Julian M and A.G Rochelle by Emily Bronte

There’s like minus ten things about this poem on the internet, so I guess I get to be first to decide what’s going on…

What’s it about? 

This is a long one. Julian is a Lord who is visiting a prison, we assume in Gondal, where he sees many people suffering in a dungeon. There, he catches sight of a beautiful girl ,Rochelle, somebody he knew as a child. The jailer gets tired of watching them talk, so he gives Julian the keys, trusting that he will let himself out. Rather than “proving a jailer stern and true”, he decides to set Rochelle free and take her to live with him. Everybody begins to mock him for suddenly becoming a homebody, rather than behaving as a noble solider, but Julian thinks that giving up his status and freedom is worth it for Rochelle’s love.

Structure

This poem is told in rhyming couplets, with an iambic rhythm. The number of syllables per line varies roughly between 9 and 11, so at points it does sound a little fragmented, especially if you read it aloud. I can’t call this a traditional ballad, because that would require the 2nd and 4th lines to rhyme, but it certainly draws on ballad conventions because it tells a story from beginning to end. Bronte’s use of couplets creates a sense of unity and closure at the end of each verse, which mirrors the ultimate happy ending that the two characters achieve, while also paralleling the sense of enclosure in the prison setting. It’s a matter of opposing forces, so the structure also works in pairs.

There is also a lot of caesura in this poem, which creates the impression of a conversational tone, without it sounding informal. We can imagine that Julian is recounting the story in a flow of consciousness, which makes it feel more personal and realistic.

Imagery:

“soft and mild as sculptured marble saint or slumbering, unweaned
child” – I won’t lie, I find this line pretty creepy. It certainly draws on the romantic preoccupation with the beauty of childhood, but Rochelle is definitely infantalised to a degree by this description. The word “unweaned” suggests an animal that still takes its mother’s milk, suggesting that she is a dependant character, in need of another person to survive. Julian also refers to Rochelle as his “bird”, suggesting that she is like a captive pet, who he fears “would go” if he let her out of her cage, the prison. While the bird suggests freedom, it is also something to be looked on and possessed, hence the use of the possessive pronoun, “my“. It is totally up to you how you choose to read the relationship between these two characters, but I get the impression that Rochelle somehow feels in debt to Julian, because he talks about “at last” having “earned” an equal love from her, after having “guarded her by day, and guarded her by night.” In a sense, Rochelle enters another prison of a cushy kind when she goes to live with Julian.

“A messenger of hope, comes every night to me” – here we have typical religious references, explaining a similar situation to what we see in “to a wreath of snow.” Like Almeda, Rochelle uses imagination as an escape from her circumstances, but it doesn’t always work. “The soul to feel the flesh and the flesh to feel the chain” is a particuarly strong line which uses a semi-chiastic structure. The repetition of the word “flesh” establishes a link between the two halves of the sentence, it becoming the only barrier between the soul and the chains. In a sense, it is Rochelle’s soul that is harnessed by chains, as well as her physical body. Very Jean Jacque Rousseau – “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.”

“terror-blent delight” – this is just a particularly nice oxymoron. The idea of the feelings combined in a blend creates a very visual impression of the juxtapositions we see throughout this poem:  the contrast between the light outdoors and the dark interior, the caged and the free bird, the physical realm of pain, and the unseen one of the imagination. Like I mentioned in the structure section, this is a poem of binaries, and in turn one of conflict.

Context:

It’s very difficult to apply context to Bronte, because these poems exist in a world of her own creation. I don’t feel as though it’s my place to decide for definite what this story is about – I don’t even know why Rochelle is in prison, or why Julian is going on a tour in the first place. We might choose to interpret the prison as being metaphorical, as I think that I mentioned for the Almeda poem. Perhaps it is about the confinement of womanhood, and the fact that a woman always had to compromise personal freedom for stability.

 

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Example Shakespeare Essay – Examining Desdemona

Hi there! Someone asked for an idea of how to structure a Shakespeare essay for the Edexcel exam. Here’s one I wrote this morning – it hasn’t been marked by anyone and I certainly can’t promise it’s perfect! I’ll highlight it according to assessment objectives.

Explore Shakespeare’s presentation of Desdemona in Othello.  You must relate your discussion to relevant contextual factors and ideas from your critical reading.

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In his 1604 tragedy “Othello”, Shakespeare explores the roles of men and women, relationships, and gender dichotomy in his contemporary society. Through the character of Desdemona, the audience is introduced to both stereotypes of female subservience and conflicting ideas of power and autonomy, revealing the ultimate complexity of Jacobean womanhood and its relationship to class. Through Desdemona’s decidedly multifaceted character, Shakespeare twists the prescribed notion of woman, instead suggesting that her power lies most in her social background and reputation.

While we might anticipate Desdemona to be entirely submissive, Shakespeare initially constructs her character to be held in high esteem by her male peers.  In the second act of the play, Shakespeare presents an unusual power division in the relationship between Desdemona and Othello through his use of epithet and shared lines. Describing her partner as “my dear Othello”, Desdemona not only employs a possessive pronoun to establish her bond with Othello, but fluidly completes the missing syllables in his previous line: “O my fair warrior!”. This smooth interchange between the two characters stresses their untouched bond and synchronous relationship, elevating Desdemona to the same position as her husband. By describing her as a “warrior”, Shakespeare applies a typically masculine attribute to her character, allowing her to mirror the strength of her partner.

Though this may imply a balanced relationship between the two, it also reveals the powerful weight of Desdemona’s social status as an upper class woman when compared to that of a black man. While Jacobean society typically perceived a woman as lesser than her partner, this dynamic is complicated by Othello and Desdemona’s racial difference, which instead would have dictated Desdemona to be more worthy for her whiteness. While Kenneth Burke describes Othello’s relationship to Desdemona as “ownership in the profoundest sense”, we might dispute that this is instead applicable to Desdemona, who possesses her husband as a exotic treasure, with a love founded on a fascination for his “otherness.” When Othello notes that she loved “[him] for the dangers [he] had passed”,  Shakespeare constructs his character to appear like a trophy in the eyes of Desdemona, allowing her to view him as “hers” as opposed to his possession. While Brabantio and the other Venetians may perceive Desdemona as “subdued and poisoned” by Othello, we might argue that she actually exercises a degree of control over Othello in the first two acts of the play, being free to “devour his discourse” and in turn to fetishise his strength and accomplishments.

As the play progresses, we note how the presentation of Desdemona’s character shifts in accordance with her changing reputation. While in the first two acts of the play she is respected on account of her chastity and noble background, her image is distorted by her suspected infidelity. In act four, Othello labels Desdemona as “that cunning whore of Venice”, equating her position to her sexuality, and that in turn to her Venetian background. As described by Loomba in her essay “Othello, Race and Society”, the “openness of Venice could be seen as dangerous”, hence it appears possible to Othello that his wife is predisposed to sexual promiscuity. This image of an liberal Venice was often employed by English writers as a symbol of sexual deviance among women, corrupting the “virtuous” nature of Desdemona to make her a “strumpet”, “whore” and “devil.” These adjectives strip Desdemona of her high status, instead likening her to a prostitute, which would have been extremely ill-viewed. Shakespeare here reveals the expected feminine weakness of Desdemona, who internalises her husband’s accusations in her own language. Lamenting that she does “abhor” the word “whore”,  Shakespeare uses two homonyms to directly equate whoredom with abhorrence, Desdemona expressing a disgust for herself despite never being unfaithful. The defiling of Desdemona’s sexual purity exemplifies the fragility of Jacobean womanhood and its explicit link to reputation and social position.

In the final act, when Desdemona is smothered, critic David Blamires describes her death as a “tragicomic parody of an erotic death”, the act of extinguishing Desdemona’s “promethean heat” acting as a dark metaphor for her first orgasm. Desdemona, initially presented as the embodiment of a “tender, fair and happy maid”, ultimately epitomises a Jacobean woman’s struggle for agency in a society which values her virginity above all else. While we may anticipate that she be rewarded for her honest nature and unwavering fidelity, it is the irony of her death that encapsulates the tragedy of “Othello”, “killed for being a whore, she dies a virgin.” (Blamires.)

The character of Desdemona emphasises the value placed on a woman’s chastity, and how liable her position in society was to collapse. While she may be privileged for her racial background, she does not exercise any freedoms beyond this, and is ultimately punished for marrying outside of her race and class. Through her doomed relationship with Othello, Shakespeare deconstructs a “fantasy of social tolerance” (Loomba), revealing a society corrupted by sexism, racism, and immorality.

Maria x

Intimations on Immortality by William Wordsworth

Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. You always think the title is finished, but it’s not.

What’s it about?

Wordsworth, and the majority of the Romantics, believed that childhood was a state of purity, and that our adult life is just a shadow of when we were innocent and close to god. In this poem, Wordsworth contemplates how the child learns from nature, and how man must do the same to avoid being corrupted.

Structure:

There is no obvious set structure to this poem, other than the fact that it’s an ode. None of the stanzas are to exactly the same pattern, and the length of the lines varies. The poem is told in iambic pentameter, which creates a natural flow. The best way to think about it structurally is that the poem carries forward a narrative. In the early stanzas of the poem, Wordsworth is lamenting the loss of spontaneous joy he feels towards nature, which he would have felt as a child. The poem then goes on to envisage the joyous nature of childhood, and Wordsworth finally decides that his memories of youth help him to retain some of the divine sensations he once felt. Think of the poem as an emotional journey from despair to acceptance.

Imagery:

Lexical field: imagery of god and heaven

“Apparelled in celestial light.”
“when the heavens are bare.”
“Hath passed away a glory from the earth.”
“Nature’s priest.”“Mighty prophet.”“Perpetual benediction”

These phrases remind the reader of the higher ethereal place where man originated, contrasted with their corruption in society. They also bond nature and heaven, showing the natural world to be a reminder of heaven on earth, and of the immortal imprints of god on mankind. The child is associated with this imagery because he retains the purity of a past life with God “our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.

Lexical field: imagery of restraint

“I can see no more” “Shades of the prison house begin to close.” “Fade into the common light of day.” “Forget the glories he hath known.” “Then he will fit his tongue to dialogues of business.” “Haunted forever. “Be now forever taken from my sight.”

These images contrast directly with the freedom of heavenly power and light. They are pictures of darkness and imprisonment which reflect how man on earth is separated from his original heavenly form. The antithesis of placing these images within the same stanzas emphasises the descent man makes from pure child to corrupted adult, and likens society to a form of enclosure.

Anaphora:

Repetition of “sing ye birds…as to the tabor’s sound.” This verse is repeated, linking back to the idea that the child is the father of the man. We repeat ourselves in our children, but ultimately we should teach ourselves life’s pleasures through them, hence the joyous nature of the exclamatory phrases and lexical choices “bright” “play” “bound” “young”.

“The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest”
The idea of nature’s priest links to the concept of pantheism, that God and nature are one and the same, and that God is present in every aspect of the natural world.
“Then will he fit his tongue
To dialogues of business”
Wordsworth envisages a child who must “fit” his tongue to matters of the adult world, in effect, forcing himself into the mold of adulthood from the far more fluid realm of childishness.
Context:
The poem draws on Rousseau’s idea of childhood and nature, that the child should learn from the natural world. He believed that a child is good as he ‘leaves the author of things”, God, and descends into impurity as he ages. This sentiment is echoed in the poem. Wordsworth was fascinated by reliving the primitive and simple pleasures of childishness.
Maria
x

R Alcona to J Brenzaida by Emily Bronte

I still can’t put the umlaut on her name. Help me.

What’s it about?

This poem was also published under the title “Remembrance”, but this is the original title, using the names of Bronte’s fantasy characters in her imaginary world Gondal. It is believed that Alcona is lamenting the loss of a beloved emperor, but this is not explicitly said in the text. The poem explores the much more universal matters of love and grief.

Structure: 

This poem is structured as an elegy, a poem which is written to lament the death of someone. Typically, an elegy will pass through different stages, first grief for the person, then celebration of their life, and finally a sense of acceptance. Bronte roughly follows this path, first showing Alcona’s unwavering love, and then her choice to pursue a happy life without Brenzaida.

Notice the contrast between high and low frequency vowel sounds in this poem. This shows the tumultuous contrast of emotions “tears” “deep” “shone” “light” and the dissonance of both remembering and moving on. This is also anchored by the use of exclamation, which gives it an almost melodramatic tone. 

Imagery:

Bronte repeats the lines “cold in the earth” , “no other sun” and “all my life” emphasising the constant nature of death, and the steady progression of time that seems never ending. This repetition enforces that despite 15 years elapsing, Alcona’s feelings for Brenzaida have not waned. 

Lexical cluster of water: “wave,shore,melted,tide,tears”. The use of water in this poem evokes a sense of an incoming tide, showing that Alcona’s emotions are untamed and relentless, like a roaring sea. 

Lexical cluster of time: “time, now, ever, years, change, youth, days, hasten, languish” suggest the passage of time, and how Alcona learns to accept a new life without renouncing her love for Brenzaida. Time also implies the process of decay, hence “cold in the earth”, showing that it creates ever more distance between the two characters. 

Then did I check the tears of useless passion,
Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine”  – the word “weaned” might typically describe weaning a baby off of breast milk, though it can also mean ending a dependency. Either definition implies that Alcona severs herself from grief, allowing herself to exist without it constantly.

Context:

Bronte lived much of her life in the fantasy world of Gondal. She died young, and is not known to have had a relationship of her own like we observe in the poem. She did however lose multiple family members to TB, so the theme of grief is one that was present in her own life. We might assume that this poem is inspired by the death of her sister, with whom she was very close. Perhaps she is channeling her grief into her characters. 

 

Maria x

Lines Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth

Wordsworth is a great name for a poet. Changing mine asap.

What’s it about?

Wordsworth is looking around him at the natural world, and as he admires its beauty, he realises how ugly humanity is in comparison. Very cheery.

Structure:

Structurally, this is quite easy to get your head around. It’s told in four line stanzas, or quatrains if you want to be fancy, with an ABAB rhyme scheme. This creates quite a bouncy, upbeat tone, which is ironic when we consider “what man has made of man.” Wordsworth draws us in to the beauty and comfort of nature through his jovial structure, and then deconstructs this perfect image with the lament that humanity has come to ruin. In stanzas 3, 4 and 5, the second line is ends with a colon or semicolon, implying a direct link to the following clause. This draws a parallel between the first and second halves of the stanza, implying that the sublime beauty of nature only heightens Wordsworth’s disdain for people.

The poem is in iambic tetrameter. To remember some of the key themes, you can just see which words fall on the stressed syllable. “sad” “mind” “soul” “faith”

Imagery:

“To her fair works did Nature link” – The poem kicks off with some personification, raising nature to a position of power. She takes charge in the poem, emphasizing the contrasting weakness of humans.

“In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind. “
The juxtaposition of sweet and sad in this poem shows the relationship between Wordsworth’s outer experience and the consequences of enjoying nature. As he spends time with the natural world, it forces him to recognise the weaknesses of humanity by comparison.
Anaphora – “what man has man of man”. The verb “made” suggests shaping or constructing something, in turn implying that we have molded each other and ourselves to be corrupted.
“If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan”
Bit of religious imagery here at the end.  Wordsworth contemplates God’s intentions for the world, vs the reality that we have created. Nature herself has a godlike position of power here, being the one who dictates the plan.
Context:

This poem is in the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads, which focused on the experience and plight of the ordinary man. Wordsworth is exploring how man has turned on himself through the industrial revolution, choosing industry over nature, and leaving the purity of the pastoral world behind. This can be linked to the philosopher Rousseau, who believed that “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.” His thinking was that society erases our purity, and that man can only be good in a natural state.
Maria x

Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats

I’m so nearly there. We so nearly have all of the poems. The exam are in a few weeks. Everything in on fire.

What’s it about? 

Keats is looking at an urn (basically a big old pot), which is covered in paintings depicting scenes in ancient Greece. This poem is about art, time, and transience. It considers the worth of static art, its immortal nature, and the brevity of our own existence. Sounds complicated, but once you’ve read it a few times, it starts to become more obvious.

Structure:

He’s writing about a Greek pot, so it certainly does help that an Ode is a Greek poem. It’s all about heightened emotion, ecstasy (the feeling, not the drug), and elevating something to a high and prestigious status. In this case, Keats adopts the ode form to celebrate the immortal beauty of art.

The poem is told in iambic pentameter, arguably the most pleasing meter in the english language. To me, it seems as though this rhythmic structure mimics the eternal passage of time, marching steadily onward. I don’t know if this is a bit of a stretch. Email me and we can have an argue.

Note that the structure is ABAB, followed by a variation of CDECDE. The first half of tghe verse highlights the subject matter, and the second addresses it in more universal terms. Eg. first the image itself, then the implication of it being trapped on the vase. This structure shows the conflict between Keats’ thoughts: at one level he can appreciate the beauty of the urn, and at another he cannot help but think about his own human fragility. 

Given that he is writing about a Greek urn, Keats adopts a Greco-Roman word order “all her silken flanks with garlands dressed” “when old age shall this generation waste” creating an emphatic, prayer-like tone which elevates the urn as though it is sacred.  Basically, all this is is putting the verb at the end of the sentence. Very fancy indeed Keats be. 

Imagery:

Look at the anaphora of “forever” “ever” “not ever.” The repetition of the words places an emphasis on the liminal state of the vase, which is trapped in a constant state, never changing or moving forward, but always the same. “Wilt thou ever young” suggests both that the people on the vase will be youthful forever, but also that their beauty wilt wilt, or decay. This links to Keats’ eternal obsession with youth, beauty and preservation.

“And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e’er return. “
I like this particular line because it shows how Keats has begun to recognize the failings of static artwork. The town is empty because everyone is at the sacrifice, but it will always be empty. The town will always be a ghost town, and Keats realises that even if something is eternal, it sort of sucks if you haven’t got anyone to share it with.
        Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
“Cold pastoral” is an interesting phrase. To me, it suggests that he means lifeless. For a romantic, it seems a little scathing to describe the natural world as a “cold”, but Keats is acknowledging here that this pot is going to outlive him, and all the still imagery on it too. When he has gone to “waste”, the urn will still subsist, watching over whatever “woe” hits humanity next. Personally, I don’t envy the urn, but Keats was hyper aware of his own mortality. He admires the urn because it cheats death.
 “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
A line that has puzzled writers, critics and philosophers for years. Does Keats say it, or does the urn? What does it even mean anyway? There are so many interpretations of this phrase, so don’t take mine as gospel. Personally, this suggests to be that art has the power to convey human existence the best, because even when people pass on, the art that describes them remains. Maybe beauty is the best form of truth, because each of us has our own idea of it. Eg. there is no true definition of what beauty is, because we all see it in different places, so everyone has something they regard as beautiful, and in turn true, or real for them. For Keats it is art. If you want to get heavy, then you can link this to aesthetic philosophy, and the appreciation of the arts. This suggests that art is a vehicle of truth, hence the urn in this poem is a better way than any to preserve history.
Context:
When Keats wrote this he was dying of TB, and described himself as a “walking ghost.” Knowing that his own life was borrowed time, he became fascinated with the idea of mortality. Perhaps this ode is his own sort of urn, because it preserves part of him for as long as we keep on reading it.
Often an urn would be used to store a person’s ashes, so in a sense it becomes a form of memento mori. The urn can last centuries, but the person inside is just a split second’s worth of time. How ironic.
Fun fact: When you’re using art to talk about art, that’s called ekphrasis. I just like this word because it has a cool spiky sound.

Example Essay – Frankenstein vs Handmaid’s

This is an essay my school set. Let me know if there’s a theme you’d like to see some writing on!! And always feel free to email with questions englishlityear12@gmail.com x

Compare the ways in which the writers of your two chosen texts present what it means to be human.

In both Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, issues of emotion, compassion and individuality lie at the core of the text. Exploring both the most primitive and complex aspects of human nature, both writers force us to consider the feeble link between “human” and “humanity”, and moreover how malleable a concept our humanness is.

 

In “Frankenstein”, the Creature is stripped of human attributes through the use of nomenclature, despite the fact that he built from human parts. Describing him as a “wretch”, “devil”, and “monster”, Shelley reduces our image of Victor’s creation to something sub-human and abhorrent, drawing on gothic tropes of satanic and occult imagery. While these descriptions alienate his character from a typical human, it is also Shelley’s use of determiners which stress his otherness. Defined as “the” creature rather than “a”, we suppose him to be one of a kind, and hence separate from humanity, which we view as a category. Shelley’s choice of the definite article shrouds the Creature in an aura of mystery, permitting him to exist only on the fringes of human society, as a spectator rather than a participant. Shelley’s depiction of the Creature plays on the gothic fascination for the uncanny and perverse, showing how disgusts manifests itself towards the marginalised.

 

Likewise, in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” nomenclature is used to divest Offred of power and individuality. Offred’s name is formed from the preposition “of”, followed by the name of her commander, hence it is not used to distinguish her from others, but to determine her relationship to a man. By defining her as the possession of a male, Atwood reduces Offred from woman to commodity, no longer a person but an item to be put to use. Atwood draws on philosopher Simone de Beauvoir’s theory that the female is seen as a crude imitation of man, that “when she acts as a human, she is said to imitate the male.” Only permitting Offred humanity through association with a man, Atwood implies that our notion of “human” is intrinsically male. Like the Creature, who is a corrupted version of a human man, Offred too is viewed as a lesser copy of this same ideal.

 

While this may suggest that our idea of humanity is largely prescribed, both writers show that the individual may choose to see humanity where they choose. In “Frankenstein”, Walton notes a respectability and charm in Victor’s character which greatly influences our impression of him. By framing the central narrative with Walton’s letters, Shelley ensures we are first introduced to Victor through Walton’s admiring eyes, allowing us to perceive him as “gentle…wise, and cultivated.” While Victor’s actions may contradict these words, Walton’s unwavering admiration for his friend ultimately shapes our view of his character, allowing Victor to appear complex and three-dimensional. Shelley uses Walton’s voice to project a humanity onto Victor’s character, proving that ideas of human nature are shaped by perspective. Rather than presenting Victor as entirely evil and repulsive, Shelley draws on the Romantic preoccupation with heroism, presenting him both as an protagonist and antagonist who simultaneously attracts and repels us. Through his conflicting character, Shelley reminds us that a human demands flaws as well as strengths.

In “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Atwood also proves that we may choose to see human traits in someone otherwise deplorable. When Offred describes her relationship to the Commander, she often applies childish language to his behavior, describing him as “silly” and “juvenile.” Atwood’s flippant choice of words paint the Commander as an innocent and even sympathetic man, who Offred looks upon with a degree of pity. Like Walton, who finds a certain tenderness in the seemingly villainous Frankenstein, Offred permits us to see the Commander as human, assuring us that he is not “an unkind man.” We might argue that Offred’s character suffers from some form of Stockholm syndrome, trying to identify and empathise with her oppressor. Claiming that nothing in her novel had not happened before in the real world, Atwood proves an uncanny truth that acts of violence are committed by other humans who look like ourselves. Considering the depravity that inspired her novel – the Holocaust, the Magdalene Laundries and the Romanian birth control ban – it seems apparent that humans cannot all be characterised by a sense of humanity.

 

We may draw parallels between these descriptions of the Commander and Offred’s anecdote in chapter 24, where she recounts a documentary about the mistress of a Nazi. Musing that he must have had “some endearing trait” for her to believe in his goodness, Offred recognises that our ideas of a person are easily pliable. The mistress insists the man was not a “monster”, suggesting that anyone may be human if it is an “available temptation.” Ironically, no such allowances are made for the Creature in “Frankenstein”, who is also referred to as a “monster”, despite his initially benign intentions. Both writers pose the uncomfortable suggestion that we pick and choose who we treat as a human, for our own comfort rather than sincerity. Atwood’s poignant choice, to link this back to Nazism, draws a direct parallel between the supposedly fictional society of Gilead, and an atrocity only thirty years older than her novel.

 

Though essentially very different novels, both “Frankenstein” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” acknowledge the complexity of identity, and how easily this is shaped by voice and circumstance. The two texts question whether being human is a simple as an image or set of attributes, or potentially something indistinguishable, with no set meaning or form. While neither novel may resolve entirely just what it means to be “human”, they certainly reveal how broad an idea it may be – “How easy it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all.”

Maria x

Last Lines by Emily Bronte

I don’t know how to type the umlaut on her name. I’m sorry.

What’s it about? 

This is the last piece of work by Bronte before her death. Taken from a longer piece about a battle in Gondal, it explores the dangerous nature of war, hypocrisy and violence. It is set in a battle field, which once would have been farmland, and is told from the perspective of a soldier.

Structure:
This poem is taken from a longer poem, and hence is incomplete. It doesn’t follow any obvious structure, instead enclosing three 4 line stanzas between two longer stanzas, perhaps to mimic the sense of enclosure felt on the battlefield. Largely, the rhymes in this poem are pretty exact masculine ones, but in some cases Bronte does employ half rhyme, which can be interpreted as mimicking the corruption of people through war. The final stanza ends on a one syllable rhyme between “sod” and “god”, giving the poem a finite ending, even if this wasn’t intended to be where it stopped.

Imagery:

This poem is set in a field, which is typically a sign of life, rebirth, prosperity and growth. By stark contrast, the corn is kneaded up “with gore”, suggesting that the field is cover by the blood of dead soldiers. This very graphic image of new life meeting death highlights the irony of humans, our desire to prosper but our tendency to destroy.

Collocations of words, or habitual juxtaposition is evident in the first stanza. Talking of “mocking heaven” and “senseless prayer”, Bronte uses oxymoronic language to stress the futility of war, and how ultimately it is an act of sacrilege. Bronte referes to “power-worshippers”, suggesting that violence has taken over the role of god in our society, and that we revere war in the same way as religion. This is also evident is the collocations “crushing down justice” and “honouring wrong”, creating the image of a world overturned by violence, the same way corn is threshed up and soil is turned over.

Context:

It wasn’t actually Bronte who called this Last Lines, even though it is a pretty fitting title. That’s just what the people who published it decided to call it because it was the last thing she ever wrote. Perhaps if she had time to redraft it, it would have been very different in content and meaning.

Bronte based a lot of her poetry in Gondal, a fictional world of fantasy characters that she used to distract herself from the mundane nature of her life in a parish. Most of the stories were very vibrant, such as this one, in stark contrast to the world she knew.

Maria x

Ode on Melancholy

Keats is the original softboy.

What’s it about?

Keats is examining the relationship between sadness and happiness, the place where they cross over, and what they mean in terms of the human condition. He urges us not to ignore our sadness, but instead to embrace melancholy because it ultimately strengthens our understanding of what it means to be happy. In short, you can’t have sunshine without a little rain.

Structure:

This is a Grecian ode because it has an inconsistent structure after the first two stanzas. No emotion is completely constant, hence neither is this poem. It is only in the last stanza that the CDECDE rhyme scheme in the latter half is complete. In the others, there is at least one half rhyme, so the final verse creates a sense of closure, which anchors the idea that we must accept suffering as part of our nature.

In the second stanza, when Keats describes a lover, he uses a chiastic sentence structure to emphasise the depth of her beauty. “Feed deep deep upon her peerless eyes.” The repetition of “deep” in the middle of the sentence acts like a reflection, suggesting the endlessness of her beauty, and also its ultimate decay. This emphatic repetition is echoed in the next stanza, as he tells us that “she dwells with beauty – beauty that must die.”

Imagery:

We’re all about the classical allusions in this poem. In the very first line, Keats instructs us to “go not to Lethe.” Not only is this latinate inversion of the standard word order pretty sophisticated, he makes sure to throw in a reference to the mythological river of memory. At the river Lethe, you are supposed to be able to cleanse your bad memories, but Keats is instructing us not to to do that – we’re stronger if we can live with them.

“Ruby grape of Proserpine.” Proserpine, or Persephone if you prefer Roman myths, was a goddess of the underworld. It is said that she spent six months a year on earth with her mother, and every time she returned to the underworld to be with her husband, her mother would mourn her so much that the natural world would wither. Hence, we have the seasons.  Why is she mixed up in this poem? Well, a goddess is alluring, but that doesn’t mean we should succumb to her otherworldly powers or poisonous “nightshade.” In other words, don’t magic away your sorrows.

“Your mournful Psyche.” Psyche was the wife of Cupid, and while they eventually had a happy union, the run up to their marriage was nothing short of a nightmare. Psyche undergoes impossible tasks and years of wandering to win back Cupid, but in the end, they are happily wed. Perhaps Keats is telling us that you have to sit out the bad times in order to appreciate the good.

As in his other poems, note the consonance of the “l” sound: “fall” “shall” “hill” “all” creates a lulling sound. Assonance of “ee” in “deep” and “peering” creates a consistent tone with different frequencies, giving the poem a sense of melody. Another thing worth noticing is the use of imperative: “go not” “feed” “glut thy sorrow” “emprison her soft hand” “make not your rosary”. The poem has an insistent tone, as if it demanding something of its reader. Keats feels as though he has a valuable lesson to teach us about sorrow, and he’s determined that we listen. 

Context:

Historically, people believed that melancholy was caused by an excess of black bile in the body. Now we know that what Keats calls melancholy is probably a depression of some kind, but having no means to lessen it, he fought it by embracing it instead. This was a man who had been through a lot of suffering, but persisted in spite of it.

 

Maria x

To Autumn by John Keats

It’s basically an ode, but it doesn’t say ode in the title.

What’s it about?

In this poem, Keats is talking about the beauty of autumn, a season that doesn’t get much attention. You’ve probably read a poem about summer before, but Keats wants to remind us that autumn has its own unique allure. In short, beauty is everywhere, you just have to look.

Structure:

This poem is told in iambic pentameter, so it has a lulling, lullaby like tone. As with much of Keats’ poetry, sound is everything.  Notice the low frequency vowel sounds in this poem “maturing” “plump” “budding”, as well as the consonance of the “l” sound and the nasal “mm”: “light” “lambs” “lift”, “summer” “brimmed” “clammy”. These choices extend the length of the words, drawing them out lazily and almost sensually. His sound choices really mimic the drowsiness of late August and early September. Got to hand it to you, Keats, you’re good.

Imagery:

A lot of the lexical choices here pertain to the passing of time: “later flowers” “until they think” “seen thee oft” “sometimes” “last oozings hour by hour” “the light wind lives or dies” “soft dying day”. Symbolically, autumn is a time of transition, and is often used to represent the latter half of someone’s life. In Frank Sinatra’s song “It Was a Very Good Year”, he describes himself as being in “the autumn of my years”, a very Keatsian image. Knowing that he was living on borrowed time, perhaps autumn for Keats represents his final years, the beauty of living tinged with the pain of death. 

This poem is littered with pastoral imagery, surprise surprise. Like all romantic poets, Keats reveres the beauty of the natural world, evident in his descriptions of “vines” “apples” “hazel shells” “later flowers” and “clammy cells.” The list of autumnal imagery entirely saturates the first two stanzas, evoking a sensory image a pastoral idyll.

The personification in this poem is also very pertinent. Keats brings the character of autumn to life, making her seem gentle and tempting, as though he is addressing a woman: “Thy hair soft lifted…steady thy laden head across a brook…with patient look…” When I read this, I imagine a young woman, sitting reading in some sort of brewery or barn. It’s almost as though autumn adopts a sensual place in Keat’s mind, perhaps representing his lover Fanny, who would be “patient” with him during his long years of illness. 

Context:

Keats was inspired to write this while on a nature walk. He had just found out that he had TB. I think that you can interpret this poem in multiple ways. Perhaps it is about decay, and preparing himself for an inevitable death. Perhaps it is about how we can bloom in spite of adversity, the same way nature continues to blossom in the autumn.

 

Maria x