and the ‘Cult of Dead Women’


I was going to include this video of the Lady of Shalott in my group five post on but after Dr. Ullyot showed a slide of the Waterhouse painting I figured that some intrepid googler would beat me to the punch to I decided to post it now just in case anyone wanted to hear the poem in addition to reading it. The animation of the painting is remarkably done but the song is very long so you might want to check out another video.

I have also includAYCBAIG_10313603317ed some other paintings from the Victorian Era of Ophelia, and one called Lady Lilith by Dante Rossetti, who was one of the more important of the MMA_IAP_1039650946Pre-Raphaelite painters.

These were part of what Dr. Adrian Kessler (U. of C) called ‘The Cult of Dead Women’ images that were popular with the Victorians.


Many of these paintings featured pale complexioned women with bright red/pink cheeks and were representations of the growing admiration for the pale, ephemeral beauty that women had when they had contracted tuberculosis, then called consumption.

This also shows up in Operas like Manon Lescaut  and La Boheme by Puccini and La Traviata where the main character dies at the end in the arms of hARMNIG_10313470355er lover (usually while singing a bloody difficult aria. The Victorians were fascinated by death. If you want to see some of the more macabre customs search hair jewelry and memento mori.






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Keat’s first stanza of Ode to a Nightingale required stopping and interpreting almost every word by definition and in context. I needed to read this over many times to understand the the mood set here, which also sets the mood for the rest of the poem. Also, there was a rhyme scheme to the poem which immediately created certain connections and relationships within each stanza.

The rhyme scheme of an ABAB quatrain and a CDECDE sestet suggested a shift in lines 4 and 5, which became very clear.

Keats seemed to have picked his words very deliberately as the first lines were very difficult to understand, particularly the paradox of numbness causing pain on his senses. The quatrain expands on his blurred and drunken state. From the quatrain alone, I had reached the conclusion that the mood was gloomy and disheartened.

However, the sestet changed my conclusion.

“Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness”

My interpretation of this led me to believe he envied the nightingale in being too happy. In this I heard echoes of Wordsworth in Tintern Abbey, where he spoke of being young and living in the moment, bounding over the hills, just as Keats’ nightingale is a female  tree spirit, which is associated with gentleness, and delicacy. There was a definite contrast of him as refined, closed and dull and the nightingale as wild, in the open and (by association) sharp.

Further, there is an association of natural colour, or lack thereof, in the nightingale and Keats.

“Of beechen green, and shadows numberless”.

The entire poem pulls particularly on Keat’s association with bleakness: gray, pale, dark with his own life. I felt the mood was an ebb of gloom and a flow of wonder. All of these elements were imbedded in my mind before I read the following stanza. The final two lines echo the first quatrain of the poem and tokenize the gloom and wonder binary mood.


Works Cited:

Keats, John. Ode to a NightingaleNorton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9thed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 927-929. Print.

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Embracing Duality in ‘Ode To a Nightingale’


Listening to the Nightingale
Listening to the Nightingale

The close reading that I demonstrate here of lines 21-40 from John Keats’ Ode To a Nightingale, began with my interest in the extent to which the knowledge of a writer’s background should influence the reading of a text. Although this is not the central point I intend to make, it was the general sense of Keats as an author that inspired my interest in this particular passage. The introduction for Keats provided in the Norton Anthology states that the “presentation of all experience as a tangle of inseparable opposites” is characteristic of Keats (903). It explains that “he is aware both of the attraction of an imaginative dream world without ‘disagreeables’ and the remorseless pressure of the actual” (903). Once I read through the poem, I found lines 21-40 to be a striking embodiment of the duality of experience, particularly as Keats’ communicates it through his use of repetition and metaphor.



‘Here,’ ‘Where’, ‘There’:

The repetition of ‘where’ at the start of each line in 25-29, was brought up in class in reference to Keats creating a list in the way that Wordsworth and Coleridge did in their poems. While I do agree that Keats is formulating a list of horrid experiences, I will suggest that there is a further significance to the repetition that is signalled by the use of ‘here’ in line 24. The immediate shift in his use that wherever ‘here’ is for Keats, it is precisely the place where all those bad things happen. He writes:

            What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret,

Here, where men sit and hear each other groan. (22-24)

Keats indicates that the nightingale has not experienced the unfortunate things that occur in the place he refers to before the shift and repetition. The emphasis on ‘here’ from the repetition creates distance between his reality and the nightingale ideal, as it indicates that he is referring to a place that is separate, if not remarkably different, from there.

The image Keats creates in lines 35-37 of the evening sky establishes a sense of serenity

Imagining the Ideal
Imagining the Ideal

in the ‘tender’ night. Unlike the common associations of night with terror or uncertainty, for Keats, the tender night is developed as the idealistic place opposed by darkness. He follows the graceful imagery of the sky with the statement, “But here there is no light,” in which ‘here’ signifies again that he is referring to a reality instead of an ideal (38). He writes that it is dark, “Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown/ Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways” (39-40). Keats’ association of the moonlight with heaven, and the fact that it does not readily shine through also displays opposition, as he creates distance between a heavenly ideal and ‘here.’

In both circumstances where he used ‘here’ to specify a particular place, Keats uses it in order to signal an unnatural state in opposition to the idealistic idea.


Metaphor and Meaning

Keats also creates distance between his experience and the nightingale’s experience through the use of metaphor. Throughout the poem, Keats uses drunkenness to symbolize freedom through imagination, and wine to symbolize inspiration. Being drunk is often associated with a diminished sense of reason and self-restraint; with forgetting, even if only for a moment, the grief of life; and with no consideration for consequences, leaving one completely free. Thus, Keats uses this metaphor to indicate his desire for his imagination to resemble that freedom. Keats writes that he will get to the ideal place, “not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,/ But on the viewless wings of Poesy” (32-33). Here, Keats indicates his desire to be inspired so that he may fly to a place free of the pains of reality.

In contrast however, he also writes “the dull brain perplexes and retards” (34). In this line, Keats reveals his understanding that despite the impressive capabilities of the imagination, he is aware of its limitations. He appreciates that the idealistic, imaginary world is attainable only to a certain degree, because he ultimately belongs to the realm of reality as a human being.



Keats embraces the Romantic notion of the sacredness of nature, and the rejuvenating power that it may have over the mind, However, his poem is eerie in that is creates a vast distance between what he believes is here and not here.

This passage exemplifies the characteristic presentation of opposition that was so uniquely accomplished by Keats. He acknowledges the necessary duality of experience that some are good and others are bad. More significantly, despite his desire to transcend the hostility and conflict created by the oppositions, and regardless of the degree to which he manages to do so, by virtue of his ‘dull brain’ (his humanness), he accepts that he cannot.

Works Cited

Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 927-929. Print.

“John Keats.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 901-903. Print.


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Floating on the “wings of Poesy” to an “easeful Death”: A Close Reading on John Keat’s “Ode to a Nightingale”

When reading John Keat’s “Ode to a Nightingale” I was instantly reminded of Percy Shelley’s “To a Sky-Lark”.  However, Shelley’s depiction of the bird (when he compares him to his poetry) is an optimistic and awe-inspired view while Keat’s ‘Ode to the Nightingale’ is a more morbid and defeated view (in simpler terms).  In stanza three Keat’s talks about a world that the nightingale is ignorant of: a world with “weariness, the fever, and the fret”, “where palsy shakes a few sad last gray hairs”, and “youth grows pale; spectre-thin, and dies” (lines 23 – 26.928). In the sixteenth stanza in Shelley’s ‘Sky-Lark’, Shelley provokes a similar theme of the “ignorance of pain” from the bird but as the poem continues Shelley proclaims that even if we were exempt from our feelings of “hate and pride and fear; if we were things born not to shed a tear” our joy would still not come near to the skylark’s (92 – 95.836).  To Shelley, the sky-lark becomes a symbol of a humble art form that has never been meddled with and Shelley wishes to strive for these qualities so that he can create “harmonious madness” (103.836).  Keats wants to escape the world by dissolving into the blissful ignorance of the nightingale:

And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known.

The theme of imagination and death are constantly interchanged as one theme through the nightingale.  This is seen in stanzas four, six, seven, and eight.  Keats begins by proclaiming that he wants to “fly to thee…on viewless wings of Poesy [imagination]” (31 – 33.928).  These lines are followed by, “though the dull brain perplexes and retards”, which sounds like Keats is talking about the decaying of his mind as he dives into the realm of imagination with the nightingale.  This is reflected back in the sixth stanza, when Keats describes his love for Death and how he [death] has been his muse for so long.  In this stanza in particular, the nightingale and Death become a gateway that leads Keats into imagination because as he listens to the bird sing, he realizes that “now more than ever [it] seems rich to die” and as he dies the nightingale would bring his soul into “such an ecstasy” where death and imagination are one and the nightingale sings (51 – 60. 929).  This is also reflected in the next (seventh) stanza when the nightingale is referred to as “immortal Bird” (61.929).  Again, the idea of imagination and the nightingale being one is played with in the last stanza (eight) when Keats is bidding the bird goodbye:

Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well

As she is fam’d to do, deceiving elf (73 – 74.929).

‘Fancy’ refers again to imagination and the noun ‘she’ is used to describe imagination but also the nightingale is described as a female (927).  In the last line of the poem when Keats asks the question: “Fled is that music: – Do I wake or sleep?”, he is not only questioning if he imagined the nightingale’s song but he is also questioning his own abilities of spontaneously creating art.  When he describes the nightingale as “buried deep” Keats is relating this to his own thoughts and visions that are now buried deeply in his mind and that he may or may not be able to reach with time.

Works cited:

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. To a Sky-lark. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Ninth Edition: The Romantic Period. Volume D. Comp. Deidre Shauna Lynch and Jack Stillinger. 1820. 834-836. Print.

Keats, John. Ode to a Nightingale.  Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. The Norton Anthology of English Literature Ninth Edition: The Romantic Period. Volume D. Comp. Deidre Shauna Lynch and Jack Stillinger. 1819. 927-929. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G3} | 1 Comment

Keats’ Hardships Reflected in his Poetry

The passage that I found extremely intriguing within John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” poem was lines 51-70. These two stanzas, in my opinion, are extremely representative of Keats’ actual life. It seems to me as though he is expressing a lot of the pain and sadness that he feels every day within reality. He also goes on in the second of these two stanzas to compare his own dreary life with that of a nightingale. He points out the fact that the bird  lives in a very pain-free manner, while he suffers day after day. A nightingale enjoys every minute of every day, while Keats only sees darkness and misery.

It is important to first of all point out that “Ode to a Nightingale” was written in the year 1819. At this time, John Keats had just returned from a long walking tour and had fallen quite ill with tuberculosis (902). This same disease had already killed other members of his family several years earlier; is it any wonder, based upon these facts, that Keats predicted his own demise in previous works of his before he ever even became sick (901-902)? One such passage in “Ode to a Nightingale” that particularly demonstrates the intense pain Keats feels is, “Darkling I listen; and, for many a time / I have been half in love with easeful Death” (51-52). Keats shows his readers here that he does not treasure anything in his life anymore. For him, there is nothing left to live for. Death has come to act as a friend to Keats, rather than as a feared enemy as it does to others, and he eagerly anticipates the day when he can embrace it.

John Keats then goes on to compare his own pain with that of the nightingale’s when he says:

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

In such an ecstasy! (55-58)

He is discussing here how death is a gift to him, but a nightingale “wast not born for death” (61) because it does not know the meaning of pain. It simply sings out its feelings for all to hear, and everything the bird has to say is of the happiness and purity of its life. Keats, on the other hand, does not have much to ‘sing’ about that would bring joy to himself and those around him. In fact, in the seventh stanza he describes the ‘song’ that he hears within his life as, “the self-same song that found a path / Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, / She stood in tears amid the alien corn” (65-67). In some ways, it appears as though Keats believes that the nightingale’s song is wasted on him, because he has “ears in vain” (59).

Overall, it appears that “Ode to a Nightingale” reflects the stark contrast between the life of a bird and that of John Keats’. He seems unable to understand the nightingale’s everlasting joy, just as the bird seems unable to comprehend the misery and darkness that invades Keats’ life daily. The author of this poem clearly does not see any hope, and uses the symbol of a nightingale to demonstrate to his readers how lost and alone he feels at this point in his life. However, it is interesting to ask ourselves whether Keats is jealous of the bird, or if he actually pities its joyful lifestyle. Has he come to accept and welcome misery as his fate, or does he yearn for a glimmer of hope in his life?

Works Cited:

Keats, John. “Ode to a Nightingale.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 927-929. Print.

“John Keats.” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 901-903. Print.


Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G3} | 6 Comments

On Shelley and Nature

DQ: How does Shelley use nature to define the poet’s craft?

It is apparent in Percy Shelley’s writings that he was influenced by the nature around him immensely. In both “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Sky-Lark” the focus is on nature and its beauty. It is this focus on the natural world that defines these two poems and many of his others. Shelley uses his admiration and curiosity of the natural world around him as a vehicle for his prose. His intricate and enthusiastic descriptions of the stars of his poems, the West Wind and Skylark, almost force the reader to long for nature and admire it as he does. He uses nature to capture the heart of the reader, perhaps stimulating a memory of nature long forgotten or a desire to be outside among Shelley’s influences. Shelley’s inspiration is clearly the world around him in both poems, but similarly, he involves his desires to be a successful poet in both.

Percy Shelley. A stud if I’ve ever seen one.

Shelley’s focuses on the natural world in “Ode to the West Wind”, particularly on the main character of the poem, the wind itself. After remarking on its many admirable qualities, he expresses his desire that it should help spread his prose; “Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth / Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!” (66-67) This quote is interesting as he seems to be playing with the reader. They are indeed reading his poem about the West Wind, so really, the wind did in fact spread his word, just not in the physical sense one might visualize from the poem.

The free-flowing wind.

In “To a Sky-Lark” Shelley again speaks of his desire to capture an aspect of his subject to use to his advantage. Like the wind, he wishes for an attribute of the Skylark, its happiness. He reasons that granted even half the gladness of a sky-lark, that; “Such harmonious madness / From my lips would flow / The world should listen then – as I am listening now.” (103-105) Shelley obviously admires the subject of his stories, but is he perhaps almost jealous of the ease in which they succeed at their purposes? The West Wind flows through with ease, and the skylark seems endlessly happy, singing its beautiful songs. Shelley also compares the song of the skylark to that of a poet; “Like a Poet hidden / In the light of thought” (36-37). Perhaps he sees some of himself in his subjects, and nature itself.

The enviable skylark.


Works Cited

Shelley, Percy B. “Ode to the West Wind.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 791-93. Print.

Shelley, Percy B. “To a Sky-Lark.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 834-36. Print.

Posted in 1: DQ Response, {G4} | 4 Comments

Poets, Engage Senses!!!

I had an instructor who defined authors as those who “acutely observe the world in a unique and interesting way,” a definition that I still think of to this day when I read and write.  However, I do not think Shelley would find this definition adequate.  Though the romantic poets were certainly interested in solitary, specific observation, poems such as “To a Skylark” (834) suggest that Shelley seeks to inspire an emotion that is more pure, complex, and fulfilling than simple observation.  More specifically, he strives for poetry that transcends the creator and engages the reader with a full sensory experience that reveals a truth.


Shelley is particularly interested in subjects like the skylark.  A skylark is a small bird that flies at great heights, and is often hard for us to see.  However, the skylark will only sing while flying, so for a person on the ground, this bird’s song seemingly comes from the heavens and lasts only a minute or two.  The hidden yet heard aspect of the skylark’s song fascinates Shelley, and he directly compares the bird to “a poet hidden / in the light of thought” (36-37).  This quotation suggests that the thoughts inspired by the bird’s song are so dazzling that they obscure the bird from view, while also paralleling a sense of hearing with a sense of sight.  Like the skylark, Shelley too is a creator obscured from view.  All his readers see are words on the page, and he needs to find a way to capture their attention and expand the range of senses he can stimulate.  Therefore, in the following 4 stanzas, he continually compares the art of poetry to objects that are hidden, yet stimulate the senses.  For instance, a “high-born maiden / In a palace tower” passes the time with “music” (41-42, 45) and a “rose embowered / In its own green leaves” is praised for its “scent” (51-53).  Though these things are not seen by the observer, they are experienced, and it is this experience that Shelley believes a poet should capture.

Wordcloud of the entirety of Shelley's "To a Sky-Lark."  Created through the tool voyant (
Wordcloud of the entirety of Shelley’s “To a Sky-Lark.” Created through the tool voyant (

However, while these frequent comparisons emphasize the range of senses captured by a true poet, they also express an inadequacy on the part of Shelley.  In total, the word “like” is used within the poem eight times (8, 15, 18, 32, 36, 41, 46, 51), making it the most used word in the text (apart from words like “a,” “it” and “the”).  It is as if Shelley is struggling to come up with a simile that fully expresses the depth of feeling induced by the skylark’s song.  In fact, behind the entire poem is a sense of regret reach the purity of emotion that the skylark has.  He cannot “scorn / Hate and pride and fear” as the skylark does because he is human, and therefore haunted by things like “loves sad satiety” (80).  Even the form of the poem, with its even trochaic beat and repeating rhyme scheme (ABABB), replicates a song in another failed attempt to mimic the skylark.

The skylark is a natural creature of instinct and spontaneity, and no matter how many times Shelley demands the bird “teach (him)” the true art of creating (61, 101), he can never achieve the pure sense and depth of joy reflected on the recipients of the skylark’s song.  Kind of a pessimistic outlook for a poet, isn’t it?


Works Cited

Shelley, Percy B. “To a Sky-Lark.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 834-36. Print.


Posted in 1: DQ Response, {G4} | 5 Comments

Inspiration on the Winds

Considering the days of Percy Shelley’s youth, one can hardly expect Shelley to have a passive attitude towards his own craft. According to the Norton’s biography of the poet, Percy Shelley entered adolescence and adulthood with a rather pessimistic attitude towards the inhumanity that has been inflicted upon fellow men and he “dedicated his life to a war against injustice and oppression” (748-49). Therefore, it only makes sense that he viewed his poems, and those of his contemporaries, as philosophical dialogues, as manifestations of passion, and as political statements. In his poems, “Ode to the West Wind” and “To a Sky-Lark,” Shelley uses imagery and allegory from the natural world in order to define the poet’s craft.

In “To a Sky-Lark,” Shelley, in order to define the bird, says the lark is “Like a Poet hidden / In the light of thought” (36-37) which, in turn is “Like a high-born maiden In a palace tower” (41-42). Interchangeably, the poet must be comparable to the lark. The poet’s beauty is hidden, but like the lark and the maiden, the poet and his craft become more beautiful because it is hidden.

A Sky Lark. Only sings while flying and is known for flying at great heights. Kind of freaky looking though

The poet “[sings] hymns unbidden, Till the world is wrought To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not” (38-40). Shelley uses this comparison with the lark to show that no one will ever ask a poet to “sing” and hardly ever will they receive thanks, but when a poet does practice his craft, it becomes a window or creates a perspective that will open the eyes of humanity.

In “Ode to the West Wind,” describes the strong autumn breeze taking away the dead material of winter to make way for spring. In the notes, the editors make mention that this description is significant because Shelley had considered liberty having left Europe for North America. By including this wind from the west, Shelley hopes “the wind my carry liberty back again” (791). This contextualizes the poem as highly political, but also is symbolic to the individual (the poet) also. In the poem, Shelley creates an external and natural depiction of clearing out the old, dead, and dusty. He matches this imagery with an “inner change, a burst of creative power that is paralleled to the inspiration of prophets” (791).  This “inner change” is Shelley’s description of the poetic process. Shelley considers a poet to be an instrument that is merely played. “Make me thy lyre” (57) the poet begs of the west wind. Just as an instrument cannot be played without the musician, a poet cannot write without a cause, without inspiration.

It is the poet’s duty to inspire. Whether he is inspiring hopes or fears, it is his role to receive inspiration in his turn and to interpret it. A poets craft is always in motion, always changing, like the wind, or a bird, or the changing of the seasons. “The trumpet of prophecy! O, Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” (69-70)


Shelley, Percy B. “Ode to the West Wind.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 791-93. Print.

Shelley, Percy B. “To a Sky-Lark.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 834-36. Print.

Posted in 1: DQ Response, {G4} | 2 Comments

Using nature as a tool…

How does Shelley use nature to define a poet’s craft?

While nature is a major focus in Percy Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, he uses nature as a tool (with the help of metaphors/ symbols) to express his imagination, represent his desires and  to create inspiration. This idea was inspired by Percy in Defense of poetry, where he states that “poetry, in a general sense may be defined to be “the expression of the imagination” …. [where] man is an instrument … of external and internal impressions…” (857).

In Ode to the West Wind, Percy looks to nature as a tool to assist him in his work of poetry through five different stanzas.

The first stanza focusses on the dying of the “yellow, and black, and pale and hectic red” autumn leaves that the West Wind carries from the death of Fall to the birth of “sweet buds” in Spring (791). The West Wind takes on a cycle of being the “destroyer and preserver” which allows for death and regeneration to happen. The following two stanzas (2 and 3), focus on the “loose clouds” (791) and blue Mediterranean” sea (792). The fourth stanza is where Percy embodies wind and wants to take on its power as “a wave, a leaf, [or] a cloud” to disseminate his work in place of feeling immobilized by “chain[s]” (793).

The leaf metaphor is used specifically to symbolize the similarity of spreading “among man-kind” the blowing leaves by the West Wind, and the blowing leaves as pages in a book. Percy wants his “words” to be blown “among man-kind” much the same way the leaves are carried by the West Wind(793).

Percy uses his imagination, in addition to nature by comparing leaves as book pages, and autumn leaves to express not only the beauty of nature but also to create inspiration by spreading his desires and work to awaken those on earth.


Shelley, Percy B. “A Defence of Poetry.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 869. Print.

Shelley, Percy B. “Ode to the West Wind.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 791-93. Print.

Posted in 1: DQ Response, {G4} | 1 Comment

What a Poetic Thought! Poets are Vessels!

Discussion Question: How does Shelley use nature to define the poet’s craft?

At the end of his piece A Defence of Poetry, Percy Shelley wrote “poet’s are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration” (869). Assuming that nature is one of the possible “unapprehended” inspirations, Shelley believed that poets are the expositors or “legislators of the World” and of esoteric principles (869). Therefore, we could argue that Blog Entryhe interpreted poets as vessels for nature, among other things.

Interesting term for a man who was atheist.

In his poem Ode to the West Wind, Shelley seems to allegorise the role of the poet as a vessel. Shelley used wind as a multiple layered piece of inspiration. The first three parts explore nature in autumn and the changes it permits. This is done through the use of multiple natural phenomenons being described, but most importantly through the use of the West Wind.  By the fourth canto, Shelley’s use of first person entertains the possibility of a shift in the poem’s focus to the speaker rather than the Wind.

In the fifth and last canto, it is clear that Shelley focuses on the role of the poet.

The speaker starts the canto asking to be made into the wind’s “lyre”, or into an instrument that responds to the “tameless” wind (793). Then the speaker asks for the wind’s “spirit” to become his, or to embody the wind. He hopes for the wind to remove all distracting thoughts from his mind and to allow him to be a vessel for the wind, as his “lips” could preform the wind’s “harmonies” among the “unawakened Earth” (793).

“Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere; / Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!” (791)

Shelley does define the poet’s craft through the use of nature in Ode to the West Wind. The poet’s craft and role erupts from the hierophant ability to expose, embody, and entertain nature. The poet is pleading to take in the inspiration around him, to be lifted as “a wave, a leaf, a cloud”  by the West Wind (793). The poet can become like instruments, like a lyre or a trumpet, for nature. A poet’s craft involves interpreting and creating a voice for the inspirations – in this case nature – it is intertwined with. From his words, Shelley also develops that a poet and their craft can awaken the Earth with their visions and “prophecy” from nature (793). A poet can use inspiration from nature, as Shelley did with the West Wind, and turn it into a revelation as a hierophant would. Through this interpretation and voice the craft of a poet gives substance and apprehension of their inspiration.

Shelley seems to be happy within nature in this moment from the film Gothic (1986). (Click image for link to imdb)

Percy Shelley was a vessel and captured nature in his works. He is an example of what The Ode to the West Wind and A Defence of Poetry explain and interpret – a poet who was a vessel and hierophant for nature.


Here’s some cool links if you’re into fun stuff related to Shelley:

  • If you have a tumblr. and like Percy Shelley you could follow Bysshe for quotations or fun gifs like the one above.
  • If you want to see a video about the Keats-Shelley House and a little history you can click here.
  • If you’d like to listen to an audio recording of Ode to the West Wind you can click here.


“Hierophant.” Def. 2. Oxford English Dictionary. 2012. OED Online. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.

Percy Shelley in Gothic (1986). Digital image. N.p., 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.

Shelley, Percy B. “A Defence of Poetry.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 869. Print.

Shelley, Percy B. “Ode to the West Wind.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature.Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 791-93. Print.

Wind and Nature. Digital image. N.p., 2012. Web. 28 Jan. 2013.

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The Beauty and the Hardship

To me The Prelude is like a diary for Wordsworth of all of his memories as a young boy growing up with nature.  Throughout this poem he commonly describes the innocence and freeness of a himself as a child and how he and nature have intertwined to become one. This then becomes an expression of his past, present and future self that nature is a force acting as a guide in his life.

This particular passage that I have choosen shows the beauty and hardships of nature and the connection with it.


Wisdom and spirit of the universe,

Thou soul that art the eternity of thought,

That giv’st to forms and images breath

And everlasting motion- not in vain,

By day or star-light, thus from my first dawn

Of childhood dids’t thou intertwine for me

The passions that build up our human soul,

Not with the mean and Vulgar works of man,

But with high objects with enduring things,

with life and Nature, purifying thus

The elements of feeling and thought,

And sanctifying by such discipline

Both pain and fear, until we recognize

A grandeur in the beatings of the heart. (428-441)

In this passage there is an immediate connection to Wordsworth himself and some greater force known as nature. He feels this force gives meaning and purpose to his life by giving him these great mental images which the becomes a powerful source to live with reference to the word “breath” (430). The poem then goes on to talk about the intertwining of childhood and nature, and how Wordsworth feels that this deep connection with nature has built “up [his] human soul” (434). This reflects that nature becomes the parental figure and guiding force instilling certain values and morals within him. This idea is further re-established when you shows the ability that nature has to purify “feelings and thought” (438) as if it acts as cleanse to the spirit and soul from any blemish upon him.  This force of nature is constantly shifting and changing throughout the poem as if it is something that he never wants to let go and eventually accepts to become apart of him. This preception of nature that Wordsworth displays is touching but in it’s own way leaves a sense of “pain and fear” (440) within him that he accepts.


Nor was this fellowship vouchsafed to me

With stinted kindness. In November days,

When vapours rolling down the valleys made

A lonely scene more lonesome, among the woods

At noon, and’ mid the calm of summer nights

When by the margin of the trembling lake

Beneath the gloomy hills I homeward went

In solitude, such intercourse was mine- (442-449)

This second half of the section I have chosen reflects the negative aspect to the connection with nature. Wordsworth commonly depicts his connection and love for nature as something “lonely” (445) and “lonesome” (445) leaving him with this feeling of “solitude” (449). In that even in the beauty of the image that he paints in our minds of these “vapours rolling down the valleys” (444) or “the calm of a summer nights” (447) there is a strong sense of isolation and sadness. In that choosing this love of nature has made him an isolated lonely person.

To me this section reflects the idea of sadness, that he feels this need and love for nature but by connecting to it and absorbing himself into it, he is also very alone and unable to connect to man. This idea with the inability to connect to man is also shown with his description of the works of man as “mean and vulgar” (435). This shows the inability for Wordsworth to accept man due to the power and influence of nature taking over and forming his soul and spirit.  

I feel like nature itself is presented in a beautifu
l and pristine way through Wordsworth’s words. However I don’t think we understand the hardship that he had to endure to make this great connection that we see. It is as though Wordsworth has let nature into himself to shape him into the man that he is but has also accepted this isolation from humanity. I think it is sad that this man who is able to connect and find peace within nature is unable to do so around individuals of his own kind.


 Wordsworth, William. The 1805 Prelude Book First. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.


“Solitude”. “Find a Therapist. Jan 21 2013.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G1} | 7 Comments


Is childhood a time where we are deeply connected to nature?  Wordsworth reflects upon his childhood when his mind is so intertwined with nature that it is continuously in his thoughts.

After I had seen 

That spectacle, for many days my brain

Worked with a dim and undetermined sense

Of unknown modes of being.  In my thoughts

There was a darkness- call it solitude

Or blank desertion – no familiar shapes

Of hourly objects, images of trees,

Of sea or sky, no colours of green fields,

But huge and mighty forms that do not live

Like living men moved slowly through my mind

By day, and were the trouble of my dreams. (Wordsworth, 365)

Wordsworth’s thoughts were composed of emotions after seeing a huge cliff one evening, this was a connection that he had made with nature.  This connection Wordsworth felt with nature was so strong that he had “trembling hands” (412) when he was leaving the sight of the cliff.   Even after the sight of the cliff was over, he still had lingering feelings about the scenery.  Wordsworth felt a sense of darkness and loneliness after simply seeing a huge cliff.  His innocence in the lack of knowledge about the cliff gave him the motive to associate the “huge” cliff to “mighty forms that do not live like living men” (424-25) and these were the thoughts that appeared in his mind and even seemed to trouble him.

His childhood allowed him to see the cliff in a different light than when he was an adult due to the innocence that he possessed.  He connected with nature in a way that only a child could experience because he was still young and pure.  The cliff itself was not described into full details, but the passion that it evoked was the connection that the child had with nature.  In the eyes of the child, nature provided him with thoughts that resounded even into his dreams.

The connection the young Wordsworth had with nature was that even after the sight of the cliff had passed, the thought and feelings he felt from nature was still constantly on his mind and affected his thinking.

The notion of childhood’s relationship with nature raises a question of whether it was only during the Romantic Period that childhood possessed that deep connection with nature or can we have such an intimate consciousness of nature in our present times as well?


Wordsworth, William. The 1805 Prelude Book First. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

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Nature’s Guide

Wordsworth continually focuses on the idea of nature being its own, its permanent, free, growing, and moving, on its own. At the beginning of The Prelude Book First Wordsworth describes the nature of nature, and the nature of himself as a child, and choosing a guide.

The earth is before me- with a heart

Joyous, nor scared at its own liberty,

I look about, and should the guide I chuse

Be nothing better than a wandering cloud

I cannot miss my way. I breathe again- …

Long months of ease and undisturbed delight

Are mine is prospect. Whither shall I turn

By road or pathway, or through open field,

Or shall a twig or any floating thing

Upon the river point me out my course? (Wordsworth, 356)

This passage contains an ironic mixture of simplicity and complexity within not only the changing lives of humans, but also through the revelation of the Romantic Period.

First off this passage shows the beauty and simplicity in nature, with the statement of “a wandering cloud” brings to mind the serenity of a day out in nature, no boundary’s for containment. The idea of nature as free, and choosing no path represents the ideas of the Romantic period; simply connecting with nature and not focusing on the time or your personal being within societies crazy construct.

The idea also that children are less a part of societies construct also stands out in this passage. Wordsworth reflects continually on his childhood and how the only guide he needed in life was the “road or pathway”, walking through “open field”, or using a “twig or any floating thing upon the river” to guide him. The childlike innocence and absence from society seems to allow a stronger connection with nature.

Back in the Romantic Period, what was the difference between a child’s connection and an adults connection to nature?

How about now-a-days?

Is using nature a smart guide for life and choices?

Wordsworth, William. The 1805 Prelude Book First. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

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Wordsworth: The Purity of Human Nature

As we discussed in class, the language of the Romantic Period as a whole was marked by its shift away from the elaborate, baroque style to one in the tongue of common man. Through the deliberate choice of everyday diction, both Wordsworth and Coleridge go against the elaborate forms and figures of speech that dominated much of 18th century English poetry.

In the preface, Wordsworth argues that the vernacular language of commoners, “being less under the influence of social vanity”, conveys “feelings and notions in simple and unelaborated expressions” (295). Hence the language used by the “humble and rustic” people was “a far more philosophical language” and more sincerely expressed universal human feelings.

Wordsworth goes on to point out that their poems depict “incidents and situations from common life” (294) with a shift of focus to elements such as peasants, children, rustic country settings and the pure state of nature. By doing so, the poets broke past the Neo-Classical restricts on the choice of poetic subject matters, which were usually confined to the lives of kings, queens, nobles and life in the city. Furthermore Wordsworth maintains that the very purpose of poetry is to offer access to the emotions within human memories and to provide pleasure through the uncontaminated expression of feeling.

This overall style remains consistent throughout his works, including the poem simply known as Tintern Abbey.The language throughout the monologue stands out for its simplicity and directness as the poet speaks frankly in plainspoken manner, thus making it easy to understand (even today in 2013). Wordsworth focuses on the subjects of childhood, memory and its preservation. This along with the religious references, rustic symbols (of cottages, orchards trees) depict the beauty of humanity’s connection with nature.

Therefore am I still

A lover of the meadows and the woods,

And mountains; and of all that we behold

From this green earth; of all the mighty world

Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,

And what perceive; well pleased to recognize

In nature and the language of the sense,

The anchor of my purest thoughts… (Wordsworth 291)


Through his interconnectedness with nature, Wordsworth finds an inspirational harmony and outlines how his senses (“of eye and ear”) are the building blocks of his consciousness.

What strikes me most about his work overall is the focus on the human mind and it’s appreciation of the solace that imagination and memories provide. Wordsworth’s emphasis on the basic but very universal theme of human nature along with his simplistic, modest approach is what makes his writing not only relevant but an almost natural pleasure to study today.

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Simplicity and Imagination Reflected

I do find that the principles stated in William Wordsworth’s Preface are reflected in his poems. I was particularly interested in the idea of simplicity brought forth in the beginning of his preface. Wordsworth made it clear that he was against the fancy decorum of his time’s poetry and believed in using the language of everyday men in order to entice them. In order to appeal to the common man, he stated that he must affirm that he was “flesh and blood” by becoming familiar with his readership. This was carried out by his poetry’s overall simplicity (297).

William Wordsworth looked to the rural life to make his poem’s familiar. He did so by writing about nature in Tintern Abbey, such in lines 68-69: “I bounded o’er the mountains, by the sides/Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams”. Wordsworth mentioned in his preface that the “passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent of forms of nature” (295). So by writing about nature, he formed a connection between his desired readership and himself, as it was a familiar subject to the both of them.

Although Wordsworth aimed to use simple language, he did not mean his work to be dull in the least. As stated on page 295, he meant to add a “colouring of imagination” to his work to balance out the simplicity of the diction. This imagination came in the form of turning ordinary things, such as sleep, into extraordinary concepts. In Wordsworth’s poem A slumber did my spirit seal on page 307, he managed to turn the simple act of sleeping into a metaphysical state in which the soul seems untouchable by things like “earthly years” (307).

Wordsworth argued that using simple language rather than the fluffy diction used by his contemporaries was a superior way to writing poetry. He was successful in blending his preface’s theories into his work. He accommodated both imagination and comprehensible language, as were his intentions in the Preface to his poems.

Wordsworth, William. Preface to Lyrical Ballads. p.293-298. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

Wordsworth, William. Lines. p.290. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

Wordsworth, William. A slumber did my spirit seal. p.307. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

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On Revisiting Wordsworth, January 16, 2013.

I first read Wordsworth several years ago while attending a poetry class at Mount Royal. His poetry was presented with very little context, history, or elaboration. The class focused on three sonnets: “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802,” “London, 1802,” and “Steamboats, Viaducts, and Railways.” The poems were read, technical details discussed, and along with a small selection of Romantic poetry from other poets, the professor summed up this style as “presenting man’s emotions through nature, or finding a connection to the sublime through nature.” While this seems like an alright glossing of most romantic poetry, it failed to connect with me at all, and we moved onward to much more interesting (sorry Wordsworth fans) poetry – Eliot, Williams, Ginsberg, Cohen, Kroetsch…

While I doubt I’ll ever find myself re-re-reading Wordsworth for pleasure, (and as Wordsworth agrees, poetry is about pleasure) the preface to Lyrical Ballads, certainly allowed for a greater appreciation of his work.

The most interesting, and paradigm challenging idea in his preface, regards the language of poetry. He states the goal of his poetry is to see “how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a poet may rationally endeavor to impart” (Wordsworth 293). Wordsworth calls for a change in diction, but seems content with form. The preface may be for a different book, but this ‘goal’ is certainly presented in his sonnets. In “London, 1802,” he strictly adheres to the form of a sonnet – fitting to its ‘metrical arrangement’ – but presents the disagreeable and selfish industrial England with a simple and unmistakable metaphor: “she [England] is a fen / Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,” (Wordsworth 346).

Within “Lines,” there is the same setup: Wordsworth presents a simplistic diction, within a rigid, customary structure. Simply reading the first 5 lines of the poem presents this clearly:

Five years have past; five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a soft inland murmur. – Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

                              (Wordsworth 288)

     The diction in these section is so simple, it requires no explanation or close reading. Wordsworth is stating exactly what he is trying to say. In these 5 lines, as occurs in the rest of the stanza, Wordsworth constantly repeats himself (5 years, ‘again’) and matter-of-factly describes the landscape in front of him. There are no metaphors, no need for the reader to try and analyze what is being said by untangling dense diction. In contrast to this subversive style of language within poetry, Wordsworth uses immaculate iambic pentameter. Each of these first 5 lines, as does nearly every line in “Lines,” contains 10 syllables, 5 stressed and 5 unstressed. Within “Lines,” Wordsworth has certainly achieved his goal for poetry that he outlined in his preface, using the ‘real language of men,’ and ‘fitting to metrical arrangement.’

There are certainly moments within “Lines,” when the poem can become vague and unclear. I admit by choosing the first 5 lines of the poem in my example above I chose an oversimplified moment – the lines are simply an observance of nature and nothing more. It’s when nature and human emotion are connected that the poem can seem more intricate.  Yet, Wordsworth’s design to abandon dense poetic language is not compromised because of this intricacy. Consider the final stanza of “Lines.” It is not within the diction, which remains fairly simple, but within the relationship between Wordsworth and his sister, and the intangible ideas of ‘thoughts,’ ‘memory,’ and ‘heart,’ in which the complexity arises. In other words, it is because of human emotion, and the enigmatic and indefinite concepts of the ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ that “Lines” has any sort of depth, and not because of Wordsworth’s choice of language. Wordsworth definitely maintains the simplistic use of language he defined within the preface to Lyrical Ballads. In reading this preface, I have gained a new appreciation for his work – it seems to be from this push for a new poetic language, that the modern poetry I find pleasure in has emerged.

Wordsworth, William. Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

Wordsworth, William. Lines. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

Wordsworth, William. London, 1802. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

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Striking Chords with Wordsworth

The fact that Wordsworth had this vision about he wanted to take his poetry, and had the bravery and ability to initiate a whole new era of Romanticism is incredibly admirable.  He led the way into a time in which it was encouraged to freely express pure emotion without the constraints of stiff regulations on what a work must consist of.  He helped change so much. Wordsworth forced himself to stand by his opinion by writing a Preface to the Lyrical Ballads in which he stated that that poetry should be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” (293) and it should not be hindered in any way by what someone else expects it to be.   His Preface clearly “denies the traditional assumption that the poetic genres constitute a hierarchy” and also rejects the requirement for poets to “arrange matters so that the subject and its level of diction conform to the status of the literary kind on a poetic scale” (292). By declaring this in his Preface, Wordsworth has no choice but to follow through with his claims in his future work, and I believe he succeeded in that endeavor. He felt it was necessary to express raw emotion in the form of poetry, because what could be more humanly natural than that? “For to treat the subject with the clearness and coherence” of which he believed it susceptible, “it would be necessary to give a full account of the present state of the public taste” (294).  In fact, he often focused on writing such clear and coherent accounts through his personal memories about the beauty of nature and the emotions that nature evoked from him throughout his lifetime.

Wordsworth does so much of what I can only dream of doing with his poetic writing, especially when he writes about the beauty of nature.  He manages to find a way to take the reader right into his world as if they were there seeing and experiencing it for themselves.  He writes poetry with simplicity.  He doesn’t allow his “overflow of powerful feelings” (295) to get caught up in the format of the poem or the proper meter.  One of my favourite parts of his poem Lines was when he wrote “While here I stand, not only with the sense/Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts/That in this moment there is life and food for future years” (62-65, 290). The way he lives is basically a summary of the way he writes.  He writes of the present pleasure he is feeling and knows that that moment in his life will one day provide pleasure again, and by choosing to write in the style that he does, he captures this pleasure in his Lyrical Ballads.

I think it’s probably obvious that I think Wordsworth was a wise man.  I think he was brilliant because, as I’ve previously mentioned, when I read his poetry he takes me right there with him, wherever the setting may be. He makes me feel what he feels. Specifically in his poem Lines, there is just something about his words that are so honest and simple that makes me feel very comfortable.  He’s not trying to use language that is way over the reader’s head, he’s not trying to be poetically extravagant, and he’s not writing to impress anyone.  He’s writing emotion from his soul… pure unadulterated emotion.  He says in his Preface that he chooses “incidents and situations from common life” and then “relates or describes them, throughout, as far as possible, in a selection of language really used by men” (294).  It is through this style of writing that he is able to reach other humans on a personal level who he 1) has never even met and 2) are living hundreds of years after him.  You would think that would be hard to do.  It’s hard to be honest; it’s almost easier to adhere to a set of guidelines so that you don’t have to put your heart and mind out there in the open for other people to pick apart.  I admire his style so much because in the world of literature, let’s be real, there are a lot of snobs.  Literature can be full of pretention, full of  ‘better than thou’ attitudes; full of anything that will make those who write and read it feel elite and superior to those who do not. But art, in my mind, has always been about expressing yourself. The fact that there are people who believe art or literature specifically needs to be fit into a rigid box of rules seems nonsensical.  Art is meant to be from the heart, so how can one put a limit or guidelines on that?

A recent quote that I’ve come across recently perfectly sums up my opinion of Wordsworth’s writing. Tia Azulay said that “poetry is an attempt to capture the essence of the chord struck in the poet by an instant of insight, in such a way that the same music will sound in the soul of the reader.” I feel that Wordsworth succeeded in resonating with the reader on a personal level, and he did it by writing about normal life in a normal way. He sure struck a chord with me.

Wordsworth, William. Preface to Lyrical Ballads. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

Wordsworth, William. Lines. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.





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Wordsworth: true to his word

As we have previously discussed in class, the Romantic period was a definite literary movement and Wordsworth is clearly its spokesman. In his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, he boldly criticises the limitations of literary past and asserts that his plan for the future of it is embedded in simplicity. Above all, Wordsworth is primarily a poet and he does not express much interest in in-depth literary criticism. However, he is still concerned about the issues that arise around the subject of poetry in general as well as the type of poetry he is set on producing. Wordsworth demonstrates his interest (and success) in revamping old expression and creating a new literary experience for readers that is more accessible in its language, subject, and minimalism. Wordsworth sees poetry as an expression of human self in crisis and any following reaction. In the Preface, Wordsworth justifies the experimental and revolutionary nature of his Lyrical Ballads and other poetic works by introducing his philosophy on what poetry is: “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”(295), and encourages reflection on nature and the usage of simple language within it to broaden the audience of readers. Wordsworth also contemplates on the nature of the poet, a “man speaking to men” who has “a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul”(299).

One of the main principles of Wordsworth’s Preface is the notion that nature never ceases to stimulate creativity and should have a special role in all good poetry. It is evident that his own personal feelings towards nature were predominant in his work – a staggering amount of his passages are directly related to or at least suggestive when it comes to nature themes. He takes delight in contemplating nature and this arguable stimulated his poetic ambitions – in Preface, he argues that “the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature”(295). Wordsworth’s sentiment towards simplicity is not only expressed in his diction but also his subject matters – by doing so, he believes his work will appeal to, and affect, a wider range of people. He aims to “choose incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them…in a selection of language really used by men; and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination”(294-5). In Book 1 of Prelude, Wordsworth describes the joy one can find in the discovery of a “beauteous stream” that makes “ceaseless music through the night and day”(273-4.362), or the serenity of a fresh imperfectly worked field. Wordsworth’s fondness goes far beyond his musings of it – he often personifies it, uses it in metaphor, or exemplifies it to justify human behaviour or emotion.

Wordsworth sees his work in poetry as somewhat of a revolution – he rejects the customs and traditions of poets who have preceded him and urges future writers to reconsider their writing style and mannerisms. He proposes he will “imitate” and “adopt the very language of men”(297), in order to keep the reader “in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that by so doing I shall interest him”(297). Essentially, Wordsworth places value in making his poetry personal and more relatable – a far cry from the somewhat distant and withdrawn (though eloquent) poetic works of his predecessors. He rejects the usage of flowery and unnecessary poetic diction that can be confusing or off-putting to readers who are not as well-educated as the author. Wordsworth favours simplicity in style and technique – this much is evident throughout Prelude, for example. In Preface, he asserts that prose too, has its place in poetry. Much of Wordsworth’s works do not follow a rhyme scheme, constant rhythm, or adhere to the laws of metre. By doing so, he believes his poetry will be more accessible and appealing.

Lastly, a large portion of Preface is dedicated to Wordsworth’s notions on what it truly means to be a poet – a topic he also addresses in some of his poems, particularly Book 1 of Prelude, where lines 142 to 156 are dedicated solely to this question. Wordsworth describes the poet as a troubled ‘creature’ who “fits when he is neither sick nor well, / Though no distress be near him but his own / Unmanageable thoughts”(147-9.359). This relates to Book 1 of Prelude, where Wordsworth similarily describes the poet as somewhat of a rare breed, the type of man who is more sensitive or aware than what is “supposed to be common among mankind”(299).  The poet then, essentially, is a reflection of the common man in a more educated or well-versed light. The ideal poet considers nature and man as adjusted to each other, so that the “mind of man as naturally the mirror of the fairest and most interesting qualities of nature”(301).  Wordsworth’s reoccurring focus on the importance of nature reveals the three ideas he considers most important: attention to nature and its relationship to man, simplicity in both topic and schematics, and the very essence of the poet as a crafter and human being.

Examples from Preludereveal Wordsworth to have adhered to the guidelines and suggestions he himself outlined in Preface. The principles he preaches are reflected in his work – as a poet, Wordsworth remained true to his word.


Preface to Lyrical Ballads, William Wordsworth. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

The 1805 Prelude: Book First, William Wordsworth. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

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The Prelude to the Prelude

The Prelude to The Prelude

English 340 A/B- Foundations: Literature in English from the Middle Ages to the Present Blog Post Assignment Submission- Group One, Type Two(Closed Reading)

By: Dane Thibeault

Throughout the following account, in evaluating lines one through twenty-nine(page.356) of William Wordsworth’s The Prelude(1805), a fundamental consideration will be explored and elaborated upon: How do these initial lines of the text establish a difference between The Prelude, and its implications regarding human nature, from the previous texts of study, and their developed tones, themes, and settings? In response to this inquiry, the significance of the initiating passage of The Prelude is its proclamation(through the narration of Wordsworth) of an optimism regarding the human condition and potential, serving to contrast the fundamentally pessimistic view of human nature and reality, and the ominous tones and settings conveyed by many of the previous texts of study—namely Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Whereas, Marlowe and Milton fixate upon the human tendency to dismiss or compromise morality and purity in opting to satisfy a lust for an elevated knowledge or status beyond that with which they are presently endowed, and Swift regards humanity as generally corrupted altogether, Wordsworth presents an alternative point of view, at least within the passage of the text addressed within this account.

The reader of the text is immediately greeted by Wordsworth’s narration assimilating them into a scene of serenity—hardly the hellfire or harrowing islands employed as the settings within the works of the previously mentioned other authors. “Oh there is  blessing in this gentle breeze,”(1) begins Wordsworth, “O welcome messenger! O welcome friend!”(5)—the reader can hardly refrain from experiencing affinity or feeling accustomed to the scene. These vivid opening addresses serve to establish a tone of promise, as opposed to a foreboding aura of skepticism inherent within the other texts. This implemented tone further develops an elevated mood, placing the individual as the pilot of their destiny—as opposed to a subject subordinated to the will of the divine. This autonomy over destiny by humanity is reflected in two of Wordsworth’s speeches:

Now I am free, enfranchised and at large,

May fix my habitation where I will.

What dwelling shall receive me, in what vale

Shall be my harbour, underneath what grove

Shall I take up my home, and what sweet stream

Shall with its murmurs lull me to my rest? (9-14)

A rather confident expression, paralleled to another aesthetic articulation:

That burthen of my own unnatural self,

The heavy weight of many a weary day

Not mine, and such as were not made for me. (23-25)

In these lines, Wordsworth conveys his faith in the human capacity to conduct their own existences, and determine their own outcomes, additionally, in the absence of corruption. The enlightened idea that the individual is vested with both the opportunity, and the ability to discern morality and to chart their destiny towards manifesting their desires is therefore encompassed within these opening addresses of the text, ascribing them their underlying significance to the contested subject of the dimensions of human nature. Wordsworth’s narration consistently asserts his state of content, hardly one altered by temptation towards lapsing into deviance. Toils and struggles, according to Wordsworth are “not made for me,”(25).

“The earth is all before me,”(15) muses Wordsworth, of the prospects that he associates with his surrounding environment, in an ironic paraphrasing of a line from Milton’s Paradise Lost, describing Adam and Eve’s disgrace succeeding their Fall. Not only is this phrase significant in suggesting Wordsworth’s deliberate alternative representation of reality(having read and familiarized with the dismal settings within Paradise Lost), but additionally in promoting a sense of opportunity as opposed to condemnation—of a capacity to thrive within the habitation of nature, a central focus of the Romantic literary genre. In other words, Milton’s line addresses the expulsion of Adam of Eve from the natural setting of the Garden of Eden, while Wordsworth’s line welcomes him, and the reader, into a similar natural environment.

Thus, as life(or at least its prospects of hope) concludes for the protagonists of Dr. Faustus, Paradise Lost, and Gulliver’s Travels, it begins in a state of natural reprieve for Wordsworth, within the evaluated opening lines of The Prelude. What is to be derived from this observation? None other than the answer to the originally posed question: the significance of the analyzed lines of the text in distinguishing The Prelude from the aforementioned other texts of study, is their promising tone, their aesthetic regard for human existence and potential, and their development of a natural setting, absent of applications or implications of corruption. A concluding question I shall pose for reflection then, is this: is there a comfort derived from opening lines such as these, that entices our attention as readers into the text, and if such lines were manipulated to represent the pessimism of Marlowe, Milton, and Swift, would we be repelled or dislocated from their appeal? As a final remark, these lines are integral, as they define the text as one of optimism, as opposed to one of disillusionment, and thus, the poem could, in effect, manifest differently in its entirety were these opening addresses to be omitted.



 Works Cited

Wordsworth, William. The Prelude, Book One. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume D The Romantic Period 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.



Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G1} | 2 Comments

The Savage and the Yahoo

Savages and Yahoo’s– Are they just one in the same?

            Part 4 of Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels covers a vast array of themes about the human race, our society and the treatment of others. Even thought it takes place in a land of a horse culture named Houyhmhnms and the disfigured human called the Yahoo, it calls to question a lot about our practices and ourselves. The story, to me, is filled with ethnocentric thought and the failure to open ones mind to new and different experiences. (I apologize for the small rant). Ethnocentrism is the belief that ones own culture is superior then the one you are currently in. Within the story both Gulliver and the Master of the Houyhmhnms seem to be under the ethnocentric spell. What caught my attention besides the theme are the word choices by Swift when regarding the unknown:

  • Savage
  • Yahoo

These words seemed very deliberate and repetitious during all of part 4 in Gulliver’s Travels. Did Swift pick these specific words to get his point across? Are then words to highlight ones feelings to someone or something that is different? Does “savage” and “yahoo” have hidden meanings about those who are called such names? Oddly enough, yes.

Savage is a word primarily use by Gulliver. After Gulliver regains his wits from being banished off his own ship and washing up on land, his first choice of action is “ deliver himself to the first savages [he] should meet” (pg. 2588). The word “savage” seemed so derogatory to me and I did not know why. I found I could not define it properly and therefore had to look into it further. After looking it up in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), “savage” means:

“ Uncivilized; existing in the lowest stage of culture.”

Yeah, definitely not the most flattering word to describe someone I would have to say. Gulliver, however, seems to use this word often within the first 4 chapters of part 4. To be exact, 6 times within those chapters. While Gulliver used the word “savage” to refer to anyone he believes is beneath him or who is unknown to him; the master uses “Yahoo” to do the same. Yahoo is a word we all yell during the two-week period of Stampede but I am sure we may have to rethink that one.

“Yahoo” is a word first used by Jonathan Swift and its meaning has evolved and Oxford English Dictionary cites:

“A human being of a degraded or bestial type.”

“A person lacking cultivation or sensibility.”

Again, we all should possibly take a stand and not yell “yahoo!” during Stampede next summer. Just a thought.

The master does use it quite frequently as well, and goes much further then Gulliver by naming a full race of beings “Yahoos”.  For him a Yahoo does not possess “civility and cleanliness” nor are they “a rational creature” (pg. 2599). They are lacking what the Houyhnhnms are “Perfection of Nature”(pg. 2595). Gulliver might not go as far with calling himself and his race “perfection” but the word “savage” carries the same undertone.

With one character being an intelligent doctor/ship captain, and the other being a horse in a land of Houyhnhnms, their word choices make them one of the same. “Savage” and “yahoo” are not different when looking into the meaning, both words are used degrade the subject they are taking about. Jonathan Swift’s words were deliberate and definitely get the point across. Both the master and Gulliver have different views on what is civil and correct within a culture. However, as Swift points out with these words: no matter what we may call others who seem different, does it make us and our society look better?


Work Cited

Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G8} | 2 Comments

Saying the Thing Which is Not

Gulliver is correct in predicting that when he shares his experiences with his fellow humans they “would believe that I said the thing which was not,” and that they would think he had “invented the story out of [his] own head” (2598), as we see in Don Pedro’s reaction to Gulliver’s tale on page 2627. This issue of truth and falsehood works on several levels. Firstly, that Gulliver’s experiences are so ridiculous that they are unlikely to be taken seriously. This ridiculousness is an effect of the satire which is present throughout Gulliver’s Travels. Swift reverses and exaggerates the characteristics of Man and Beast in order to show the errors and pettiness of his own society. There is also a reference to truth and the ignorance of the Houyhnhnms to lies, which is a mark of decency but also shows their naivety. The Houyhnhnms are a simple race that has no ambitions or wild emotions such as humans do. They are very reasonable and have no need for lies. This aversion to falsehood is imprinted on Gulliver, who repeats often that he has “not been so studious of ornament as of truth” (2629). Truth is a crucial element with many layers in this story. It allows Swift to present these satirical Travels under the impression of reality, which makes them more powerful. Swift uses detail and phrases which place the Travels within a recent time period and constantly remind the reader of their supposed truth. For example, he compares his methods of relation with other travel books, and explains why it is necessary to relate certain details by explaining “it was necessary to mention this matter, lest the world should think it impossible…” (2594). Swift is pulling a tricky manoeuvre, acknowledging that while the story may seem unbelievable it is not, though Gulliver and his adventures are in fact a fiction intended to satirize human nature and society. Swift is himself saying the thing which is not, though he does it in order to show truth, as all fiction does.


Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G8} | 2 Comments

The Depiction of the Yahoo’s

 Gulliver’s Travels: The Depiction of the Yahoo’s 

In my reading of Gulliver’s Travels, I often couldn’t help but notice the extreme language and occasional, “gross” situations presented by the author (though perhaps just because the style of this genre), but it still sometimes took me by surprise. The story starts simply as Gulliver innocently lives among the Lilliputians, but in part 4 he clearly holds some resentment for the very species he is technically a part of, and in some cases the language even turns a bit dark and gruesome (Gulliver doesn’t even blink an eye at the thought of using human skins for his shoes and sail!). It’s obvious Swift is making comments about humanity’s “reason” in a humorous, yet sinister way, but what about Gulliver’s reasoning, or any of the others? The passage I decided to choose was therefore Chapter 9, and the description of the general assembly on the topic of the Yahoo’s fate.

In the beginning, I found it odd, and sort of funny, that when Gulliver first arrived on the island he instantly connects more with random horses trotting around than the hairy Yahoo’s who urinated all over; and if these are his fellow human beings, perhaps it’s not that hard to see why Gulliver doesn’t want anything to do with them. But the language is always harsh, and doesn’t let up in depicting the Yahoo’s as “ooze and froth from the sea” (2617). Swift seems to have numerous amounts of words that never end: “filthy, noisome, and deformed animal which nature ever produced…most restive and indocible, mischievous, malicious” (2617). I noticed throughout the entire adventure there is not one single redeeming feature given to the Yahoo’s at all, either on the island or off. It is stated that they are monstrous, barbarous, and so they remained, and the only difference about Gulliver’s own Yahoo’s back in Europe is that they have a “ounce” of reason, which, as much explained to us by Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms, is corrupted and untrue.

In the general assembly, and even before this as humanity was put down for all its faults, funny as they are, I found myself becoming overly critical of the Houyhnhnms way of life as well. For as charming and divine, and as much as I do admire their reasonableness and lovely way of appreciating all things (except Yahoo, of course), the first thing I tended to notice in Chapter 9 was the so-called ‘dispute’, which I had taken that the Houyhnhnms were supposedly never to have. The Yahoo’s are then described as a disturbance in the world of the Houyhnhnms, ‘not natural’ so perhaps this explains the cause; the Yahoo’s are outsiders, and no matter where they roam are corrupting the land, the ever peaceful, intelligent horses into the only argument “that ever happened in their country” (2617).

But as I read further into the passage, it becomes clear this isn’t even a ‘debate’ as it was first described, nor is it a form of ‘opinion’ on the Yahoo’s at hand. There is only the ‘affirmative’ to the discussion, no other considerations are remarked upon, no one is defending the opposite side– it appears the Yahoo’s are to be exterminated, which, as by the Houyhnhnms logic, is seen by their pure reasoning alone. The Yahoo’s are abominable, and it is an agreed fact even before the meeting starts that the Yahoo’s should all die, the only question being ‘how’ (which, as suggested by Gulliver unknowingly, is even more disturbing when put into thought). I don’t know if that’s just me and my poor Yahoo self, but maybe I felt Swift was going over-board, and negative language concerning the Yahoo’s, and humanity, is ever present.

The Yahoo’s are constantly represented as some sort of vermin which needs to be squashed, put out instead of breeding. “Evil”, “savage”, brutal images are often used relentlessly with comparisons to the lowest of dirt, and not even the young are held back for any sympathy. Is Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms right in their treatment of the Yahoo’s? Was this depiction accurate or too much, and what of Gulliver himself? Is Gulliver’s decision to shun humanity after seeing the monsters of society, the virtues of the Houyhnhnms, even seeing his wife and children as disgusting, truly ‘reasonable’? And is Swift going too far in his consistent language of the Yahoo’s?

Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G8} | 2 Comments

The Significance of Language and Detail: A Close Reading of How Gulliver Came to be Shipwrecked on Lilliput

It is convenient that our class discussion last Friday was about how and why Swift makes Gulliver’s Travels plausible, because it is something I was thinking about when I first started reading the text. As a result, the part of the book that I have found most interesting, thus far, occurs right at the beginning of Part 1 when Gulliver describes how he came to be shipwrecked on the island of Lilliput. The description of the event is detailed enough that one can understand the situation perfectly, however Swift does not provide so many details that the passage would seem irrelevant or full of rambling, minute details.

Swift’s account, or rather Gulliver’s, pulled me into the story right away, as I found myself questioning whether or not the shipwreck had actually happened. It may be useful to point out that I am one of those people who really gets into a story; for example, I found it difficult to walk around campus while reading The Hunger Games, as I was convinced that everyone was trying to kill me. Likewise, this specific passage in Chapter 1 of Gulliver’s Travels had me right from the start.

Is it the writing style that makes it so believable? Personally, I really enjoy when Swift, or any author, refers to the reader directly, breaking the “fourth wall” of the text. At the beginning of the passage I have chosen, which can be found on page 2493, Swift states that “it would not be proper, for some reasons, to trouble the reader with the particulars of our adventures in those seas”, and he follows with a description which is perfectly balanced between detail and comprehensive material. When Swift says “by an observation” (2493), and “I cannot tell; but conclude they were all lost” (2494), it feels like we are reading a blog post written by Gulliver himself, throughout which he is not sure of the exact details, but writes about what is important and what will make sense to the reader. For myself, this sense of colloquial discourse lends itself to a story that is more believable than one that is written with a more serious, precise tone. Not that I am trying to downplay the importance of facts and validity, but this language allows for a deeper understanding, in which the reader can utilize what the author has written, and further embellish these with more personal details that have been derived from those given in the text.

Perhaps it is the type of detail provided in this passage that makes it more comprehensive. Is it important that Swift includes that it was “the fifth of November” (2493) when this took place? Is the number of people who had already died on the voyage a relevant detail? I do not see these details as the be-all end-all of the text, but they do make the passage seem more legitimate. Like I said before, it feels like a travel blog, in which the traveler writes about the big events, which make it exciting, and the smaller details, which make it more genuine.

I see this passage of the text as an important part of the story, as it introduces the reader to the type of language of all four parts of Gulliver’s Travels. The story is already being set up to seem real, through both the language that is used and the details that are provided. Without passages like this one, I believe it would be hard to establish a connection with Gulliver, and the story would not seem as believable.


Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 2493-94. Print.

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What Defines Us? Musings Prompted by Gulliver’s Account of the Land of the Houyhnhnms

Critical Reading, Group 8

In considering the Part Four of Gulliver’s Travels, the idea of what defines a human being seemed to be a prominent theme that resonated with me. When Gulliver encounters the horse-species of the Houyhnhnms, he is immediately awe-struck by their poise and wisdom. The natural beauty, splendor and strength combined with the capability of reasoning made the Houyhnhnms a superior species in comparison with Gulliver, whose intellect placed him above the Yahoos, but physical deficiencies (such as short claws, bipedal stance, lack of hair, and ineptness in climbing and running as described on numerous occasions by the Houyhnhnms, e.g. page 2610) made him inferior to Yahoos. Because of his similarities in appearance to the Yahoos (as described by Gulliver on page 2592), the Houyhnhnms judged Gulliver as such (which is ironic when considering that this species is presented as having a higher intellect in terms of reasoning).

(As a side note, I found it interesting that upon Gulliver’s first encounter with the intelligent, cognizant Houyhnhnms was that he was not at all unable to accept the fact that horses could be intellectual, reasoning, governed living creatures, but the Houyhnhnms, on the other hand, were perpetually unable to accept that Gulliver could be more than a foolish, brute beast like the Yahoos.)

The factors that define a human being, as related to the contents Part Four are as

  • Appearance
  • Malicious,
    Wicked Nature/Proclivities
  • Intellect
    and Reasoning
  • Emotions

The first two factors are shared with the Yahoos. The Yahoos, as already established, physically resemble us in appearance. Yet furthermore, they share our propensity for causing destruction and harbouring a host of evil and unnatural deeds described in detail across pages 2610-13. These are malevolence such as greed and selfishness (2610; when describing the Yahoos fighting over an abundance of food), rage and belligerence (2610; “for want of enemies”), idolizing of material things and avarice (2610-11; “shining stones of several colors”), drunkenness (2611; “another kind of root very juicy” and an assortment of sexual impieties (2613). All of these irreverent things are not practiced by the Houyhnhnms, who are therefore considered virtuous and uncorrupted by Gulliver. In many ways, it seems as though Swift is opening condemning the state of humanity (not only England) in providing the Yahoos as a reflection of us and the Houyhnhnms as a contrasting, juxtaposing image. The depravity of the Yahoos matches ours and the purity of the Houyhnhnms shames us.

Yet what differentiates us from the Yahoos is our ability to reason, our intelligence and intellect. On page 2614 the Yahoos are described as “the most unteachable of all animals”. Gulliver’s capability for learning the Houyhnhnm language and customs shows the Houyhnhnms a distinguishing factor, although they ultimately dismiss it and force him to leave; p2623. Indeed, the Houyhnhnms considered Gulliver’s intellect as a threat; that paired with his innate evil tendencies he could cause great depravity in the land as “was to be feared” (2622).

But finally, what sets us apart from both the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms is our
capacity for emotions. The Yahoos are immediately assumed to be lacking of these, but surprisingly, the Houyhnhnms are also void of such. For them, in marriage, “courtship, love, presents . . . have no place in their thoughts or terms whereby to express them in their language”. Their relationships are “not upon the account of love” but for fear of “degenerating”. They have no “jealousy, fondness, quarreling, or discontent” (2616), and in death there is “neither joy nor grief” or “the least regret” (2619). To me, this last factor
of emotions distinguishes us from both Yahoo and Houyhnhnms in Gulliver’s
account, and thus is one of the most dear and important things to humankind.

Class Discussion Question: What do you feel defines us as human beings apart from all
other species and animals (both factual and fictional)? And why do you think it
was so difficult for the Houyhnhnms to accept Gulliver as an intelligent being?

Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012.  Print.

John Dieu

Group 8/2


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The Plausibility of Gulliver’s Travels

First, I would just like to point this out to anyone who is unaware of its existence:

Allow me to save you all 95 minutes and just tell you that it’s Jack Black as a mail clerk who gets lost in the Bermuda Triangle and ends up in Lilliput. Hilarious (sorry, annoying) Jack Black antics ensue, everyone lives happily ever after, and I continue to use Netflix only for Breaking Bad and Community. Sound believable?

This brings me to Jonathan Swift’s narrative Gulliver’s Travels. Swift starts by making his story plausible with the title itself. He could have easily given the story a name that would have implied a fantasy adventure, but instead he titled it Gulliver’s Travels (or rather the original title of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships) implying a historical or biographical context. Swift’s attention to detail in the introduction of the story also implies plausibility. Richard Sympson is the narrator that introduces Mr. Lemuel Gulliver as his “ancient and intimate friend” with “some relation between us by the mother’s side” (2491). The narrator goes on to explain the details of Gulliver’s life including his place of birth, Nottinghamshire, and the place from which his family came from. This information is all given before the beginning of Chapter One in the story when the narrator changes to Gulliver himself and he then explains “my father had a small estate in Nottinghamshire” (2492). So why is it necessary to repeat irrelevant information? What the reader doesn’t consciously realize, is that Richard Sympson is our “master” so to speak. He is the narrator that sets the story up and tells the reader exactly what to believe. Irrelevant information like Gulliver’s place of birth and where he lives is included and repeated to establish it as fact. Sympson is no different than the Chorus of a Shakespeare play that sets the stage. We are told as an audience/reader that, this is who the players are, this is what is happening, and this is how you’re supposed to feel about it.

When reading the beginning of Gulliver’s Travels, I was reminded of a book series that I used to read when I was a kid, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. The way that the author of this series describes the events that take place, he establishes everything as fact; and it’s made even more plausible by the real author using a pen name which ends up being a key character in the story itself. I unfortunately don’t have a copy of the book that I can quote from, but the line in Gulliver’s Travels that set off that reminder for me was, “with the author’s permission, I communicated these papers, I now venture to send them into the world” (2492). Sorry if it sounds like I’m ranting to anyone who hasn’t read that book series, just curious if anyone else who has read it got the same vibe.

Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 2487-633. Print.

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Plausibility in Gulliver’s Travels

In Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift set out to write a parody of the popular travel genre with much more complex implications. He carefully and deliberately created elaborate kingdoms that satirized the state of 18th century Europe in order to offer an entertaining critique of politics and even culture. The key to his success in doing so, and why his novel endures, is because of the plausibility within the world of the novel. Even though the globe was still a large and mysterious place at the time when he wrote this (European colonialism and imperialism would not peak until after this novel was written) I find it unlikely that people believed it was real. However within the novel he offers so much consistent detail that the reader does not question the validity of the narrator. The plausibility of the Lilliputians creates a realistic parallel to the Europeans, allowing his fictional story to act as a successful commentary. If it had not been believable it would instead just be read as an absurd story and not necessarily something of cultural significance.

Swift accomplishes plausibility in two major ways. The initial way he does so is by establishing the background of the narrator. Much more so in the 1700s than now the credibility of a person was dependent on their background (family, wealth, education, etc.). So Swift writes an educated and relatively financially secure character. Gulliver details his background, how he “applied [himself] close to [his] studies” (2492) in his time at a college in Cambridge, later apprenticing under an “eminent surgeon in London” (2492). Next he would study abroad, begin his career as a surgeon, and read the “best” (2493) authors. So he is a credible character, but he is also humble. Gulliver is neither wealthy nor infallible, as parts of his career were not “very fortunate” (2493). He is not heroic but an average protagonist, and therefore relatable or at least sympathetic. He is already trustworthy before the narrative even begins.

The second way Swift makes his satire plausible is through the constant and consistent details given on his fictional islands. Gulliver paints a vivid picture of the Lilliputians. He describes their language, giving examples and explanations. One such example is with the word “Hurgo” (2495) which he explains means great lord. He also compares his proportions to that of the six inch Lilliputians (an example would be on page 2523 when he places the monarch of Blefescu and a chair in his coat pocket with no complaints) so we have a clear image of their size and differences. Specifics are even given on the proportions of their animals. At the beginning of chapter six he describes the “exact proportion” (2516) or at least gives comparison on the sizes of geese and horses, among others. Beyond physical descriptions of the inhabitants of this island the reader also receives summaries on certain aspects of their culture. Chapter six is again significant because it is where Gulliver details the education, social hierarchy, and customs of the Lilliputians. The explanation of the importance of “ingratitude” (2519) in their culture does more than just add relevant detail to the plot, it adds a dimension of reality to the Lilliputians and therefore a level of comparability.

To sum up in case you’re not in the mood for my essay-ish blog post: the main element of Gulliver’s Travels, the satire, relies on the plausibility and coherency of the kingdoms he invented. He accomplishes plausibility through a credible and realistic narrator, and the complex detail of the various islands. Without plausibility the novel would not have been a success.

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Plausibility in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

If I was to sit down and read Harry Potter, or the Lord of the Rings, I would not be surprised to find humans-like creatures about a twelfth of the size of a typical human climbing around on a character’s body, as in the realm of fantasy this does not seem suspicious or implausible. It is very easy to accept characters or action such as this in a world that is very different from our own. It is interesting then that in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, that the presence of a “human creature not six inches high” (2494) is not disarming in a world that – up until Gulliver’s arrival in the country of Lilliput – appeared very similar to our own.

Swift narrates the events of Gulliver’s life in such factual and reporter-style detail that we do not question their validity, we accept the narrative as being the truth. By noting that Gulliver received an education at Emmanuel College in Cambridge, as well as from the “eminent surgeon” (2492) Mr. Bates, Swift asserts that Gulliver is well educated, and that he is trustworthy. The great detail Swift describes each character in aids in the soundness of Gulliver’s past. Gulliver does not simply mention his wife but notes that his wife is “Mrs. Mary Burton” who was the second daughter of the hosier “Mr. Edmond Burton” who lived on “Newgate Street” (2493). Swift’s penchants for detail contributes to the reliability of Gulliver’s story.

In a piece of fantasy the reader accepts the impossibility of characters and actions because we accept that this is real in that world. In Swift’s writing, however, we accept the unlikelihood of the situation of Gulliver waking up on an island with his arms and legs “strongly fastened on each side to the ground” (2494) by six-inch tall humans, each carrying a “bow and arrow” (2494), because we trust Swift to be a reliable narrator. Because the reader does not question the authenticity of Gulliver’s story prior to his arrival in the country of Lilliput, due to the great detail and apparent factuality of Swift’s writing, Swift’s narrative seems very plausible.

Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 2487-633. Print.

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Plausibility of Situation in “Gulliver’s Travels”

Gulliver’s discovery of a society of six-inch-tall men at the beginning of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels was an extraordinary event and certainly not a plausible event. However, through his style of narration and the circumstances surrounding the plot, Swift is able to make this discovery and the subsequent adventure feel plausible.

Swift begins the story with a completely normal and plausible situation: the reader is presented with a normal man. This is Gulliver. He is married. He works on ships as a surgeon. He is normal. During the course of his normal life he undergoes a relatively normal upset: he is involved in a shipwreck. These things happen. With this grounding of normalcy, Swift moves the story along and introduces the strangeness of the adventure Gulliver is about to find himself in the midst of. He goes to sleep in his normal state, as Gulliver the shipwrecked surgeon, but when he wakes up he is bound to the ground by many thin cords. He is not Gulliver the giant in a land of tiny people. The reader has now been presented by this completely abnormal situation but because of the events leading up to it, it seems more plausible.

Once the strange world of Lilliput has been presented to the reader in all of it’s abnormalcy, the tensions arise when Gulliver and the Lilliputians are not able to communicate: “His Imperial Majesty spoke often to me, and I returned answers, but neither of us could understand a syllable. (2500)” This incorporates a note of normalcy back into the situation because at the beginning of Chapter 1 Gulliver talks about his time in the East and West Indies and how he spent his “hours of leisure… in reading the best authors… as well as learning their language; wherein [he] had a great facility by the strength of [his] memory. (2493)” The mirroring of this linguistic divide between Gulliver’s adventures in the Indies, a real place, and Lilliput, a fantastical one, lends a measure of believability to the story.


Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 2487-633. Print.

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Marlowe versus Shakespeare.

I realize that this posting is behind the time, but I have been stuck on the couch for ten days now and, in defense of my IQ, have started watching DVD’s instead of the schlock on TV. One of the videos I watched again was Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and seeing Derek Jacobi as the Chorus brought home for me the quintessential difference between Marlowe and Shakespeare’s plays. While both playwrights have masterful skills in the use of language, allusion etc. Shakespeare’s writing has an innate drama and emotional power that Marlowe’s writing lacks. So I invite you to compare and contrast the two prologues below. The first is from Dr. Faustus, the second from Henry V. Both were written about the same time (Faustus in 1592 and Henry in 1599). In evaluating their relative merits keep in mind that Marlowe was educated at Cambridge and Shakespeare at the Stratford Grammar School, we think. In terms of education it’s like a high school grad. competing with a Ph.d.

Dr. Faustus;

Not marching now in fields of Thrasymene,
Where Mars did mate the Carthaginians;
Nor sporting in the dalliance of love,
In courts of kings where state is overturn’d;
Nor in the pomp of proud audacious deeds,
Intends our Muse to vaunt her heavenly verse:
Only this, gentlemen,–we must perform
The form of Faustus’ fortunes, good or bad:
To patient judgments we appeal our plaud,
And speak for Faustus in his infancy.
Now is he born, his parents base of stock,
In Germany, within a town call’d Rhodes:
Of riper years, to Wertenberg he went,
Whereas his kinsmen chiefly brought him up.
So soon he profits in divinity,
The fruitful plot of scholarism grac’d,
That shortly he was grac’d with doctor’s name,
Excelling all whose sweet delight disputes
In heavenly matters of theology;
Till swoln with cunning, of a self-conceit,
His waxen wings did mount above his reach,
And, melting, heavens conspir’d his overthrow;
For, falling to a devilish exercise,
And glutted now with learning’s golden gifts,
He surfeits upon cursed necromancy;
Nothing so sweet as magic is to him,
Which he prefers before his chiefest bliss:
And this the man that in his study sits.

Henry V;

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.


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The Backstairs World of Faustus

For my blog post I decided to focus on something different and that also happened to catch my attention. I decided to focus my attention on Scene 6, which as I noticed was the start of a backstairs world. To begin with, the first 5 lines takes away from the seriousness of the previous conversation with the foreshadowing of Faustus entering Hell. This comedic break also shows some of the 7 deadly sins that were previously shown as well. For example Robin shows the sin of ‘Lust’ strongly when he wants to use the book for sexual pleasures in summoning “maidens in our parish dance stark naked.” He also has the Lust for the Mistress as he would use the book to have her bear his child. Robin also shows the sin of ‘Gluttony’ along side of the of ‘Greed’ when he states that he would use the book to get drunk on just one glass of wine. With these sins that Robin shows, he creates this comedy in the fact that he has all this power but he would use it to only fulfill these insignificant desires. Rafe is only acting as a follower towards Robin, as he finds the significance in him helping Rafe fulfill his own desires. This backstairs world that has been created is used for controlling the intensity and the action throughout the play, and these comedic breaks are used for pure entertainment towards the audience. This backstairs world is what has interested me as I tend to usually like the side stories in novels and movies because of this.

Marlowe, Christopher. “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print

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Displays of magic – Metatheatre?

The scenes of magical display within Dr Faustus obviously play an essential role within the plot, through these displays the audience is continually reminded what exactly Faustus traded for his soul, the ability to use black magic.

Whilst reading Dr Faustus, one of the main things that sparked my interest was the element of performance within these displays of magic.  Faustus’ conjuring up of Alexander for the Emperor within lines 36 and 57 during scene 9 epitomizes the performance filled delivery of his magic.

Faustus creates somewhat of a spectacle and performance within the practicing of magic to perhaps magnify the awe that it creates from the spectators and thus acting to augment his power. When asked by the Emperor to conjure up Alexander, he directly replies that he is “able to perform” (9. 37), he is not only merely saying that he can complete the task, it perhaps also suggests his perception of the act as again, a performance to inspire astonishment from, in this case, the Emperor.

For me, this is interesting as I can make somewhat of a connection between this to the concept of metatheatre, a device used so frequently within Shakespeare’s works. Metatheatre being the concept of a play within a play but also a performance within a performance, the question that therefore strikes me is, are Faustus’ performances of magic a form of metatheatre?

In Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, the scene in which Malvolio puts on the cross gartered yellow stockings at the supposed request of Olivia acts as a form of metatheatre where the ritual of actors putting on a costume before performance is somewhat emulated by Malvolio. I think perhaps the same idea can be applied to Faustus’ theatrical and dramatic application of magic. The way in which he reveals Alexander, “Here they are, my gracious lord”(9. 56) is something that comes across as theatrical and dramatic with the short nature of the line in contrast with his long preceding lines. This image conjured up resembles the revealing of the stage in theatre when the play begins and the curtains are drawn which essentially connotes ‘here is the performance’. The dramatic nature of Faustus needing to announce, “here they are” rather than letting the conjured image of Alexander speak for itself, which it would due to the visual nature of theatre, suggests that Faustus is trying to enhance the spectacle of his magic. The spectacle is again reinforced when he gives the Knight antlers shortly after, a completely unnecessary magical display that merely shows off his power in a somewhat theatrical, comedic manner.

Faustus performing within the performance and creating ‘the spectacle’ in the same way that all theatre aims to do is certainly a method of increasing his perceived power, however, my interest within these magical displays lies within whether they can be described as a form of metatheatre in the same way certain elements of Shakespeare’s plays can be or if it is merely too far of a stretch to do so.


Marlowe, Christopher. “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print

Shakespeare, William. “Twelfth Night.” The Norton Shakespeare. Comp. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Andrew Gurr. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997. 453-506. Print.

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Arrogance and Pride as Dr. Faustus’ Two Deadly Sins

The passage within this play that struck me the most was Scene 13, in particular lines 57-69. In this particular passage, Faustus speaks of how he wishes he could repent, and how he wishes he could return to God. At line 69 he says “O I’ll leap up to my God! Who pulls me down?”. Through out various scenes in the play, the “good angel” reminds Faustus that he can repent this sin to God, and he will be forgiven yet Faustus refuses. He claims that Mephastophilis and Lucifer keep him from repenting and returning to the love of God, even though he can seek forgiveness at anytime.
In class we have been speaking about the seven deadly sins quite often and how they relate to our readings. In Dr. Faustus, I believe that the sin of pride is Faustus’ ultimate downfall. Had he asked for God’s forgiveness, his soul would have been saved from Lucifer and the depths of Hell. In seeking the knowledge of black magic, he is being prideful because he is trying to elevate himself to the same status of God by being all knowing. Also, his arrogance in believing that his soul will be spared from Hell without repenting causes his fall.
At the time that Christopher Marlowe wrote this play, this scene would have been the most poignant for the audience due to the heavy influence of religion. The audience would have believed that by not repenting, Faustus was committing the greatest sin of all, turning his back on God and his divine love. This would have served as a lesson to each audience member, teaching them not to be prideful and seek the same knowledge as God, but also it would have reminded them that God’s love is never ending and that repenting for their sins was best for them if they did not want their souls to be stolen by the devil. The audience would have believed that the end of Faustus’ life was deserved.

Marlowe, Christopher. “The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.  1128-1163. Print

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Ignorance is Bliss? Not quite…

Having never read Doctor Faustus, I attempted to look for parts of the text that didn’t quite seem straightforward. A particular passage that made me ponder was in Scene 3, lines 76-81 (pg 1136). Faustus questions Mephastophilis on his fall from heaven and how he is out of hell if he is damned there? He tells Faustus that he has never left hell. Having once been an angel, he has seen the face of God and “tasted the eternal joys of heaven” (78). He continues stating that being deprived of the everlasting bliss that is heaven is in itself the hell that torments him. Lastly, he implores Faustus to “leave these frivolous demands” (82) and advises him to not pursue black magic any further. What really intrigued me was Mephastophilis’ attempt to convince Faustus to no longer follow through with his plans. There’s a slight paradox here in the sense that a demonic entity is advising a potential victim, for lack of a better word, to not sell his soul and join the dark side. What are Mephastophilis’ motives behind this advice? From what I’ve gathered from scary TV documentaries and movies is it is certainly not characteristic of demonic entities to be helpful and to look out for ones best interests!

Digging deeper into this curious advice from Mephastophilis and to answer the question, I started thinking about why he would even bother to give Faustus this advice. Perhaps if someone or something had been there to stop Mephastophilis from selling his soul, he wouldn’t have done it. His warning seems to predict or foreshadow what is to come for Faustus. It’s almost as if he offers him a ‘get out of jail free’ warning. He knows all too well what will await Faustus when his 24 years are up. It is here where you can see there’s a similarity between the two characters. Both thought they could handle hell and both thought they would never regret their decisions. However, by the end of the story, Faustus is absolutely petrified with what awaits him in hell when his contract expires. I think that perhaps Mephastophilis sees history repeating itself and tries to spare Faustus from the horror that he knows is hell.

On a side note, Mephastophilis is just the first of three warnings Faustus encounters before signing the contract to Lucifer. The second being Faustus’ blood clotting when he tries to write the contract and the third being the transcription appearing on his arm advising him to flee and get away from the deal. I found this particularly interesting because in the Christian faith, the number 3 is very symbolic, representing the presence of the Holy Trinity.

I wonder, did Marlowe intentionally have three warnings for Faustus or was this just a coincidence? Is this supposed to signify God attempting to intervene and save Faustus? What would this communicate to the audience watching the play during this time period?


Marlowe, Christopher. “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G6} | 4 Comments

The Ignorance and Arrogance of Dr Faustus

Something peculiar piqued my interest upon reflection on
Marlowe’s Dr Faustus: the seeming obliviousness
of Faustus. It was strange to me that although this man was well aware of the
Biblical teachings, the religious implications and theological foundations of
Christian doctrine, he tended to eschew the veracity of these paradigms whilst
in pursuits of necromancy and deviant practices. Being cognizant and knowledgeable
of the Biblical facts that angels and demons exist, he nevertheless chooses to believe
that “hell’s a fable” (5.125). Furthermore, with the physical presence of
Mephastophilis, Lucifer, the seven summoned personified deadly sins, and the
good and bad angels, Faustus still defies beyond clear and plain evidence of
the reality of hell and damnation, but instead, in sheer arrogance, accepts
these manifestations of devils and demons to be the result of his scholarly
powers through consultations of necromantic and black magic books. This schism
between the obvious realities of demonic and angelic powers and the deranged
state of Faustus’ reasoning portrays the extent of his corruption. Even when
Mephastophilis (an authority of the matter, a witness and participant of the rebellion)
professes to Faustus of the truths intrinsically evident to him, Faustus still
refutes the claims. We see this in lines 60-82 of Scene Three. Is Faustus so blinded
by his obsession for power over spirits that he forgoes the obviously dire consequences
that concern the fate of his soul? Does the arrogance of his hardened will cause
him to warp the rationality of his understanding? Indeed, even after the good
angel’s repeated calls for Faustus to repent, Faustus cannot relent. (Although
the Lucifer, Mephastophilis and co. threaten to rip him to pieces, surely the
good angel did not lie to Faustus in stating that “God will pity thee” (5.188),
and that it is “never too late” (5.253) for repentance of errors done. Ultimately,
Faustus’ ignorance towards the Biblical cruxes on which he based his journey
into ‘dark arts’ and his arrogance to accept and atone become the mechanisms
that fashion his dreadful demise. Also, twenty four years for a soul is a rip


Marlowe, Christopher. “The Tragical History of Dr Faustus”.
Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W.
Norton and Company, 2012. Print.


John Dieu

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1139-1144: Misery Loves Company

Faustus’s internal conflict is between his desire to soothe intellectual misery by answering all questions to everything (appetite, the Evil Angel), and listening to his conscience inevitably rounded by the theological beliefs of the time (reason, the Good Angel). I think the Evil Angel and Good Angel represent a splitting of Faustus’s soul and conscience. What labels specific knowledge as “forbidden” is the threating development of the psyche—can the mind sanely tolerate it? Does Faustus struggle with a kind of inescapable intellectual insanity? Faustus displays atheist qualities when he states “the god” he “servest is thine own appetite” (5.0, 11). The hunger of the tortured intellectual is what Faustus desperately seeks to soothe. He has no definite theological longing; the rituals he undertakes are suitable concepts to frame his cravings:

Wherein is fixed the love of Belzebub.

To him I’ll build an altar and a church,

And offer lukewarm blood of newborn babes (5.0,12-15)

Satan is a means to an end, not an end itself. God represents restrictive concepts following reason, while Satan seems unconstrained. Faustus follows the concept that will fulfill his personal end—enlightenment and complete knowledge of the world. This is revealed through his eager interest in “who made the world” (5.0, 240), the “characters and planets of the heavens” (5.0, 167-68), and “all plants, herbs, and trees that grow upon the earth” (5.0, 172-73). Once he has obtained all knowledge, he will be an omnipotent being no longer tortured by questions of bodily existence. Although Faustus seems to indoctrinate the ethics of Satan, he continually mocks and questions the essence of hell:

Come, I think hell’s a fable.


Think’st thou that Faustus is so fond to imagine

That after this life there is any pain?

Tush, these are trifles and mere old wives’ tales.


How, now in hell? Nay, and this be hell, I’ll willingly be

damned here! (5.0, 126-137)

Faustus does not hesitate selling his soul to Satan (pg. 1140) because he longs to be freed from the limitations of reason/being and conscience. He does not have a grounded fear of the divine, and he desires the immunity of no conscience. Unfortunately, he cannot escape the fact that theological values are ingrained deeply in 16th Century society and psyche. This explains why Faustus is constantly conflicted—it is the underlying psyche rooted within, completely beyond his control:

Why waverest thou? O, something soundeth in mine ears:

“Abjure this magic, turn to God again”

Ay, and Faustus will turn to God again.

To God? He loves thee not. (5.0, 7-10)

What haunts Faustus are beliefs he “technically” does not hold, and this intrinsic turmoil is displayed in the continuous denial and acceptance that he is damned:

Scare can I name salvation, faith, or heaven,

But fearful echoes thunders in mine ears,

“Faustus thou are damned” (5.0, 194-197)

Faustus ultimately does not accept the theological aspects of the divine until the very end, when he cries to burn his books (13.0, 113). Do certain endeavours of the human mind separate one from the soul? Is intellectual insanity caused by a physical limitation of the mind? How do you approach knowledge without conflict from the conscience?

Marlowe, Christoper. “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G6} | 5 Comments

Breaking the Mould of Learning: The Limitations of Medieval Necromancy

‘Necromancy’, in it’s most basic sense, is obtaining information from dead people in any way, shape, or form. Doctor Faustus brought Mephastophilis up from Hell to aid him with the art of dark magic, but he only did so because he was completely bored of the traditional medieval system of obtaining knowledge: necromancy without progress or application.

Faustus says;

“O what a world of profit and delight,

Of power, of honor, of omnipotence

Is promised to the studious artisan!” (1.1 53-55)

In the footnote, the word ‘artisan’ refers to a “practitioner of an art; here, necromancy” (pg.1130). So Faustus is comparing magic with an art, of which, when compared with science in that age, has arguably no limits to knowledge and thus immensely appeals to a scholar of such prestige.

In the middle ages, the only way people learned anything was if it was passed down by some old, wise, important (possibly dead) man. The concept of finding things out for yourself through experimentation or application of theory was out of the question. Thus, scientific progress was at a standstill. Religion was all the confirmation that people needed to believe anything they were told. You can imagine how frustrated Faustus, or anyone for that matter, would be if he had exhausted every scientific discipline to the extent of what someone before him knew, with no way of progressing forward. Inherently, like a normal human being, he lusts for the thrill of discovery.

Does he really deserve to have his soul taken away for the mere pleasure of this discovery that a modern person experiences every day? What’s the point of living in a world where you know everything (evidently) there is to know in the human realm? Who could possibly blame Faustus for letting his imagination run away with him? His brain obviously isn’t preoccupied with anything else.

In modern times, we still learn from the findings of great scholars, dead or otherwise. Even if we now have the capacity to move forward in our findings, every formula, every technique, every pattern has been discovered by somebody who will eventually be dead. If anything is to be passed on to the next generation that is worth knowing for the sake of human advancement, that is necromancy. However, it is a very different necromancy than that which tortured Faustus into selling his soul to Lucifer to satisfy a basic human desire.

Works Cited:

Marlowe, Christoper. “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.

Posted in 1: DQ Response, {G5} | 1 Comment

Dr. Faustus vs. Dr. Frankenstein

While reading Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, I couldn’t help but notice the striking resemblances to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The characters of Dr. Faustus and Dr. Frankenstein share common personalities and beliefs. I specifically noticed these similarities in the Prologue and Scene One of Faustus. If you have not finished reading Dr. Faustus (or ever read Frankenstein) there are a few spoilers in this post. I apologize in advance!

Here are some details of similarity I noted:

  • Both characters attended university in Germany (Wittenberg and Ingolstadt) and graduated with doctorial status.
  • University did not give them the answers they searched for. Instead it led them to search for darker forms of knowledge.
  • Both Faustus and Frankenstein live in their heads. Always talking to themselves (Faustus) or internally contemplating life’s questions (Frankenstein).
  • Each character eventually succumbs to death as a result of their knowledge.

The passage I chose to look at more closely was in Scene I lines 24-26:

“Couldst thou make men to live eternally,

Or, being dead, raise them to life again,

Then this profession were to be esteemed.”

For those of you who do not know the story of Frankenstein, it is precisely based on these three lines from Dr. Faustus. Frankenstein recreates a human and brings it to life. Each character desired more knowledge than they were given at university and went in search for it; Frankenstein through science, and Dr. Faustus through necromancy. Faustus is asking questions of his own ability: Can he bring the dead back to life? Although he does not particularly succeed at this, he does bring about the afterlife in a different form. The thirst for knowledge is both characters greatest weakness and eventually leads each to their death.

Are there similarities between Mephastophilis and Frankenstein’s monster? Each was “summoned” and although thought to be a helpful companion at first, creates obstacles for both characters. Both “monsters” have superhuman abilities and minds but why were their “creators” unable to control them, if the power was in their hands? Did Faustus and Frankenstein think too highly of themselves and their mental capabilities?

Frankenstein blames everyone (but himself), for the events that take place after his monster is created. His final words being: “…these last days I have not been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do I find it blameable”. Even at the end of his life he never admits to sin. In Scene 13 lines 11-12, Faustus admits to sin and understands he is to blame for his own demise:  “a surfeit of deadly sin, that hath damned both body and soul.”

With Faustus’ words in mind (1.1.24-26), had these two men lived in the same time era (and were real people!) what would the outcome have been? Friends or rivals? Would Faustus see Frankenstein’s work as “esteemed”?

I think every reader has a different answer to these questions as with most critical readings. I can’t even begin to write answers to some of these questions (and may need to write a Part II of this post). Either way I hope this post has made you think about parts of Dr. Faustus (or Frankenstein) in a new light.

Works Cited:

Marlowe, Christopher. “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print

Shelley, Mary. “Frankenstein”. London: Arcturus Publishing Limited, 2010. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G6} | 3 Comments

Academic Study as A Form Of Necromancy

The Oxford English Dictionary defines necromancy as ‘the art of predicting the future by supposed communication with the dead; (more generally) divination, sorcery witchcraft, enchantment’.  If we drop the second part of the definition and focus only on the strict sense of the word, then all academic study can be described as a kind of necromancy.  In the OED entry J.C. Hare and A.W. Hare are quoted as saying ‘Much of this worlds wisdom is still acquired by necromancy, by consulting the oracular dead’.  When we seek to understand something we look to the work of those who have gone before us.  In many fields, like economics and climatology an accurate understanding of historical events, as seen by the dead, is essential in order to predict the future.  Our legal systems are entirely based upon the idea of precedents, many of which date back hundreds of years.

When viewed in this way Faustus we can see that has been practicing this form of necromancy while at Wittenberg. In is soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 1 he names the oracular dead that he has consulted; Aristotle for philosophy; Galen for medicine; Justinian for law; Jerome for Religion. Unfortunately for Faustus he is not satisfied to tread in the footsteps of these oracular dead but, instead, wants to walk amongst the Gods. In Act 1.1 he says;

‘Are not thy bills hung up as monuments,
Whereby whole cities have escaped the plague,
And thousand desperate maladies been eased?
Yet are thou still but Faustus, and a man
Couldst thou make men to live eternally
Or, being dead, raise them to life again,
Then this profession were to be esteemed’ (20-26)

Faustus wants to know what God knows. He wants the power of creation, to reshape the world in his own image and rule over it;

‘By him I’ll be great emperor of the world
And make a bridge through the moving air
To pass the ocean with a band of men;
I’ll join the hills that bind the Afric shore
And Make that land continent to Spain
And both contributory to my crown
The emperor shall not live but by my leave
Nor any potentate of Germany (Act 1.4 104-112)

This is, of course forbidden knowledge. God is very jealous of his power. Not even Lucifer himself can make the dead rise or redefine creation. In studying at Wittenberg it appears that Faustus didn’t pay enough attention to his lessons in theology or he might have benefited more from the story of Adam and Eve and The Fall. As Milton wrote in 1667, half a century after the play was published, but when the thirst for new knowledge was still viewed as potentially heretical;

Solicit not thy thoughts with matters hid,
Leave them to God above, Him serve and fear;
Heav’n is for thee too high
To know what passes there; be lowly wise:
Think only what concerns thee and by being
Dream not of other worlds, what creatures there
Live, in what state, condition or degree
Contented that thus far hath been revealed
Not of earth only but of highest Heav’n (Book VIII, 167-173)

What wisdom can we gain from our study of this play and other works like it? Is our reach as a civilization about to exceed our grasp?

Works Cited

Marlowe, Christoper. “The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. John Leonard. London: Penguin Books, 2003. Print

Posted in 1: DQ Response, Uncategorized, {G5} | 3 Comments

A Critical Inquiry Posed in Response to the Lecture Discussion of Necromancy within the text of Dr. Faustus

Note: The following is a participatory insight and critical question regarding Friday, October. 12, 2012’s Lecture Discussion of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus:
Necromany in Dr. Faustus… is it the only variant of magic explored within the text?

In response to today’s lecture discussion of the concept of necromancy as the conduct of “black magic” or otherwise, “dark magic”, ascribed with a sinister connotation within the text of Dr. Faustus, I was prompted with the following critical consideration: If Christopher Marlowe depicts necromancy and its occult implications as a “dark magic” mired in deviance and malevolence, is he suggesting that other pursuits of knowledge(namely, alternative, academically oriented disciplines) are thus forms of “benevolent magic”, and are therefore commendable by the divine authority of God? Is Marlowe, in effect, serving to convey the conviction that one may access divine authority and identify with God through engaging with a variety of academic disciplines, principles, and practices? Thus, it is more pertinent to consider a more general question: Is knowledge only power, as the old conventional dichotomy states, or is it magic as well? Therefore, if Dr. Faustus assumes necromancy over intellectual activities, is he, in essence, exchanging the practice of one method of magic for another?


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New Schedule for Marlowe and Milton

On the About page, I’ve posted a link to the new course outline to reflect the actual schedule of days we’re meeting. Sorry for the error in my earlier outline, and thanks to those students who noticed it!

See especially page 4 for a more leisurely reading schedule for Marlowe, new due dates for the G5 and G6 blogs, and a new introduction to Milton’s Paradise Lost.

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Lying and The Pardoner

Perhaps the most famous of liars.

Everyone has told lies, and anyone who tells you they haven’t is lying. Whether it’s a young child trying to absolve their guilt over eating forbidden cookies, or an adult just trying to spare someone’s feelings, lying is inherent in the human condition. But where is the line drawn between a good or acceptable lie and a bad, abhorrent one? And how important are the intentions of the liar?

In Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale the Pardoner seems a repugnant and morally corrupt individual. This is compounded by his role as church employee tasked with forgiving others of their sins, which in many cases were likely much less severe than his. I found lines 160-173, starting on page 314 particularly telling of his moral compass.

The Pardoner seems absolutely chuffed with the fact that he can manipulate the “lewed” people out of their money. To him, it seems not to matter their social status, or what importance that money may have in their lives. He is perfectly fine with taking money from even the most destitute, including “the poorest widwe in a village” (l.162).

It is interesting that the Pardoner thinks himself particularly adept at lying, and seems eminently proud of this fact. Most people, today and in the time of Chaucer, would consider the Pardoner’s brand of lying and story-weaving quite depraved. He takes advantage of those ignorant to his real intentions, and uses his own ingenuity and speaking skills to take money from others under the guise of religious forgiveness. It is this religious aspect that strikes a chord in his story. As a representative of the church and, one would hope, practicing member, it only makes sense the Pardoner should be held to a certain level of morality. However, and this is almost surely intentional on Chaucer’s part, the Pardoner seems almost the anti-thesis to what he should be.

But is the Pardoner’s lying completely appalling? His stories arguably help people lead more moral lives. As well, when he “pardons” someone, he is removing the guilt they have carried. Would it matter if the pardoner wove these complex lies and stories if his intentions were “good?” What if he truly was attempting to reform people with his tales and fake relics, and not extort money? It is the same lie, just with different intentions. Does the Pardoner get any credit for being honest about himself? He calls himself “a ful vicious man” (l.171) and describes numerous times his various nefarious acts. Whether you consider the Pardoner a terrible man, or a cunning one, his greed and lies are starkly contrasted with his favourite sermon “radix malorum est cupiditas” or “avarice is the root of all evil.” If only he listened to his own advice!


Works Cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 314-315. Print.


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More Reasons to Hate the Pardoner

We all know that the Pardoner is not exactly Mr. Virtue.  Others have highlighted his greasy appearance and his overwhelming hypocrisy, but it’s not just what the pardoner admits to doing that is horrible, but how he admits to doing so.  His manner of speech is so nonchalant and patronizing that he insults his audience, the church and those who attend church.  I chose lines 147-167 (p.314) of The Pardoners Prologue and Tale as an exemplar of this.

In the first part of this passage the Pardoner explains how “lewed peple loven tales olde-/Swich things can they wel reporte and holde” (149-150).  In the first line the Pardoner flat out insults the church going people by calling them “lewed,” or ignorant, but this insult is furthered in the second line.  The dash indicates that it is meant as an aside, one in which he suggests that people are essentially too stupid to remember anything besides a good story.  He is like a parent patronizing a small child and therefore claiming his superiority over the common people.

The lines following, dash any glimmer of hope that the listener/reader may have in the humanity of this man:

Nay, nay, I thought it never, trewely,

For I wol preche and begge in sondry landes;

I wol nat do no labour with mine hands,

Ne make baskettes and live therby,

By cause I wol nat beggen idelly.


Note the frequent use of the negative in this passage.  In line 154 alone it appears 3 times and is further accented by the use of caesura.  This repetition is another condescending technique.  It is as if the pardoner doubts his audience will understand him the first time, so he continues to proclaim his indecency.  Another example is in line 156, as he uses the double negative to exaggerate his laziness.  To finish off his roast, the Pardoner then insults the descent people of the world by claiming their occupation as “idel” (314.158).  (By this point I really hate the guy).  Surely other people in his party would have been offended, particularly by this last insult.  Why doesn’t anyone punch his lights out?

To top it off, the Pardoner alludes to the Apostles (159), presenting them as a foil to his own character.  The Apostles are men that gave up the material world and preached the word of God for the love of God, and the Pardoner admits to forsaking their example in favor of “moneye, wolle, cheese, and whete” (160).  Note how this line is longer than the ones proceeding, further exaggerating the pardoner’s wealth and conceited attitude.

Finally, towards the end of this passage the Pardoner abandons his gloating and changes the subject back to the tale he is to tell: “But herken, lordinges, in conclusioun” (166).  The frequent use of caesura slows this line down, setting it apart from the previous passage and drawing in the audience’s attention to what follows: “Youre liking is that I shal telle a tale” (167).  The first two words immediately led me to assume that the pardoner is again pandering to his audience.   This word choice, along with the pardoner’s earlier comment on storytelling, leads me to question the tale he is to tell.  Perhaps, (as Olivia suggested in response to Nicole’s blog) the whole tale is an elaborate trick to win the prize.  There is even the possibility that the pardoner has already used this tale to con his victims.  If so, will the other members of the party fall to his charisma as well? I sincerely hope they don’t.


Works Cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 243-342. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G4} | 2 Comments

What you see is what you get

First and foremost, I have absolutely no knowledge of religion what so ever, so my understanding is very limited, and perhaps incorrect. This is partially why I decided to stay away from focusing on religious aspects.  However, I did find an interest in examining the Pardoners appearance.  We know all that the Pardoner himself acts completely opposite to what he preaches, but does his appearance have any significance to his actions? Or is his appearance contrary to how he acts?

To begin, what is a Pardoner? Before reading The Canterbury Tales, the Oxford English Dictionary website became my best friend.  The way I understood it was, the Pardoner job included, pardoning people of their sins, the selling of relics, and preaching.  In other words, as a Pardoner he has a very important job. When I close my eyes and attempt to imagine what a Pardoner would or should look like, the description that Chaucer gives does not match what I imagined.  My close reading begins on page 259 starting on line 677, where Chaucer describes the Pardoner. The Pardoner is an individual with hair “as yellow as wex” (677), thin and laying as “colpons/strands” (681), eyes described as “swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare” (686), with a voice “as small/ highpitched as hath a goot/ goat” (690).  The description we are given for the Pardoner, in a way dehumanizes him while comparing him to animals. Oddly enough, his actions match that of a thief. In other words, not working hard for your money, but so easily getting/ stealing it from others. For example, the Pardoner feels no shame in taking money from a poor widow and her children suffering from famine even though the Pardoner  gets “more moneye than that the person gat in months” [705-06]. While having no remorse for those below him in the social rank, it makes me wonder what the Pardoner’s thoughts on God actually are.

Although I have not read other sections of The Canterbury Tales, I wonder how the other characters are described in comparison to the Pardoner.  After analyzing the Pardoner as a character overall, I believe that there is a strong correlation between his actions and his appearance. What you see is what you get!

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 243-342. Print

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King of the Forest

Despite the Christian basis for Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, “The Pardoner’s Tale” has many mystical, pagan elements including the personification of Death and the mysterious appearance of the gold under the oak tree. These elements, prominent in lines 472-487, add another layer of intrigue to this Pardoner’s story.

The Druid often held rituals under Oak Trees

Probably the most important and overlooked detail of this passage is the fact that Chaucer specifically states that the tree is an oak tree. If it was unimportant, why does he indicate it? Could it have been any other tree and had the same effect? The oak, known to Celtic lore as the King of the Forest, holds great prevalence in the mystical world as it is known as a center of magical properties in various pre-Christian religions. These religions include that of the classical Greek pantheon and Norse myth, as the oak tree often attracts lightning, the symbol of gods such as Zeus and Thor.

Oaks were often associated with lightning gods such as Zeus and Thor


Of course, in Druidic myth, the oak tree is at the core of their creation lore as all living things were born of the oak’s falling leaves. In “The Pardoner’s Tale,” we see an inversion of this creation myth as Chaucer has the oak become a place of death as opposed to birth.

Also, according to lore, the spirit of an oak tree can take the form of a wise old man, which to me is cause of suspicion for the old man who sends the riotoures to the tree. While I am skeptical that the old man is the spirit of the tree itself, due to the mystical elements of the tale, I would not be surprised to discover that the old man is Death in disguise. This is not as odd a notion as it seems because Death is personified throughout the story. The florins under the tree is Death’s test. When it is said that “til [the riotoures] cam to that tree, […] ne lenger thanne after Deeth they soughte” (481-484) this is true. They no longer sought Death, because they had already found him.

Do you think this is a reasonable theory? And is the Pardoner’s inclusion of pagan elements intended to scare his listeners into faith in Christianity? What do you think is Chaucer’s intent if that is so? What other possibilities might there be for the inclusion of pagan lore?


Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9thed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 321. Print.



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Disappearing Personification

As I carefully read Chaucer’s work I found the passage about the characters’ adventure in the tale particularly interesting.

“Seeking to defeat or master Death willfully is the shortcut to an early demise.” (Granger)

Firstly, I was intrigued due to the resemblance to J.K Rowling’s “The Tale of the Three Brothers” from her short fictional book The Tales of Beedle the Bard.  This came forth in my mind because of the similarity of plot, in which three characters are seeking and/or wanting to master Death.

On a side note: after a little research online, I found an interesting article from the University of Chicago by a graduate named John Granger. According to the man known as the ‘Dean of Harry Potter Scholars’, The Canterbury Tales were “an influence on her [Rowling] last novel” (Granger). If this intrigues you I highly suggest looking at John Granger’s featured article “Harry Potter and the Ivory Tower” located here.

Secondly, I was interested in the way Chaucer used death in “The Pardoner’s Tale”.  And more specifically the way lines 471 to 493, on page 321, reinforce Chaucer’s choice to personify death.  Death is what the three “riotoures” are seeking (480). The personification of death is found in this passage, but throughout the tale as well. Multiple times “he” and “him” are used to personify death in the passage (476).   Also, death is capitalised as “Deeth” several times, levelling its meaning to a noun or something substantial (473).

Now, what I found interesting was that Chaucer chose to personify death for majority of “The Pardoner’s Tale” and then chose to remove any personification once the “florins” were found (482). In most fictional novels that I have read which personify death, an actual embodiment or figure appears as death (or as a symbol of death) at some point. But in “The Pardoner’s Tale” this does not really occur. Death as a figure is the motivation for the men to follow the old man’s directions, but the men never meet a personified figure of death, just death itself.

"Under a tree, and ther he wol abide" (475)

The reader is lead to line 484 predicting that death is a “false thief” figure  awaiting the men under an oak tree (471). But Chaucer does an interesting twist on line 484. In one line (“Ne lenger thanne after Deeth they soughte”) an important part of the tale disappears. From my analysis I noticed that death is no longer personified after line 484. Death is present, but not personified.

Is it wrong? No. In my opinion I think that it’s actually brilliant. Chaucer’s choice to use and instantaneously remove a constant piece is so meticulous and serendipitous. It shapes the way the tale concludes.

My only questions is: did Chaucer remove the personified death for his audience? Was this done to emphasise that the three men were each meeting death in their own deaths, not a figure of death? Maybe or maybe not. It may be a question only Chaucer could answer.


You can find out more about John Granger here.

Feel like reading modern comics that are based on “The Pardoner’s Tale”? Click here.

Feel like watching the movie version of “The Tale of Three Brothers”? Click here.

Works Citied:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9thed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 321. Print.

Granger, John. “The University of Chicago Magazine: Features.” The University of Chicago Magazine: Features. The University of Chicago Magazine, July-Aug. 2009. Web. 28 Sept. 2012. <>.

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“Radix Malorum est Cupiditas,” Indeed.

Upon finishing my reading of the Pardoner’s prologue, tale, and epilogue, I must admit that my ideas concerning the relationship between the Pardoner’s story and the phony relics he uses to sell absolution were scattered, to say the least. In an attempt to push beyond my established perception of the shady, untrustworthy blonde described by Chaucer in the General Prologue however, I forced myself to look beyond what I wanted to see and look to what I felt Chaucer was showing me. There were three thought processes as I established a balance in my perceptions of the Pardoner’s fake relics, as well as his stories and advice, which I have detailed below (with definitions included as links, as I wasn’t certain about what some meant).

The Pardoner employs the illusions he has created in his relics to exploit the faithful in an attempt to build his material wealth, his story is told in order to preach against that same practice. While the irony in this contradiction does, in fact, make him the religious hypocrite that I imagine Chaucer was endeavouring to create, I would also argue that the way in which the Pardoner treats and views the relics, are a direct embodiment of the conflicts that led to the demise of the the three men in his story.

The Relics

In beginning his story in the prologue the Pardoner reveals all of his slippery methods. He states exactly what he does, what it is to accomplish, how he perceives the people to react, and (exactly) why he does it. The Pardoner admits his true intentions of using the relics when he says, “For myn entent is nat but for to winne, And no thing for correccion of sinne (313.115-116).” As though this were not disturbing enough of a confession, he continues on to say not only that he is unconcerned with whether their souls go to heaven or hell, but also that in exploiting their material wealth (or lack of), he would have:

“moneye, wolle, cheese, and whete,

Al were it yiven of the poorest page,

Or of the porrests widwe in a village-

Al sholde hir children sterve for famine (314.160-163)

All the while, he has told us that his main message always revolves around the same message: Radix malorum est cupiditas…’Avarice is the root of evil.’ Although it is hard to miss the blatant irony with which Chaucer has painted this picture, there is something more profound in the relics. The Pardoner’s treatment of the relics, his crystal jars, the brass encased shoulder-bone of one of Jesus’ sheep, and the cross embedded with ‘rare’ stones, is representative of all the aspects he endeavors to strike down in his tale.

The Tale

Throughout the first portion of The Tale, the Pardoner establishes each of the immoral practices he attempts to teach the pilgrims to reject through his tale. Among these, the ones that I believe must be highlighted are avarice or greed in general and, as he says, “deceite and cursed foreswerings, / Blaspheme of Crist, manslaughtre…Of Catel and of time (318.304-306).” I believe that these deserve mention, as they are among those most clearly noted through his tale of the ‘riotoures three.” For example, of greed, the Pardoner tells us:

al this gold departed be,

My dere freend, bitwixe thee and me.

Thanne we may bothe oure lustes al fulfille,

And thus accorded been thise shrewes twaye

To sleen the thridde, as ye han herd me saye. (322.543-548)


Another example is of his advice that men should not drink, as a part of their practice of gluttony:

And with that word it happed him par cas

To take the botel ther the poison was,

And drank, and yaf his felawe drinke also,

For anoon they storven bothe two. (324.597-600)

As it turns out, because of their habit of drinking (as noted by the fact that the story begins with the three men sitting in a tavern), they end up bringing upon themselves a painful death. Taking into account that all three of the men had been brought to their deaths by their own greed and avarice, the message of perjury the Pardoner relays through the message is seen in the breaking of the oath that they swore prior to their journey, to be as a band of brothers.

The point?

At the end of the Pardoner’s tale, the final passage is the key to what brought my whole idea of together. The last portion of the tale, before entering into The Epilogue, is not in the setting that the story of the three men took place, but in the Pardoner’s own voice. As the first half of The Tale, in the Pardoner’s own voice, describes the aspects that he sets out to establish as evil, it is interesting that Chaucer had added what the Pardoner says in the last portion of the tale that immediately follows the vices of the three men. By placing this portion of the Pardoner’s tale in this section of the story, one of the immoral practices listed above that were not mentioned directly in the tale of the men, are still noted on as a part of the tale. The Pardoner’s beckoning to the other Pilgrims who are listening to his story to

offre nobles or sterlings,

Or elles silver brooches, spoones, ringes.

Boweth your heed under this holy bulle! 

So graunte you his pardon to receive, 

For that is best – I owl you nat deceive. (324.619-620, 629-630).

Having admitted that his methods of obtaining wealth from the poor and faithful primarily involved deceit, the Pardoner commits one of the evils he condemns through his story. By using his relics, and his papal bulls for material gain and monetary wealth, the Pardoner has committed an act of blasphemy. Furthermore, as a man who is supposed to be religious and righteous in his actions, by treating the relics in the way that he has, the Pardoner has essentially broken his oath as acting on God’s behalf by sharing his generous forgiveness thus also committing perjury.

By using his relics in the way that he does, and manipulating the spiritual needs of the faithful, he is representative of the three men in his tale. His treatment of the relics allows him to act on his greed at the cost of his religious fellows, to successfully deceive them into giving him what he wants, to break his oaths thus perjuring himself, to take from the poorest people and be nonchalant about the dying starved children,  and to engage in the blasphemy of the very thing his job is to enrich. In this way, the Pardoner has done all the things that the three men have done in his tale, although to a differing degree and context. Perhaps to Chaucer, he is not only an ironic example of avarice, but an image of it that is even more ideal than three drunken, murderous and greedy men, who have not built their careers on illusions of their holiness.

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The Pardoner’s Tale: hypocrisy at its best

DQ:  Compare the Pardoner’s relics with his advice/stories.

To answer this discussion question, I examined the Pardoner’s relics separately from his advice.  Essentially, the Pardoner’s relics are fake representations of physical remains and souvenirs of Christian saints.  The Pardoner makes use of cheap objects such as “pigges bones”, “pilwe-beers”, and brass crosses to make ignorant and poor people pay for their sins (260.697 – 702).  And why does he do this?  Because the Pardoner preaches for only one purpose: “coveitise” or covetousness which is the envious eagerness of wanting to possess another’s belongings (314.136).  In this case, the Pardoner wishes to “winne gold and silver…al were it yiven of the pooreste page, or of the pooreste widwe” (314.152 – 162).  This is the purpose of his relics. I then separately examined the Pardoner’s advice and what he preaches to the ignorant population: “Radix malorum est cupiditas” or in other words – “avarice is the root of all evil” (312.46).  He repeatedly conveys this message yet what this message shares in common with the relics is that both are false.  The Pardoner admits to the “ypocrisye” of his preachings when he reveals this (314.122):

But though myself be gilty in that sinne,

Yit can I make other folk to twinne

From avarice, and sore to repente –

But that is nat my principal entente:

I preche no thing but for coveitise (314.141 – 145).

What the Pardoner is saying is that despite committing the sin of avarice himself he is also extremely well-crafted at telling others to behave otherwise.  The Pardoner’s character is the epitome of hypocrisy.  I found this as Chaucer’s way of questioning the Church during this time.  However, Chaucer appears to remain neutral with his technique of false humility:

But first I praye you of youre curteisye

That ye n’arette it nought my vilainye

…Who so shal telle a tale after a man

He moot reherce, as neigh as evere he can

…Al speke he nevere so rudeliche and large (260 – 261.727 – 736).

This statement put’s Chaucer in a neutral position because he is only relaying the exact qualities of the Pardoner through his [Chaucer] narrative voice rather than appearing as if he is criticizing.  Instead, Chaucer uses the character of the Host to make his opinion clear on what he thinks of the Pardoner and his relics:

Thou woldest make me kiss thyn olde breech

And swere it were a relik of a saint,

Though it were with thy fundament depeint (325.660 – 662).


Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9thed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 243-342. Print.

(relic) 2012

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Men Han Ful Ofte More for Harm than Prow.

From the moment our mind’s eye sets upon the Pardoner, Chaucer made no secret of the obvious falseness of the character introduced in his description.  His high-pitched voice, lack of facial hair, and the glazing over being a eunuch are clear signs of his lack of manliness.  Chaucer’s blatant distaste for the Pardoner is intentionally set up to make the audience uncomfortable, even more so when the Pardoner recounts shamelessly how he abuses both his title and human faith.  What it all boils down to, however, is the Pardoner is a necessary evil.

After examining the Knight earlier on in The General Prologue of ‘The Canterbury Tales,’ the reader can immediately draw deeper conclusions about the Pardoner from the vastly opposing clothing description and hints at their vanity. For although the Knight had money enough to afford good horses, he dressed down and wore clothing soiled by his trade: “bismotered with his haubergeoun” (76).  The Pardoner, on the flip side, seems to barely afford himself quality grooming yet he “thoughte he rood al of the newe jet” (685).  His faux superiority leads the reader to no surprise that his “relics” are falsities as well.

If  we glean over a selection of the Pardoner’s ‘holy relics’…

  • Vernicle sewn to his cap
  • Pig bones in a glass
  • Stone-filled brass cross
  • Laton covered sheep (of Jesus!) shoulder

There is one common element each of these have in relation with the others as well as with their carrier.  Any guesses?  Although each have the appearance of value and credibility on the outside, just beneath the surface they are often disgusting (rotting animal carcass anyone?) and always false.  Even his credited ‘bulles and patente seel,’ further masking of his fraud, could be faked for all that’s truly known.  Lamb-like faithfulness keeps the majority blissfully ignorant, or so the Pardoner describes, and though it may be foolish of the people he preaches to, he dons his Jesus adorned cap (interesting how a serpentine preacher wears the visage of Jesus so closely to his own face…) just as willingly as they eat up his “truths.”
Despite all this, the Pardoner has one (perhaps) saving grace: he admits to his own fraud and that he is evil for doing so, “for myn entente is nat but for to winne, and no thing for correccion of sinne” (114-15), he makes no qualms of what he wants nor the trickery he commits to acquire it.  He dictates that his sermon’s theme is continuously: avarice is the root of all evil.  As unchanging as his discourse, his avarice is cause for a great deal of evil that he commits and would commit – he has no low he would not stoop to.
For both Chaucer’s overall case of the Pardoner and as well for the Pardoner’s own case within the poem, the Pardoner works best as a mediator for the audience to gauge and/or reign in their own vices and/or ignorance.  The Pardoner, knowingly villainous, commits blasphemous fraud while ridding others of their worldly possessions while bringing them closer to God – even though it isn’t through the mediums he proposes. Altogether, the Pardoner unarguably performs his job, however dastardly, well.


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Do as I Say, Not as I Do.

A very odd man, this Pardoner is.

We get a description of him as this old, stringy-haired man (lines 677-684, page 259), and immediately this seems odd…from the description, I’m picturing this guy:

…minus the beard, I suppose. Hm, not exactly what I imagine when I think of a religious figure. Nonetheless, we press on. The relics he carries are mainly the type of things that he would need to justify–A pillowcase, a piece of a sail, pig’s bones in a jar–along with a more self-explanatory relic: a brass cross.

It seems too appropriate that the Pardoner himself is this man with “A vois … as [high-pitched] as hath a [goat]…”(line 690, page 260). However, Chaucer tells us that the Pardoner’s good at what he does…and by good I mean he reaps every benefit of his work.

At this point I became suspicious if this was truly a Pardoner or just a man posing as one.

But once we hear the prologue of the Pardoner, his gift of the ‘silver tongue’ becomes clear. He has a way with words that makes people want to believe. He preys on the naivete of the people; telling them grand tales.

This man doesn’t mind lying outright, and he has often used his position of power to save himself. It’s interesting to note, however, that he will only lie to a certain extent. He mentions in line 159 that he won’t go as far as to imitate the Apostles but he will tell stories about a soup of brass water resolving infidelity issues. From this, I gathered that his relics are his shield against any that try to stop his–very outright–greed.


His sermons, if you will, are centered around greed being the source of evil. Meanwhile, he admits that his own greed is fed by those trying to free themselves from their greed:

“For myn entente is nat but forr to winne,
And no thing for correccion of sinne…” (lines 115-116, page 313)

In this way, the Pardoner uses his relics as tools of his trade: He tells a great story, people give him stuff.

The Pardoner is a fascinating character, because to the passer-by the man could pass as homeless, but if anyone tried to harass him he had his relics and his papers to defend himself. The man tells us that he (metaphorically) cuts down any who try to challenge him in his authority (lines 125-128, page 314). I feel like his relics are a reflection of how he can use his gifts, regardless of his appearance to create such a strong defence for himself. He must have a hell of a poker face.

Works Cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9thed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 259-260; 310-315. Print.

Posted in 1: DQ Response, {G3} | 1 Comment

Comparison of Relics and Advice in The Pardoner’s Tale

Discussion Question: Compare the Pardoner’s relics with his stories/advice.

While reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, it immediately became clear that there was a sharp contradiction between the Pardoner’s actions and words. He uses supposed ‘relics’ to make others see him as a “noble ecclesiaste”, but in reality both he and the relics are not what they appear to be (260). The Pardoner’s use of these holy objects directly contrasts with his sermons on the dangers of greed; he himself uses the relics to gain wealth and is therefore responsible for the very sin that he warns against. He does not seem to be ashamed of this fact and takes every opportunity to brag of it to his friends (312-315).  The Pardoner has a “tonge [that can] winne silver”, and he uses his gift with words to accumulate as much money as possible, and does not ever seem to consider the moral consequences that come about as a result of his selfish actions (260).

In The General Prologue, several of the Pardoner’s ‘holy’ objects are described by the narrator:

He saide he hadde a gobet of the sail

That Sainte Peter hadde whan that he wente

Upon the see, til Jesu Crist him hente.

He hadde a crois of laton, a ful of stones,

And in a glas he hadde pigges bones. (260)

It is nearly impossible that these relics are the actual objects from Biblical times. However, based on the Pardoner’s hypocritical nature, it is very likely that he is quite aware of this fact and chooses to use it to his own advantage. It is even mentioned in a footnote in the text that the Pardoner presents pig’s bones as saint’s bones to individuals who come to him for help (260). It is clear that he is using these objects to “[make] the…peple his apes” (260). In other words, the Pardoner is using the relics as a bribe for individuals; if they donate money to him, they will be forgiven of their sins, and will therefore be worthy “To offren to [his] relikes in this place” (313).  They have been led to believe by the Pardoner’s sermons that greed is a terrible crime for which many of them are guilty. What they do not realize is that the real criminal is standing before them giving them advice he himself does not follow.

Overall, it is arguable that the Pardoner’s fake relics reflect his own deceptive personality, and that they both are a sharp contrast to his supposedly ‘noble’ stories and pieces of advice. All of these ideas bring forward the question of whether Chaucer intended for us, as the readers, to hate the Pardoner for his crimes, or if we were meant to respect him for his skills of trickery? Furthermore, do all of his companions admire him as the Pardoner believes they do?

Works Cited:

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Norton Anthology of  English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc., 2012. 243-342. Print.

Posted in 1: DQ Response, {G3} | 3 Comments

Pagan and Christian elements in Beowulf

I found that a lot of the recurring themes and habits of the characters are in direct contradiction to the core values of Christianity. This is interesting because the poem intends to be a strong reflection of Christian traditions and value: as stated in the introduction, the poem is a reflection of the “well-established Christian tradition” (37). The poem does have a clear underlying Christian pretext as God, or the “glorious Almighty,” (17) and “the Lord of Life” (16) is continually referred too, making it clear that the characters do believe in a Christian God. It is however their actions and habits that reflect the Pagan belief system and contradict Christian fundamentals. At the time Beowulf was written we know that the Pagans were given Christianity as a new religion to accept so this contradiction could be a reflection of how the transition is sitting uncomfortably with them. A lot of the actions that the characters display such as killing and the concept of revenge are contradictory to Christianity; killing is one of the major sins.

It is interesting to look at the concept of life or ones time spent on earth as it highlights the fundamental differences between the Pagan and Christian religions. Christianity looks at life as a journey towards what is left after death, and you should live in an honorable way on earth and not commit any sins to attain this so called afterlife. The Pagan belief is more focused on the reputation that you have on earth and the legacy that you leave behind. In Beowulf we can see that one of the main themes is to build a reputation by being a great warrior and to be a great warrior you are engaged in killing and revenge, hence the “never-ending blood feuds” (38) that occupy the content of the poem. Beowulf is “determined to take revenge for every gross act Grendel had committed” (1567-1568), yet it is clear in the Christian bible that individuals are not to judge or determine what others should be judged for and particularly are not to take action on enforcing the punishments for such judgments. It is like the poem was written with the intent to convey a deep Christian moral code yet the characters cannot escape the Pagan belief system as they commit sinful acts proclaiming these acts are to please a Christian God.

Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed.
Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. 36-108. Print.

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From Outcast to Monster

I have always had an interest in villains and the complex minds behind them, even as a little girl, so I was immediately curious about Grendel when I first read Beowulf. He demonstrates evil behaviour, such as eating a man alive without any real reason other than for the pleasure of it, but why is he labelled as evil? What are the reasons behind his darkness? Is he truly a demon or a creature that has been caught up in a curse that is not his own? Because of these questions, I have chosen the passage that takes place from lines 86 to 114.

Grendel is first introduced as a “powerful demon”, which immediately imposes the idea of a character that is wholly evil without any chance of redemption (86). The poet goes on to tell us that the joyful noises of a nearby hall upset Grendel. However, it is never explained why this upsets him. Is it because he hates happiness or is it because he is envious of them? It is described how God had created the world to be beautiful and helpful to mankind, which obviously excludes Grendel from these delights. This is the first suggestion of Grendel as an outcast. We soon find out that Grendel is the descendent of Cain, who is cursed for the murder of his brother Able. Cain was exiled from his homeland and cursed to be a “restless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12). The previous lines of the poem that describe Grendel to be “haunting” and “marauding” around the fens liken him to Cain and his wandering. Even though Grendel spends most of his time in these parts, the marches are never referred to as his home. This may have been done in order to give the sense that Grendel truly is an outcast and is estranged everywhere.

How did Grendel get to be a monster? At first I mulled over the word “wanderer”, which reminded me of history’s gypsies and how they were made outcasts. They were seen as abnormal and quite different from society’s norms, and when people are deemed to be different they are typically feared. When fear came into play, I then thought of the fear monsters instill in all of us. And there it was, the link between the initial wanderer and the monster: in this poem, outcasts are made to be monsters and vice versa.

I find that the poet of Beowulf makes Cain much more hated than is suggested in the bible, as he was simply exiled and made to wander. God did not hate Cain for what he did; in fact, God even protected Cain after he banished him. He made it so “no one who found him would kill him” (Genesis 4:15). This made me think: if God did not want Cain to be murdered, would he want Beowulf to murder Grendel?

The very last line of this passage states that all of these cursed creatures are waiting for God to give them their “reward” (114). But just what is the reward? In the end, Grendel was given nothing but death. Peace is possibly the greatest reward of all and it is thought that there is peace in death, but is that what the poet meant? Did he or she mean to say that all these creatures will one day meet their possibly grim end, but in it they will finally find peace and will no longer have to wander?

Works Cited

Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.37-80. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

Zondervan NIV Study Bible. p.10-12. Barker, Kenneth L., gen. ed. Grand Rapids: MI, 2002. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G2} | 7 Comments

“Laments For the Dead”

A celebration at Heorot follows Beowulf’s triumphant battle against Grendel and Hrothgar is quick to lavish the hero with treasure, weapons, and horses. It is here that the king’s poet then performs his “saga of Finn and his sons” (1067).

The particular passage I have chosen is from lines 1115-1126 and comes from a recitation by the poet in which he tells the tale of the battle of Finnsburg, a bloody feud between two clans that leaves both sides with losses. The scene I decided to shed light on depicts the Danish princess, Hildeburh’s, grief as she observes the funerals for both her son and brother.  I found that the importance of the passage lays in its use of effective language along with reference to the overall grimness and expressions of grief prevalent in Beowulf.

What struck me first with the passage upon reading was its linguistic elements: most notably the language sounds and diction. These sounds stand out as a result of the use of assonance and alliteration, both which I’ve highlighted below: 

Then Hildeburh

                  Ordered her own

son’s body

                  be burnt with Hnaef’s,

The flesh on his bones

                  to sputter and blaze

Beside his uncle’s.

                  The women wailed

and sang keens,

                  The warrior went up.

carcass flame

                   Swirled and fumed,

they stood round the burial

                   mound and howled

As heads melted,

                   crusted gashes

spattered and ran

                                bloody matter. (1115-1127)


As you can see the assonance really helps to create a subtle internal rhyme within the poem and, together with alliteration, both patterns of sounds greatly contribute to the flow and beauty of the language.

In regards to the actual content of the passage, we are given the perspective of a female, Hildeburh, who is divided in loyalty and is left to suffer losses on both sides.  The inclusion of such a poem with ill fates, recited during the king’s banquet where everyone is celebrating, seems rather ominous. Throughout Beowulf, this elegiac tone is very much present as a result of the constant allusion to the dead from the very beginning till the very end and seems to serve as a constant reminder to us of the inevitably of death.


Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.37-80. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

Posted in 2: Close Reading, {G2} | 1 Comment

“A few miles from here…”


One of the most beautiful passages from Beowulf, in my opinion, is lines 1362 – 1377, which can be found on page 71 of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume A. The passage provides a beautifully eloquent narrative of the desolate and frightening location Grendel, his mother, and other monsters make their home. What appealed most to me was the ability of the passage to transport me into the imagery by description alone. Words can work intense magic – as English students, we are all aware of this. It is easy to imagine sitting around a fire, listening to an elder relay the story of Beowulf, drawing in his listeners through his choice of words and performance. Most folklore stories contained situations of violence and wickedness, not only to inspire and entertain, but to frighten as well. Children were taught to respect the wilderness, and to never stray from the safety of their town or village into the gloom of the unknown. This is made evident through more well-known tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. Though they are certainly more contemporary than Beowulf, such bed-time (or fire-side) stories served a similar purpose. The notion of monsters such as Grendel and his mother deterred potential causalities and promoted unity within families and clans.

There were numerous things that intrigued me about my chosen passage, aside from my initial attraction to it. Upon closer inspection, I discovered I could perform a closer analysis of its cultural, semantic and structural elements. Almost immediately I noticed many cases of alliteration. Lines such as “…a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch” (1363) and “the heather-stepper halts: the hart in flight from pursuing hounds will turn to face them with firm-set horns” (1368-1370) repeat the letters w and h, respectively. When read aloud, it creates a pleasant melodic flow that intrigues the listener. This again ties back to Beowulf being, after all, an oral piece. Both lines also contain strong assonance through their repetition of vowel sounds. The long vowel sounds will slow down the energy, take longer to pronounce, and in general, make the mood more sombre and foreboding. I like to think that this gives the listener ample time to create an image in their mind of twisted, grisly trees casting shadows over a steely lake, over which drifts a chill mist.

Another element which is continuously present in my chosen passage is personification. As a creative writer, I find it is one of the most provoking ways to flavour any piece of writing. In the passage I chose from Beowulf, the wood “waits and keeps watch” (1363) and the skies “weep” (1374). Both cases of personification make it easier to imagine the ominous woods having a menacing spirit of their own. This is only reinforced by the depiction of the hart (a male adult deer) being pursued by blood-thirsty hounds but choosing to fight to the death rather than leap into the seemingly evil lake. The hart could also be considered a symbol for the mortal man, and the hounds representing cruel monsters that use the wilderness to their advantage when it comes to cornering their prey. Further, the deer is described as a “heather-stepper” (1369). After searching up the definition of ‘heather’, I confirmed my suspicions when I discovered it to be a purple-colored sort of shrub that grows abundantly on the moor. The moor is also associated with the notion of safety, since its open ground is much more appealing and familiar to humans and other creatures. The hart being described as a beast who makes its home on heather only further suggests it to be a symbol for man, especially when it is placed out of its element and thrust into the danger of the woods and lake.

The lake plays an important role within the passage. It is unyielding and threatening to all mortals, its “mere bottom has never been sounded by the sons of men” (1366-1367). Later in Beowulf, the listener learns that the lake is full of reptiles, sea dragons, and serpents, and also happens to be the underwater lair of Grendel and his mother. Perhaps my favourite part of the passage is the description of the lake at night, when the “water burns” (1366). The tension between the two words is eerie and perfectly describes the perils that lay within its depths.

All in all, my conclusion is that if I were to make Beowulf into a film, I would take great care when it came to the visuals of this setting, when it is first introduced to the viewer! Though hopefully, Grendel’s mother would not be as sexy as say, Angelina Jolie…


Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.48. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

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A mead hall, by any other name…

While I was reading Beowulf, the following passage particularily intrigued me:

“So they went on their way.  The ship rode the water,

broad-beamed, bound by its hawser

and anchored fast.  Boar-shapes flashed

above their cheek-guards, the brightly forged

work of goldsmiths, watching over

those stern-faced men.  They marched in step,

hurrying on till the timbered hall

rose before them, radiant with gold.

Nobody on earth knew of another

building like it. Majesty lodged there,

its light shone over many lands.” (300-311)

 I found myself running this scene through in my mind like a movie hours after reading it.  I feel the imagery here is undeniably grand and beautiful.  For a moment, I forgot I was reading a piece of epic poetry for school. I wasn’t paying attention to the meaning of every single word, I just read it as if it were a novel I had chosen to read in my spare time. The language created this powerful vision of the ship rising and falling on the sea as Beowulf’s party unloaded onto new terrain, marching powerfully in step with looks of determination on their faces as they followed the fearless Beowulf… It excited me! Because story was potentially written to be told orally to a group of people shows how important it was that the author created vivid imagery for the mind to play with.  This passage makes me feel like whoever the author was did a pretty decent job!

What most interested me, however, was Heorot. I loved reading about the moment the group first set eyes on the mead hall, ornamented in gold, glinting sunlight off of its surface like a beacon of light up on a hill.  I decided to look into the name Heorot to see if I could learn more about this place and why it was so majestic, more-so than anybody on earth knew of at that time as mentioned in line 309?  I went here and learned that the name Heorot means “Hall of the Hart”; hart being a medieval word for male deer.  I also found some artwork done of the supposed Heorot in which its roof was adorned with a buck’s antlers.

I decided to look further into the meaning of the male deer in the Middle Ages seeing as it looks to be important. I found that the hart was a highly respected animal, and had “great symbolic and mythological significance in that time period“. It was often compared to Christ for its suffering as it was often hunted by man or dogs although it was the king of the forest. I found it interesting that the name of this mead hall was actually named after something that too experienced suffering. Just as Christ and the male deer suffer by being crucified and hunted, Grendel preyed ruthlessly on the people sleeping in the mead hall every night. The name is obviously very symbolic.  This makes me wonder if Heorot was named before or after Grendel began to wreak havoc on its people? I also wonder what other names or allusions to Christianity are made throughout the text that we have not picked up on, and if the people who this story was initially written for would have picked on on such references, especially in the time of transition from paganism to emphasis on Christianity?

Works Cited

Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.48. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

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The Beowulf Dragon Comes to Life Through Onomatopoeia

The word ‘slither’ is the perfect word to describe a snake, or any reptile. It contains within it the linguistic sounds synonymous with a reptile’s tounge. Both in the first letter ‘s,’ we can hear ‘sssssss’ and again hear a similar sound if the ‘th’ is exaggerated.

The dragon within Beowulf has been depicted, as most dragons have, with that same reptilian tongue that inspires the onomatopoeia in the letter ‘s’:

            For this first blog post, the passage I picked for close reading is from lines 2565-2585. It is in this passage that Beowulf first encounters and begins to battle with the dragon. Within the passage are several examples of alliteration, but the most interesting occur with relation to the dragon itself. The dragon is described in line 2568 as a “serpent”. Following this, the poem contains dense repetition of the ‘s’ sound I mentioned above:

“raised his hand and struck hard / at the enameled scales, but scarcely cut through…” (2576-77).

“The mound-keeper / went into a spasm and spouted deadly flames: / when he felt the stroke, battle-fire / billowed and spewed” (2580-83).

            This alliterative onomatopoeia allows the reader to visualize the dragon, the serpent, through more than just descriptive words.  It also serves as a reminder of the origin of the poem. Because Beowulf was written as a poetic epic, it’s author most likely intended to have it read aloud, much like traditional oral epics. When read aloud, the sound of the ‘s’ itself is alluding to the dragon within the text. The importance of an oral reading of this poem is also present in another line from this passage: “Swaddled in flames, it came gliding and flexing / and racing toward its fate” (2569-2570). The repetitive use of ‘and’ instead of inserting a comma here adds to the tension and action present in the poem. This is especially true when read aloud with upward inflections on each verb.

Close reading upon this passage is problematic when focusing on literary devices and sounds instead of the content itself. The text is, of course, only a representation, or a translation from its original West-Saxon dialect. Therefore, it is hard to know if the alliteration with the letter ‘s’ was present in the original poem, and, if it is an intentional dragon onomatopoeia. Who deserves praise for this beautiful connection between sound and text? The original author or the translator, Seamus Heaney? If Heaney did take the artistic liberty to add many ‘s’ sounds into this passage, how does this change (if at all) the readers perception? These are questions that can certainly be asked throughout Beowulf, but seem especially important during passages such as this, where the literary device and the context within the passage can be so closely linked.

Works Cited

Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.37-80. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.


As a side note, I spent some of my summer learning about and then brewing mead. It’s just a coincidence that Beowulf happened to enter my life so shortly after. Most of my friends asked the question “why didn’t you just brew beer?” Maybe the English 340 class will find it more interesting. This particular bottle will be ready to open in November (although like most liquors, the older the better) and will have a taste and alcohol percentage similar to white wine.

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Christianity vs. Pagan Elements

DQ: How does the poet mix Christian and pagan elements, especially beliefs and habits?

Throughout the text of Beowulf  it is easy to see a strong sense of Christian elements in a poem about pagan individuals. We know from the Norton Anthology of English Literature that the original poem was found in old English written about Germanic warriors. Since the text also mentions wars back in 520 A.D. we know that the text was written in a previous time then it was recorded. This may reflect why the author has mixed or blended together the pagan habit and lifestyle with the Christian beliefs.

The pagan lifestyle can be seen with the values of being “morally upright” (pg. 37). This is seen through the values that Hrothgar and Beowulf. With Hrothgar it is seen through the value and safety of his people in that he is willing to do anything including letting a stranger come into his territory to fix the problem. He even associates Beowulf as his “friend” (457). These acts done by a great and powerful king to be so gracious and welcoming reflect the values of a good man which ultimately reflects that of a pagan man. Beowulf is also seen as a good man for coming to Dane to risk his life to free these people from this horrible monster. He does not ask for any gold or money but merely states that he has “come here to you” (417). Throughout these two characters we see a strong sense of good coming forth from them that is commonly seen throughout the pagan beliefs of being “morally upright”. These characters represent the traits of pagan individuals very strongly with their actions. However other ideas presented in the text give the idea of Christian beliefs and elements are also strongly recognized.

The Christian Beliefs can commonly be seen as a “well established English Tradition” pg.37. Even though the characters are that of pagans the forces of the poem reflect those of Christian elements. This can be seen with the origins of Grendle being that he came from Cain the son of Adam and Eve who has been

“condoned as outcasts for the killing of Abel

The Eternal Lord has exacted a price:

Cain got no good from committing that murder […]

and out of the curses his exile there sprang

orges and elves and evil phantoms” (104-114)


This quote represents a couple of things. It represents the history of his past which is tied closely to God in that God decided the fate of this horrible monster, this is shown in that Cain is the father of Grendle. Since Grendle came forth from this “evil phantom(s)” It also shows why Grendle is so horrible in that he was born out of evil or sin, something which is commonly seen throughout the Christian faith on the idea of good and evil. With God representing the good and sin and punishment bad or evil. God’s judgement and power is also strongly effected throughout the poem in that “God can easily halt these raids and harrowing attacks” (478-479). This quote shows the power of God in that he is the ultimate control of fate and that “fate goes ever as fate must” (455) which, demonstrates the idea of “a just judgement by God.” (441). Showing that God has all the power and control something which is commonly seen throughout a Christian ideals in that he is the creator the one who gave life and can take it away. Lastly the poem reflects a monotheist view in that there is one God and he is all mighty all powerful and all knowing. Throughout the text the idea of “God” and “Lord” are commonly seen. This shows a common Christian theme of there being one almighty. This differs from a pagan view in that pagan lifestyle reflected on more than one deity.

The text itself seems to be at an identity crisis in that it is a story about individuals with pagan morals but a very strong sense of Christian elements and beliefs which the characters feel strongly tied to. Perhaps this crisis can reflect the author and give us a glimpse back into history to show us how strong religion was at the time it was written. If you continue with that branch of thought the story is not merely about a “morally upright” pagan battling monsters but, a glimpse into the strength that the Christian religion had during the time it was written.


Works Cited

Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed.
Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. 41-108. Print.


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Paganism and Christianity in Beowulf

DQ: “How does the poet mix Christian and pagan elements, especially beliefs and habits?”

The poet of Beowulf crafts a unique blend of Paganism and Christianity. While the poem was being written the British Isles were in the midst of being converted from Paganism to Christianity. The poet seems to use Beowulf as a reflection of this conversion, discussing history. The British Isles were Christian in name, but everyone did not necessarily give up their Pagan beliefs or practices. Beowulf and Hrothgar continually thanked the Lord and praised the Lord, while many of the other characters only seemed to embrace Christianity in times of good, but when situations got rough they seemed to revert back to Paganism and “remember hell” (180) which they had believed for so long. The combination of using both religions beliefs and habits (especially in sentences, paragraphs and pages so close together) creates irony, but also takes a look at history too.

Christianity is a monogamous religion, meaning there is only one god. Throughout the poem “the creator”, “the almighty”, and “the lord God” are mentioned many times. On the other hand Paganism is a belief of no single God, and their belief system normally followed that of Greek Mythology or a Roman belief system, and also had a reference to hell (noted on the bottom of page 45, “Heathen gods were thought to be devils.” (pp. 45)) This creates a beautiful irony in Beowulf because those who are in the midst of preying to both Christian and Pagan gods are sinning in the Christian religion by preying to the devil.

The poet of Beowulf describes how the people under the rule of Hrothgar prey at Pagan shrines; offerings were given in hopes that he would “come to their aid” again.

“Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed offerings to idols, swore oaths that the killer of souls might come to their aid and save the people. That was their way, their heathenish hope; deep in their hearts they remembered hell. The Almighty Judge of good deeds and bad, the Lord God, Head of the Heavens and High King of the World, was unknown to them.” (175-183)

This passage is important because it is where the poet truly blends Paganism and Christianity in few words.  Prior to this passage the Christian religion is seen in light, with statements such as “comfort sent by God” (13-14) or “God-given goods” (72) the tone and mood are happy right now, then Grendel descends. Grendel (whom is said to be a descendent of Cain, whom is a part of the Christian religion) was judged by God and “condemned as [an] outcast” (107), and when he attacks Heorot it causes a negative image of Christianity. So the Germanic people hoped (“heathenish hope”) (179) that their prior religion could and would save them.

As mentioned above, notice throughout Beowulf that when times are good they thank God, but when times are bad they prey to the devils.  It seems that the poet combined Paganism and Christianity not only to reflect on history, but also to create an irony in the poem because people had not picked one religion to follow and that caused suffering for themselves. If the Germanic people had not continually reverted back to Paganism (sinning), the poem may not have had such a rollercoaster of the tone and mood, because God would not have judged those who sinned. The changing of religions caused a vicious circle (just meaning that when one used habits and beliefs from one religion it meant disbelief (more or less) in the other religion, yet they switched between them so easily it was surely a sin, which may have created good and bad times, from a mixture of praise and perish from both religions.)

Beowulf  mixes two religions artfully, putting them side-by-side in many instances and having the charactures use a combination of practices from both religions. This causes discussion on whether the poet used this as a literary device, causing irony throughout his poem, or if he was just recalling history and the chaos that came with the conversion of religions, or if there is some other reason. In the end though the poet provokes thought about history, and what was going on during the time it was written, but it also causes opinions on the irony that undoubtedly created during this poem.

Class discussion question: Was Paganism and Christianity both used in this poem to reflect on history and/or to create irony to change the tone and mood?  Did it cause a vicious circle in this story?

Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.37-80. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.

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Christianity and Paganism in Beowulf

Discussion Question: How does the poet mix Christian and pagan elements, especially beliefs and habits? 

In Beowulf, the author incorporates elements of Christianity and paganism by using the characters’ beliefs and habits to show how the people use religion to react to different situations.   The author establishes a chief Christian tradition for the Danish people but also suggests a slight conversion to paganism during troubled times, which indicates that although Christianity is recognized and accepted, paganism was the back- up religion for society.

The characters of the poem often thanked the Lord for blessings and for successes, but acts differently when the situation changes.  The poet implies that the Danish people claim to believe God as the “Almighty Judge of good deeds and bad, the Lord God, Head of the Heavens and High King of the World,” (180-82) and constantly refers to God for the reason behind problems.  The poet indicates that the reason the creature Grendel is an evil demon from hell is because he is a banished monster along with the rest of Cain’s clan, all of which “the Creator had outlawed and condemned as outcasts”  (106-07). God’s judgment is the reason why Grendel is banished.  The poet uses Christianity to explain how Grendel came to be and uses Christianity as the basis of the people’s beliefs because God is conveyed as having answers to questions.  However, the people are shown to worship pagan deities instead when God has not provided an answer or outcome.  When the time came where Grendel attacked the people of Heorot, they turned away from God and instead, at “pagan shrines vowed offerings to idols, swore oaths that the killer of souls might to their aid and save the people” (175-78). The people worshiped pagan deities instead of the one God that they have once depended on for understanding.   The poet uses this example from Beowulf to show that although Christianity is the main tradition that people have depended on, they still have tendencies to turn to paganism and pray to pagan deities, hoping to be relieved from their problems.  Both the aspects of Christianity and paganism are in the minds of society.

After Grendel was defeated, the poet expresses that Beowulf had won because of the “wondrous gifts God had showered on him: he relied for help on the Lord of All, on His care and favor” (1271-72). The poet reveals how the people thank the Lord again and not the pagan deities that they were praying to earlier.  God was thanked because he had provided gifts to Beowulf so Beowulf could win over Grendel.  God is once again an understanding and answer to how Beowulf beaten Grendel.   This habit they have reflects how people tend to switch between Christianity and paganism when they are in trouble.  They relied other gods to get an answer or solution to Grendel, but once the problem is gone, they revert back to Christianity to thank God for giving power and being the judge.

The poet uses the character’s tendencies and beliefs to mix in pagan and Christian elements.  Although the Christian tradition seems to be well established and incorporated into daily lives, when Grendel attacked, the people chose paganism over believing in God. Christianity may be recognized, but paganism still stood as a back-up for people to depend on.

Beowulf. Trans. Seamus Heaney. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Gen. ed.
Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. A. New York: Norton, 2012. 41-108. Print.




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Beowulf: A Mosaic between Christianity and Paganism, Developed through a Converged Code of Beliefs and Practices


Beowulf: A Mosaic between Christianity and Paganism, Developed through a Converged Code of Beliefs and Practices

English 302- Group One Blog Post Assignment Submission(Blog Post Type One)Dane Thibeault (100 878 71)

Discussion Question: How does the poet mix Christian and pagan elements, especially beliefs and habits? 


In response to my inquiry into the text of Beowulf, it is my intention to posit here that the author of the poem blends Christian elements and pagan elements through establishing a superimposition of a Christian belief system—assuming a single God acting as the divine authority acknowledged by the characters of the text—over a backdrop of pagan traditions. To elaborate, God is considered to be the almighty creator by the characters of the poem, a Christian principle, yet, the author incorporates supernatural elements more consistent with the pagan belief in multiple god-like entities serving to manipulate fate. Additionally, elements of superhuman capabilities (a staple of the pagan mythology of antiquity) are integrated into the text, while they are supposedly distributed by God—a testament of convergence between the two belief systems. Also, pagan practices are incorporated into the text through the author’s scornful recollections of the Danes resorting to idols and hell inspired forces to alleviate their burdens(a pagan practice), while the poet at the same time expresses a praise for those who continue to consult with the single God in times of crisis(a Christian practice). In essence, the author develops a state of intermingling between Christianity and paganism through motivating the characters with a belief in one God, yet surrounding them by a pagan inspired fantastical environment, often in contradiction to that God.

With regards to the supernatural elements within Beowulf, such as demons, one might contest that, additionally, contemporary mainstream religions—applying in this case, Christianity—feature negative states(hell and creatures such as the devil) to supplement the ultimate positive state of heaven, thus displaying supernatural elements of their own. While I concede that this is, indeed, the case, I wish to advance that the creatures within Beowulf are more consistent with pagan mythological features, such as Medusa within the paganism of Greek antiquity. What relevance is there of this? The ultimate significance is that the author of Beowulf incorporates these pagan elements with the intent of posing an opposition to those supposedly favoured by God within the poem(namely Beowulf), thus mixing both Christian theology and pagan theology to complicate the plot of the text. Grendle and his mother described by Hrothgar in terms of being “…fatherless creatures/ and their whole ancestry is hidden in a past/ of demons and ghosts”(1355-57) insights a number of questions for me regarding their possible connection to Christianity. Is the description of the demons as “fatherless” a replication of the state of birth without conception celebrated in Christianity(that being, the birth of Christ)? Could Grendle and his mother being hypothetically formed in the same way serve as yet another example of the author’s correlation of Christian and pagan principles throughout the text, with the ironic element of representing those born of the same way as Christ as grotesque and detested, as opposed to praised?  Digressing from such considerations, it is important to reflect upon the more concrete ways in which the two belief systems are mixed within Beowulf. 

In terms of pagan practices occurring within the established Christian world of belief, the poet depicts the Danish people, rendered desperate by Grendle’s onslaughts, consulting the pagan inspired principle of praying to alternative spiritual mediums, such as idols or the devil. Such acts are reflected upon with dismay in the author’s lamentation that:

Sometimes at pagan shrines they vowed offerings to idols, swore oaths that the killer of souls might come to their aid and save the people…. The Almighty Judge of good deeds and bad, the Lord God…was unknown to them. Oh, cursed is he who in time of trouble has to thrust his soul in the fire’s embrace, forfeiting help; he has nowhere else to turn (175-78, 180-86).

Therefore, while Christian values are conveyed by the author as favourable, pagan forces(such as the “killer of souls”) are recognized to exist as an alternative option, serving as another combination of the two belief systems coexisting within the text.

Another integration of pagan and Christian elements within Beowulf occurs with the application of a common characteristic of pagan mythology—the celebration of a mortal or other force as having divine or “godlike” status—to a Christian context by the poet. Beowulf, in praise of his valour, is considered to have achieved perceived immortal status through slaying Grendle unaided by a weapon, yet this bestowed immortality is believed to be purveyed by God, the symbol of Christianity. Hrothgar, in commending Beowulf for his heroic efforts, illustrates this subtle blending of concepts from both belief systems in his statement: “…you have made yourself immortal/by your glorious action. May the God of Ages/ continue to keep and requite you well,” (953-55). This blending occurs in the regard for Beowulf as “godlike”, yet, at the same time attributing God as being responsible for bestowing these qualities. Beowulf’s remarkable heroism is somewhat reminiscent of the pagan idol, Hercules, and his superhuman strength bestowed by the heavens.

Beowulf’s poet masterfully compiles elements of both paganism and Christianity both with regards to beliefs and practices into one established unified literary environment throughout the text, prompting the remaining question: what elements of paganism, whether we are aware of them or not, motivate our daily activities, and the plots and themes of contemporary literature? To conclude with another thought for consideration: how would the text have differed, where it deprived of all aspects of pagan belief?


Works Cited

Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. p.37-80. Greenblatt, Stephen, gen. ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume A The Middle Ages 9th ed. 6 vols. New York: NY, 2012. Print.


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