poetry


Poetry is a form of literature composed in verse. It is normally rhythmic, metrical and there is division of stanzas. The use of imagery and figurative language gives it unique character.

Poetry is a collective name for the cluster of poems. It is one of the most ancient forms of arts. It is often fused with music in songs. It is its rhythmic use of language as a reason; it is often called “metrical writing”. But as we see, cadenced poetry of the Bible and free verse for example, are rhythmic but not metrical in strict sense of the term.

Broadly speaking, poetry usually projects emotions, feelings and human experience in metrical language.

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The students of English literature are familiar with what sonnets are. A sonnet is basically a short poem of 14 lines composed in a special pattern. This form of poetry was probably invented in Italy during Renaissance.

The form of sonnets was made popular by Petrarch. This form started a fashion which influenced poetry in Europe. Later on, it was termed as the “Petrarchan convention” of artificial love poetry.

He wrote sonnets addressing Laura de Noves whom he loved. Petrarch set her up in his mind as the ideal woman and wrote around. Similarly, Dante had idealized Beatrice Portinary. As a result, idealized women remained the literary custom in poetry all over Europe.

rhyme-pattern-of-sonnets

rhyme-pattern-of-sonnets

Great poets like Milton and Wordsworth used the Italian form. However, in Milton’s sonnet on his blindness, there is no such clear break between the octave and the sestet.

Sonnet Examples

Keats’s sonnet “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer” is highly lyrical poetry written in the Italian form.

On first looking into Chapman’s Homer

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

It is easy for an ordinary poet to write a sonnet but the lyrical feeling may get lost in composing the form. Keats has maintained the correct sonnet-form without missing the lyrical feeling in it. The line “watcher of the skies when a new planet swims into his ken” beautifully expresses the excitements of the new discovery.

There are twentieth century poets like Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) and A. E. Housman wrote sonnets. Any reader of English poetry should read Brooke’s sonnets.

There is another modern poet Charles Causley who has written number of sonnets but his “For an Ex Far East Prisoner of War” is very special for modern times. It is about a problem which concerns all in this modern world. The problem deals with forgiving and forgetting wars. This poem shows the ex-prisoner as a modern Christ who suffers on the cross and reminds of guilt and responsibility.

For an Ex Far East Prisoner of War

I am that man with helmet made of thorn
Who wandered naked in the desert place,
Wept, with the sweating sky, that I was born
And wore disaster in my winter face.

I am that man who asked no hate, no pity,
I am that man, five-wounded, on the tree.
I am that man, walking in native city,
Hears his dead comrade cry, Remember me!

I am that man whose brow with blood was wet,
Returned, as Lazarus from the dead to live.
I am that man, long counseled to forget,
Faeing a fearful victory, to forgive:

And seizing the two words, with the sharp sun
Beat them, like sword and ploughshare, into one.

If you read this sonnet, you will realize that how it is difficult to say that both lyrical and reflective poetry are different.

Milton’s Paradise Lost was published in 1667. From his earliest youth, Milton had determined to write a great epic. At first, the story of King Arthur came into his mind. But with the deepening of his religious view, he turned from this secular theme to the Biblical narrative of the fall of man.

This epic poem Paradise Lost may be roughly divided into three parts:

The first part deals with rebellion of the angels and their strife with God.
The second part depicts the creation of mankind.
The third part concerns with the plot of Satan against man.

The main interest of Paradise Lost is centered in Satan. It is an epic of art based upon the classical conventions. The vast and vague dimensions of the poet’s universe, in which supernatural beings pass between Earth and Heaven, between Chaos and Hell, all these baffle the imagination. Above all, the figure of Satan is the dominating character. His character is conceived magnificently.

The Theme of the poem:

The theme of Paradise Lost as an epic poem holds universal human interest. The poem concerns itself with the fortunes not of an empire but of the whole human race. It concerns with the event of plucking the apple in the history of the race which has molded all its destinies.

The scene of the action is universal space.
The time represented is Eternity.
The characters are God and his creatures.

The poem comes in twelve books:

Book I:
It deals with the Fall of Man; the disobedience of Adam and Eve which became the cause for their exile from the carefree Garden of Eden and ultimately brought death and suffering in the world. It also depicts the Satan’s defeated armies.

Book II: It depicts the fallen angels making plot against God. They decide to attack God indirectly. Satan makes his journey through space.

Book III: Satan continues his voyage and lands on Mount Niphates.

Book IV: The description of Garden of Eden. Satan comes to know that God has forbidden Adam and Even to eat the apple from the Tree of knowledge. Satan therefore, decides to tempt Eve in her dream to disobey God’s warning.

Book V to VIII: Eve reveals her dream to Adam. God foresees the trouble and so sends Raphael to prevent them from disobeying God. Raphael talks about a new World of human beings and the structure of the universe.

Book IX: Satan takes the form of serpent and tempts Eve to eat the apple. Eve and Adam eventually both fall in the trap of Satan and disobey God. They become aware of the sexuality and being ashamed of it, they quarrel with each other.

Book X: God send his Son to justify Adam and Eve and save them from the destruction. Sin and Death both enter in the Garden. Satan returns to Hell to rejoice his victory.

Book XI and XII: The Son persuades God not to destroy Adam and Eve. God therefore decides to drive them out from the Eden and this task is assigned to Michael. Michael makes both of them realize God’s vision and intention, and the world of mankind. They are told to lead their life in the imperfect world until the second coming of the Son of God.

The illustrious name of Edmund Spenser occupies a place among the writers of England similar to that of Ariosto among those of Italy. Spenser was influenced by Gabriel Harvey, a noted humanist and by the religious atmosphere of his college.

Spenser’s Faerie Queene appeared in installments. In 1589, Spenser crossed to London and published the first three books; in 1596 the second three followed; and after his death two cantos and two odd stanzas of Book VII appeared.

The Faerie Queene (1590) is prefaced by a letter appeared to Sir Walter Raleigh in which the poet’s purpose is stated and the plan of the work outlined. The purpose is moral instruction through examples of virtuous conduct conveyed in the form of romantic allegory. Twelve “books” were planned, twelve being the traditional number of sections (cantos) in work of an epic scale since Homer’s Iliad.

Each of the twelve was to deal with some one aspect of virtuous conduct as practiced by the individual such as Holiness, Justice and Courtesy. Another twelve books were contemplated to deal with three virtues from the political angle. Each virtue was to be embodied in a separate hero. The figure of The Faerie Queene is not introduced at all, but Prince Arthur appears in each of the six finished books.

Spenser published only six books:

The book I deals with the adventures of the Red Cross Knight, representing Holiness.
The book-II
tells the adventures of Sir Guyon, the knight of Temperance.
In book-III, the poet describes Britomar, the Maiden Knight of charity.
The book IV deals with the legend of Triamond as Cambell, exemplifying friendship.
The book V gives vividly the adventures of Artegall who is the Knight of Justice.
The last book deals with the adventures of Sir Calidore, exemplifying courtesy. The plot is exceedingly leisurful and elaborates. There is huge space for digressions.

The allegory of Spenser’s Faerie Queene is complex; it has imaginative force and magical music. Charles Lamb’s reference to Spenser appears to be “the poet’s poet”. The construction of the plot is very obscure because it is an allegory. The general scheme of the work is expounded in the author’s introductory letter addressed to Sir Walter Raleigh.

By Faerie Queene, the poet signifies Glory in the abstract, and Queen Elizabeth in particular. The Queen of Faerie holds a fast for twelve days. On each day a stranger in distress appears claiming help against a dragon or giant or tyrant. A Knight is assigned to each guest, and the twelve books were to be concerned with the stories of the twelve adventures. Further, each Knight was to represent a virtue, and his warfare the strife against the contrary vice. All the virtues were to the shown combined in Arthur, so that by this figure as well as by the nature of many of the incidents the poem was related to the great tradition of the “matter of Britain”

Allegory

Though the story three strands keep running and twisting;

1. The unusual characters of the Arthurian and classical romance such as Arthur, Merlin, Fauns and Satyrs.

2. The allegorical moral & religious virtues or vice such as Una (Truth), Fidelia (Faith), Orgogio (Pride), Duessa (Deceit).

3. The Elizabethan political-historical-religious elements are also allegorized. For example, Glorina is Elizabeth, Duessa may be Mary, Queen of Scots, Archimago may be the Pope.

Style

• Spenser is highly imaginative
• Subtle and sustained melody
• Graphic word-picture
• Magical color or atmosphere

Technique

• Archaic diction – where the occasion demanded. He invented words or word-forms; e.g. he uses “blend” for blind and “kest” for cast.
• He introduced Spenserian Stanza –longer than the usual stanza, but shorter than the sonnet, as unit it is just long enough to give an easy pace to the slowly pacing narrative.
• The alliteration, vowel – music

It was called the age of transition, because the drift of poetry of this period was towards Romanticism. It was the Romantic reaction, a rebellion against the classical domination. The “return to nature” is a name often given to one mode or feature of the Romantic reaction viz. the revival of the handling in poetry of subjects connected with external nature in a natural manner. Referring to this Romantic reaction Wyatt says: “Even while the fame of the classical poetry was at its height, the way was being prepared for its overthrow”.

Before Pope had reached the summit of his fame in the fourth decade of the century, James Thomson’s the Seasons (1730) had presented nature herself at first hand, not mere her conventional descriptions by poets who recommended her as a tonic to the town-weary, found a place once more in our literature, and was to find a larger one that at any earlier period.

Thomson’s The Seasons was the first noteworthy poem of the romantic revival; and the poems and poets increased steadily in number and importance till, in the age of Wordsworth and Scott, the spirit of romanticism dominated English literature more completely than Classicism had ever done. This Romantic Movement – (Victor Hugo says) liberalism in literature – is simply the expression of life as seen by imagination, rather than by prosaic “commonsense”, which was the central doctrine of English philosophy in the 18th century.

The Growth of Historical Research:

History appears late in English literature, for it presupposes a long apprenticeship of research and meditation. Like so many other things it was fostered in France, and it touched Scotland first. The general advance in knowledge and the research into national affairs which were the features of the 18th century culture quickly brought the study of history into prominence.

The historical school had a glorious leader in Gibbon, who was nearly, as much at home in the French language as he was in English.

New Realism:

Fielding and his kind dealt very faithfully with human life, and often were immersed in masses of sordid detain. In the wider sense of the word, the novelists were Romantics; for in sympathy and freshness of treatment they were followers of the new ideal.

The Influence on Poetry:

In 1740 we have Pope still alive and powerful, and Johnson as aspiring junior; in 1800, with Burns and Black, Romanticism has unquestionably arrived. Consequently:

1. Decline of the heroic couplet and free use of the Pindaric ode in the works of Gray and Collins.
2. The revival of the ballad.
3. The descriptive and narrative poems began – e.g. The Deserted Village.
4. The rise of lyric. The intense simplicity of the lyric of Burns and Blake.

Goldsmith adopts Pope’s heroic couple in The Deserted Village which is excellent poem of a didactic kind, exquisitely expressed. The Augustine principle of Reason and correctness came to be challenged. There was the raise of genuine imagination. There was also the protest against the bondage of rules.

The habit of writing leers became very popular during the 8th century and flourished till well into the 19th century, when the institution of the penny-post made letter-writing a convenience and not an art. It was this popularity of the letter that helped Richardson’s Pamela into public favor. In The Life of Johnson Boswell published many of Johnson’s letters.

There is a renewed appreciation of nature in the second half of the 18th century. The slogan was “A Return to Nature”. The nature was given due place in the classical poetry. But it was the conventional, bookish nature of the artificial pastoral and it dealt with urban life. Thus it was deficient in any genuine feeling for nature.

The poem The Seasons of Thomson reflects that he was an extremely careful observer of nature. It abounds in description of nature which is purely photographic. He was a describer and enumerator of nature which foreshadows great poets of nature i.e. Wordsworth and Shelley. The other precursors of the Romantic Reactions were Grey Collins, Blake and Burns whose poetry reveals an intimate knowledge and love of nature. Their attitude towards nature comes nearest to the Wordsworthian spirit.

There is a blur differentiating line between reflective and lyrical poetry. It is quite amusing in fact to make a contemplative study of such types of poetry. The whole efforts of this article are geared towards focusing on this very aspect of peeping in to poetry.

The type of poetry that we call lyrics, are basically short and simple. They are direct expressions of the poet’s sentiments, thoughts and feelings. Going back to the ancient Greece, the lyrics were sung to the tune of a musical instrument known as “lyre”. Recently, lyrics are sung with the guitar.

However, there are lyrics you may find inappropriate for singing. Poems such as Pope’s Essay on Man and Wordsworth’s Prelude, are such a long in length that you can not call them lyrics. They are too thoughtful. So, a lyric consists of feeling rather than thought!

Wordsworth’s the Rainbow depicts the beautiful reflection on nature:

“My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So it is now I am a man:
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!”

It is lyrical in real sense of the word which expresses the emotions of joy. If the poet had thought of describing the effects of nature on human beings, it would have been reflective poetry and not lyrical.

Thus, you can lightly make a distinction between the two. Lyric is a sort poem expressing feelings and emotions; on the contrary reflective poem is long and quite thoughtful. Even if the subject matter of lyrical poem is love, there are also the sad topics like fear, hatred and death which are dealt with.

The lyrical temper is almost famous in recent times. For instance, Japanese verse known as “haiku” is also a lyric.  Noteworthy lyrics have been  composed by the poets like Robert Frost, Eliot, W. B. Yeats, e. e. cummings and Dylan Thomas.

The poetry of this age carries forward the tradition established by the seventeenth century poets Milton and Dryden. And therefore, the spirit of classicism develops into full bloom. The poets of this age followed the footsteps of Homer, Aristotle and Dryden.

The note of the poetry of this age is objective and impersonal. Here, a poet is much concerned with the society and is much affected by its imperfections. He poses as a reformer of the society. And therefore, as Dryden did in Absalom and Achitophel and other poetry, the poets of this age also adopt satire to chastise the society. Jonathan swift comes on the surface as on of the greatest satirist in the history of English literature.

The image of natures turns into human nature and the classicism considers the image of man as debased entity, as a fallen angel. Because of the social concern, the poetry of the eighteenth century is drawing room poetry that portrays the picture of urban life.

The poetry of this age is characterized by elegance, decorum and wit. As it is typified in the poetry of Pope, it is polished, formal and unimaginative. The closed couplets are the general usage of this time.

The Revival of Romantic Poetry

It is the eighteenth century where we find the seeds of romanticism. Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Oliver Goldsmith’s Deserted Village, Burke’s poetry, Blake’s mystical poetry all are stepping stone to romantic poetry.

The romantic revival took place with Victor Hugo’s concept “liberalism in literature”. The Romantic Movement is marked by the following:

1.    Strong reaction against the bondage of rule and customs
2.    Call back to nature.
3.    Emphasis on the eternal ideas of youth and appeals to human hearts.
4.    Intense human sympathy – understanding of human heart
5.    The interest in the old sagas and medieval romances

Spenser, Shakespeare and Milton were the inspirational source behind this romantic revival. We cannot find a single poetry of this age where there is no influence of these poets.

Thomas Gray’s following poem is full of gentle melancholy which marks the early romantic poetry.

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day;
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea;
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinkling lull the distant folds.

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