Romanticism Study Questions, shorter version adapted from Dr. Jack H. Haeger

Study Questions for the Romantic Period

Prior to 1798

1. Explain the relationship between the sentimental school and the "Poetry of Melancholy and Death," giving two examples of the latter.

2. What were the effects of the French Revolution on English life, and what other changes affected the society of the period?

3. What forms of literature were most important during the Romantic Period, and which one dominated?

4. Describe romantic nature imagery and symbolism?

5. How were John Locke and Emmanuel Kant related to concepts of the mind and the origin and goal of thought?

6. What is the idea of "organicism" and how does "organic form" relate to ideas about art?

7. What are some of the romantic conceptions of the imagination, in relation to reason, for instance?

8. What was general conception of the poet during the Romantic Period, especially in terms of what motivates the poet and the manner in which the poet produces poetry?

9. What are some of the difficulties in defining the term, "Romanticism"?

10. What is meant by "sensibility"?

11. In addition to writings from the School of Sensibility, what other works or types of writings contributed to the development of "pre-romanticism" and the collapse of the age of reason?

12. Who was "Ossian," and why was he so popular?

13. What is the relationship between "Ossian," "Revival of the Past," and "The Noble Savage," and what is an example of a work relating to each of the latter two?

14. How was the Gothic Novel different from the previous literature of "sensibility," and how was it similar? What is an example of a Gothic Novel?

15. What is the story of Thomas Chatterton, and why is he important to later, romantic, writers?

16. What was the relationship–not just socially, but philosophically–between Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin? What is the title of the most important work each of them wrote?

17. What was "Pantisocracy"? How did it relate to both the School of Sensibility and to Godwinian rationalism?

18. When was the French Revolution? Why were they having a revolution?

19. List some of the artists of this period? Which painters particularly captured the Revolutionary and Romantic spirit (note during the film on Wednesday): David, Gericault, Goya, Turner, Delacroix, Rodin. What were some of the attributes of these types of paintings?

20. Revolutions were a key factor during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, the French Revolution of 1789 (and 1792) were different. How? Was there a revolutionary spirit? Was it built more on hope for the future?

21. Describe the Romantic Consciousness of the sublime?

 

William Blake

1. What was the nature of Blake’s profession? How does this influence his poetry?

2. Songs of Innocence: Describe the tone of these poems? What irony do we see in various poems?

3. Songs of Innocence, "Introduction": Consider the nature of the speaker, and the significance of the child. What specific "instructions" are given in the poem, and what might be their significance regarding the role of the artist in the world of "Innocence"?

4. Innocence, "The Lamb." What sort of definition emerges?

5. Innocence, "Holy Thursday" and "The Chimney Sweeper": Consider the speaker of these two poems, compared, for instance, to the speakers of Blake poems previously considered. What is each speaker’s attitude toward the poetic subject? Is this attitude realistic? Who are the "beadles," and what does their presence imply? What symbolism does the image of "coffins of black" suggest?

6. Songs of Experience: Consider what must have happened between composition of these poems and composition of Songs of Innocence. Notice differences of point of view, tone, imagery, and the like. Consider pairings, counterparts, between poems from the two groups. Differences are obvious, but why? What is the point of portraying such oppositions? What are the full implications of the "contrary state" being portrayed?

7. Experience, "Introduction": What is the nature of the speaker in these poems, compared to the speaker of the Innocence "Introduction"?

8. What difference in consciousness of circumstances can be seen in the voice of the chimney sweep?

9. Experience, "The Tyger": Comparing this poem to its counterpart in Innocence, how does the tone suggest both similarities and differences between the two poems’ speakers? What does the major metaphor of the poem imply about the nature of the tiger’s creator? How do you interpret the penultimate quatrain ("When the stars threw down their spears . . .)?

10. Experience, "London": Many commentators on this poem have suggested that it sums up both the psychological and social points of view in Songs of Experience. What social criticism does the poem present? What psychological implications does it suggest? How do the major images of the poem suggest causal relationships (e.g., Church, Soldier, Harlot, Infant, and hearse; black’ning, blood, curse, tear, plagues)?

11. The Garden of Love: What polarities do you see in this poem? What is Blake saying about the nature of religion? What does he say about progress?

12. What was the nature of Blake’s profession? How does this influence his poetry?

 

	William Wordsworth

1. In "We Are Seven" who is speaking? What is the attitude of the speaker toward the child in each poem? What is it that the child in "We Are Seven" cannot learn?

2. "Lines: Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey":

a. Analyze the poem’s structure and major divisisons. What is their relation to the subject matter?

b. What mood does the first verse paragraph create, and how would you characterize the imagery here? Is it one of chaos? Of harmony? What is the dominant color mentioned, and why might that be significant?

c. Discuss the "debt" referred to in the second verse paragraph? In this metaphor what is the implication regarding nature and human development?

d. Follow the meaning of the extended metaphor. Explain "loss and abundant recompense."

e. This is a major Romantic idea: What is the antecedent of "they" in "what they half create, / And what perceive" (106-07), and what is the significance of this relationship between creating and perceiving?

 3. Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 2nd ed., 1800: What does Wordsworth say was his purpose in writing the poems of this collection? What kind of poetic language did he choose, and why? What does he say is his position regarding the language of poetry as compared to that of prose? What is his definition of poetry? Of the poet?

4. "Prospectus" to The Excursion: Note the (Miltonic) "Invocation" and consider what it signifies in that context. Consider too Wordsworth’s explanation of his poetic aspirations to explore the most important elements of human existence, including particularly the relationship between the human mind and nature. Describe in detail the main metaphor and show its connections.

5. Preface: What is Wordsworth’s definition of the Poet, and how does he elaborate upon that definition?

6. The Prelude, Book One, first part: Here Wordsworth describes himself in a problematic situation. Note the nature of the situation, and of the problem that arises. Consider any allusions, figurative language, and his examples." What is he problem? Does he resolve it? Watch for a change in perspective.

7. The second part of The Prelude, Book One: Wordsworth describes a series of incidents involving bird traps, birds’ nests, a boat, and skating. What do these have in common? Consider the statements about nature made in connection with these incidents: what influence does nature have upon him? How? What is the most moving and impressive feature of nature (watch for a repeated word)?

8. The Prelude, Book Two: Consider Wordsworth’s portrayal of "the infant Babe." Then consider the relation between this and "A plastic power . . . an auxiliar light." What is the significance of these ideas?

9. List and briefly discuss five visual passages in the Two-Part Prelude. What makes them particularly Wordsworthian? What are the dynamics?

10. "Intimations Ode," first four stanzas: Remembering former themes of loss and recompense in Wordsworth, consider the "something that is gone" in this poem. How does the speaker characterize his loss here? Does nature play a role? Does light imagery? How? What is gone?

11. "Intimations Ode," stanzas five-end: Since stanza four of the poem ended with a question, we might logically expect stanza five to address an answer to that question. Does it? How? What are the "obstinate questionings," and what do they mean? Why does "the meanest flower that blows" have the effect it is said to have?

12. Is there any similarity between the Ode and Book Sixth of The Prelude? How does this relate to what he says about the imagination? About being lost? Is there any difference between descriptions of natural scenes after he has crossed the Alps, compared to descriptions before that experience? In that description, what does the reference to "the great Apocalypse" suggest? What is Wordsworth saying about the imagination? Are there any other metaphors within the whole passage?

  1. The Prelude, Book Fourteenth: The chief subject of this conclusion to Wordsworth’s great autobiographical poem is his narration of the ascent of another mountain, this time Mount Snowden in England. What symbolic images do we encounter, and what do they seem to "mean"? The film: consider some of the visionary experiences. Were they sublime? How might you dexribe the experience of the film? Was it what you had expected to see? Did it resemble Wordsworth’s poetry?

14. "Resolution and Independence": Define the words in the title. How would you characterize Wordsworth’s despair?

15. The "Lucy" poems: Referring to Perkins’s Note, consider the question of who (or what) Lucy is. That is, consider her importance not necessarily in terms of biographical identity, but as a symbol. Thinking in such terms, what seems to be the most logical arrangement of the poems as a sequence? What do we make of the speaker’s explanation of what Lucy "seemed" like in "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal," and how does this relate to "human fears"? Is there anything particularly significant about the shift in verb tenses between the two stanzas of that poem? In human terms, how do you feel about Lucy’s final condition among the elements?

16. 	The sonnets: Consider Wordsworth’s particular attention to the sonnet as a literary form in "Nuns Fret Not" and "Scorn Not the Sonnet." How does the formal structure of the sonnet relate to Wordsworth’s characteristic themes? Are there significant differences, for instance, between the subjects and themes of the sonnets and those of earlier Wordsworth poems we have read? Consider the sonnets with Napoleonic France in the background, and also the "Westminster Bridge" and "London" sonnets. In "The World is Too Much With Us." Consider arguing for or against the idea that these sonnets indicate Wordsworth’s sympathies are no longer Romantic, but rather are more neo-classical.

17. "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud" suggests a paradigm for reading Wordsworth’s poetry. Explain.

 

 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

1. Perkins’s "Introduction": Take particular note of the discussion of Coleridge’s range and depth–not just as a poet, but as a critical, political, philosophical, and religious writer and thinker as well. Follow the brief biographical sketch, especially as regards Coleridge’s addiction to opium and his association with William Wordsworth. Remember the remarks on the "Conversation Poems" and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner when we take up those works in future sessions.

2. "The Eolian Harp": What specific comparisons can we make between this poem and Wordsworth’s "Tintern Abbey" poem? Are the speaker’s descriptions of his thoughts and feelings in this poem related to the subject named in its title? How does metaphor work specifically in Coleridge’s poem? The speaker? The auditor?

  1. Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Read the whole poem and its gloss carefully. Then before you read it a second time, consider the information provided in Wordsworth’s comments in the headnote to "We Are Seven" and in Perkins’s and Coleridge’s remarks presented in the headnote to the Rime itself. What was the origin of the plot, and which writer conceived of the mariner’s crime?
  2. Consider Coleridge’s reply to Mrs. Barbauld regarding "the want of a moral," and Perkins’s comment on the function of the last lines of the work. Our chief concern in discussion of this poem will be, not its "moral," but its theme. But first, who tells the tale? Is the narrator reliable? Who hears it? What is the tone and atmosphere of the poem?

5. What effect does the gloss have with the actual poem itself? Look carefully at the difference in tense and language between the Rime and the gloss.

6. What symbolic implications do you see in the motif of the voyage, both traditionally and, by extension, in this work? Who is mariner’s first auditor, and what significance does that person have in the context of the strange nature of the tale

7. As regards what the mariner observes, consider the nature of the universe depicted in this work. Do cause-effect relations, for instance, indicate a moral, rational universe? Why is the albatross killed? How is the mariner’s fate decided? How are the drought and the becalming ended? Consider carefully what you as a reader interpret and what the poem actually says.

8. Considering the issues above, and more, what is the theme of this poem? Is the theme contained in the moral the mariner gives at the end? Or is it more complicated? What is the significance of the elaborate figure of speech in the long gloss to "the moving moon went up the sky"? Look again at the gloss on the killing of the albatross, and the question of "hospitality"; then note the contrast between "alone" and "together" at significant points in the mariner’s story.

9. Christabel, Part I: In the opening scene, how do details about the poem’s setting establish the feeling and mood? In the description of Geraldine, in the tale she tells, and in the account of Christabel’s aiding her, are there any disturbing elements or ominous portents? If so, what are they specifically? How are the two ladies described as they sleep?

10. Christabel, Part II: In the opening lines notice the reference to "a world of death": is there any connection implied between this and the reference to the season in Part I? What does the description of Geraldine suggest about her relation to Christabel? Is there any suggestion of the supernatural or the occult here? What is the significance of the references to snakes? Does what happens to Christabel make her name symbolic in any way?

11. Christabel (concluded): Compare "The Conclusion to Part II" to its counterpart in Part I. Does it function the same way? In fact, it is a separately composed poem which Coleridge "tacked on" at the time of publication: what relationship can we discern between it and the rest of the poem? Does this connection suggest anything about the theme of the poem? What is the theme? Does anything in the unfinished state of the poem, and its possible theme, explain why Coleridge never finished Christabel, though he had ample opportunity to do so?

12. "Eolian Harp," "Reflections," "Lime-Tree Bower," "France," "Frost," and "Nightingale," are all among a group of Coleridge works identified as Conversation Poems because of their distinctive common features. Review Perkins’s discussion of this genre in his "Introduction" to Coleridge, and in reading each work note similarities regarding speaker, mood, imagery, structure, and theme. Why are these poems called "Conversation Poems?

13. "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison": Describe the shifting focus in the poem in connection with its theme? Analyze the descriptive detail in this poem, including the perspective, or focus, for that description: is the focus narrow or broad? Both? Do you recognize any of the sentiments here from your reading of works by Wordsworth? What is the theme of "Lime-Tree Bower"?

 

14. "The Nightingale": The subtitle of this work provides the origin of the Conversation Poem classification, and therefore it may be fitting to consider this poem in relation to the whole group. What are its most striking qualities? What is its theme?

15. "Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement": Note the descriptive details, and particularly the structure of the poem (focus moving from "Cot" to "Mount" to "reflection"). Why has the speaker left his place of retirement? What significance do you see to the "Cot" by the end of the poem?

 

16. "Frost at Midnight": Remember Perkins’s discussion of this poem, and consider the matter of perspective again here. How does the poem unfold–in a narrative (i.e., chronological) fashion? As an argument (i.e., logically)? Or something else? Does it have a coherent structure–how so, or not so? Again here, what is the theme?

 

17. "Kubla Khan": Examine Coleridge’s Preface in connection with the poem. What is significant about Khan’s "decree"? Consider the power of the Khan and his "decree," and what his decree is designed to achieve. What symbolism does "Alph" suggest? Comparing the imagery of the first division of the poem to that of the second, what contrasts do you see, and what do they suggest, for instance, about Kubla’s creation in its relation to nature? (Note the effect of the word "But.") What is the significance of "ancestral voices prophecying war"–in terms, perhaps, of the power of the Khan’s initial "decree"?

18. "Kubla Khan" (continued):Examine all the implications of the appearance of the "damsel." Finally, what is the last image in the poem? Note the "conditional" language. Why might there be such a reaction as that attributed to "all who saw them there"? (Suggestion: see Plato’s Ion 533C.)

19. "Dejection: An Ode": What is the relationship between this poem and Wordsworth’s "Intimations Ode." Does Coleridge’s view of poetic inspiration and dejection compare to Wordsworth’s? Note carefully the dates of composition. How does Coleridge’s definition of "the visionary gleam," including its source and its loss, compare to Wordsworth’s? What other images are important, and how? Consider the storm, the child, and the appearance, early and late, of a certain stringed instrument.

  1. Biographia Literaria: What are Coleridge’s definitions of poet, of the imagination, of poetic faith? "? Examine Coleridge’s explanation of the respective purposes he and Wordsworth had in the original Lyrical Ballads, including his famous reference to "willing suspension of disbelief." Examine his definition of "reconciliation of opposites."
  2. From Shakespearean Criticism: list some of the important elements. What specifically does he mean by "Mechanic and Organic Form"? What is meant by his "lectures"? How have Coleridge’s scholarly ideas reshaped Shakespearean criticism?

George Gordon, Lord Byron

1. "Introduction": Follow the biographical sketch, noting the paradoxes of Byron’s personality, and study the explanation of the phenomenon of "the Byronic hero." What attitudes and character traits are involved?

2. From English Bards and Scotch Reviewers: Note the resemblances between this poem and eighteenth-century satire. What criticisms do we see here of Wordsworth and Coleridge in particular?

3. "Written After Swimming from Sestos to Abydos," "Stanzas for Music" ("There’s not a joy . . ."), Stanzas for Music" ("There be none . . ."), "Maid of Athens," "She Walks in Beauty," "Sonnet on Chillon": These poems are often referred to as Hebrew Melodies. Observe the range of attitudes and emotions in these poems. In the first, is there anything that defends the poem against the charge of mere bragging? In the second, what is the theme given in its first two lines? Would you call the third and the fourth love poems? In the "Chillon" poem why is Liberty said to be "brightest in dungeons"?

4. "Stanzas to Augusta," "Darkness," and "Prometheus": The biographical background for all three of these poems is the scandal of Byron’s divorce. In what sense, if any, does his poetry go beyond personal matters? What, for instance, is the counter-effect of his praise for Augusta? In "Darkness," how does light imagery relate to the physical situation, to the actual structure of the poem, and to human character? That is, how is the dream projection of the end of the world symbolic? Darkness": The well-known scandal of Byron’s divorce is connected to this poem. How? Examine the light imagery as it is contrasted with darkness. How is it connected to a dream sequence? Is it similar to Coleridge’s nightmare world?

5. As regards Prometheus, the foreknowing Titan of Greek mythology, what is the relation of his "Godlike crime" to Byron’s situation, and why is he "a symbol . . . / To mortals"?

  1. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: Read the editor’s headnote and refer back to the section of the "Introduction" for Byron discussing the poem’s public reception and "the Byronic hero." In the first sixteen stanzas of Canto III, what personal background and character traits can we identify which might define that figure? : Are the narrator and Harold the same?

7. Pilgrimage, Canto III: Note the "steed" simile at the outset, and consider the way in which Byron employs the voyage and journey figuratively, to express his meditative viewpoint in addition to merely describing his travels.

8. Pilgrimage, Canto III : What is the significance of the battlefield of "Waterloo"? Examine the extended analysis of the character of Napoleon. What is his chief characteristic? What, according to Byron, is the paradox of Napoleon’s and all "great" people’s relation to society?

9. Pilgrimage, Canto III. Note the dynamics between society and nature. Discuss the theme of mutability. Study the dramatic address to the ocean as Pilgrimage closes. How does this relate to the "I" of the poem?

10. Manfred: Read the editor’s headnote and consider the account of this work as not intended for the stage, but composed as a kind of closet drama, or, in Byron’s terms more accurately a poem–using dramatic form but deliberately "unstage-able." Consider too the references to Byron’s possible indebtedness to Goethe’s and Marlowe’s plays about Faust or Dr. Faustus, and Goethe’s tribute to Byron. In a letter to his publisher, John Murray (23 October, 1817), Byron says, "The devil may take both the Fausts . . . I have taken neither." Note the differences and the similarities.

11. Manfred: At the outset of the work, what is the protagonist’s dilemma, and what is he seeking? Why do all the spirits he calls up fail to meet his need? How are these symbolic and discuss the idea of "mental theater."

  1. Manfred. Consider the episode involving the Chamois-hunter: Is he symbolic?

13. Manfred. What is Manfred’s great sin? How is this related to Astarte? (If you see Augusta Leigh here, okay, but look further.) How is this very modern? Explain the meaning carefully.

14. Manfred concluded: In another letter to Murray, his publisher, Byron, having received his copy of the published Manfred, notes that in that first edition Manfred’s last speech (III.iv.151), "Old man! ‘Tis not so difficult to die" has been deleted. He tells Murray that by omitting that line, "You have destroyed the whole effect and moral of the poem. The line was restored in all subsequent editions. Considering the theme of the poem (rather than the possibility that Byron was just in a fit of pique), why do you think he was so upset?

15. Don Juan: Study the editor’s introduction carefully, noting the discussions of the Ottava Rima form, the "tendency to nihilism," and the two main characters of the poem. Compare these points about Don Juan to points we have discussed about Byron’s earlier writing. What sort of difference or change do they perhaps indicate regarding Byron’s attitude or outlook, particularly in relation to the Byronic hero?

16. Don Juan, Canto I: In this opening book of Byron’s masterpiece we have exposition which introduces the hero and gives his background, and we have the tale of his first adventure. Consider Juan’s upbringing, in relation to the character of his mother and, particularly, the schooling she gives him. What does she omit from his education, and how does this omission relate to his first adventure?

17. Don Juan, Canto I: The story of Don Juan and Donna Julia provides a clue regarding the theme of Don Juan. Note the narrator’s description of Juan’s thoughts and of Julia’s ideas about her acquaintance with Juan. How would you characterize each as similar? Note too that during his recounting of the story the narrator makes several references to the sun, and when he comes to the high point he breaks off with a scolding attack upon a classical philosopher: What do these occurrences suggest about the philosophies of Don Juan and Donna Julia, and about the theme of the poem?

18. Don Juan, Canto I: How serious do you think is Byron’s claim, "My poem’s epic"? Review the passage in which these words appear, and consider the whole work in relation to what an epic is and what it does.

 

19. Considering what we have seen of Byron’s artistic development, his exploration of the themes of nature and society, his creation of the figure of the "Byronic hero," and his changed perspective in Don Juan, how does he compare with the other Romantic writers we have studied thus far? Compare, for instance, the theme and mood of Don Juan to that of experience in Blake and to the theme of the loss of the visionary gleam and dejection in Wordsworth and Coleridge. Ssum up Byron’s distinctive achievement. Is this connected to any national considerations?

 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

1. Perkins’s Introduction. In addition to the biographical background, study the references to Shelley’s optimism about human nature, his belief in Necessity, and his "idealism."

2. "To Wordsworth": Note headnote here and remember our study of Wordsworth because Shelley’s attitude toward his predecessor is important. Also consider the negative, yet regretful, statements the speaker in the poem makes about Wordsworth. Consider the imagery used to describe the former Wordsworth (the past tense should not mislead: Wordsworth is still living and writing). What is the "one loss" the speaker feels, which Wordsworth does not feel?

3. "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty": Define "intellectual" as Shelley uses it. Why does he name this poem a "Hymn"? In what sense is it "religious"? Does anything about Intellectual Beauty call to mind Wordsworth’s conception of "the visionary gleam"? If so, does Shelley explain it and its loss in the same way?

4. "Ozymandias": This is a famous sonnet. In a word, what is its theme? Consider the point of view of this poem. What is ironic about the poem? This is not a simple question. Look up as many words as you can in the OED.

5. "To a Skylark": On what grounds might we note a similarity between this poem and "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty"? How abstract are we to be here? How symbolic, how abstract, is a bird? What contrasting relationship between the skylark and humans does the poem describe? Is there any specific similarity between the skylark and the poet?

6. Prometheus Unbound: Study the editor’s headnote, including the quotation from Mary Shelley with information on the classical legend.

7. Prometheus Unbound, "Preface": In Shelley’s explanation of his intentions for his closet-drama, what is the principal reason he gives for departing from Aeschylus’s original story? Note also his discussion of the imagery employed in the work and of the language and style of the modern age, and of poets’ relationship to their age. Finally, consider his remarks on the subject of "didactic poetry" and his own purposes.

8. Prometheus Unbound, Act I. Note the nature of Prometheus’s original curse against Jupiter and his reason for wishing, now, to "unsay" it; note also the new form of torture. Prometheus must endure from the Furies, involving a vision. What is the vision, and why is it a torment to Prometheus? How does he vanquish the Furies? On what fundamental principle does Prometheus now operate?

9. "Ode to the West Wind": Consider the force of the west wind as the speaker describes its effects on natural elements and the changes of the seasons (believe it or not, meteorological facts, regarding prevailing wind currents in temperate zones, are important here). What are the specific elements of nature effected by the wind? How are these effects transformed from physical phenomena to symbolic action? Why does the speaker ask the wind to "lift" him? Is there a sense in which this poem is "religious"? Consider the tone of the speaker’s address to the wind. The poem leads to a statement of personal, even spiritual, crisis; yet it concludes with great optimism. How is this achieved? Can we now interpret the poem’s famous ending beyond its general popular meaning?

10. "England in 1818" and "Song to the Men of England": Each of these is a "political" poem, but the attitudes reflect different perspectives. Which is the more positive poem, and why? In the first, notice the rhetorical structure: How many sentences are there (organized as "loose" or as "periodic"?) and what is the effect of this? Consider the relationship between those details and "graves," on the one hand, and "a glorious phantom," on the other. (If you are not familiar with the symbolism of the phoenix, look up that myth.) In the second of these poems, can you sum up the political point and perhaps even the political philosophy or ideology implied by the repeated "wherefores"? What is the tone of the last stanzas? (Consider verbs like "shrink" and "trace," "weave," and "build" in relation to their objects.)

 

11. The Mask of Anarchy: Consider the meaning of the word "mask" as referring to not just a covering for the face but a masquerade, and to not just disguise but a revel and a procession; consider also that procession known as the ancient Roman triumph. What significance might these matters have with regard to the condition and situation of England and its people at the time the poem is commenting upon it? How might this work be seen as going beyond mere "political" statement to suggest something about tyranny in the abstract, and human response to tyranny? Consider the allegory or symbolism involved in the behavior of "Hope," whose father is "Time," and the editor’s note on the "Shape" which arises (but consider also how the shape is apparelled.) Follow the speech (by whom?) defining first slavery, then freedom, and leading to a (repeated) call for action.

12. "A Defense of Poetry": How does Shelley define poetry? The poet? Poetic language? What special "faculty" is involved in all these? (Consider Shelley’s contrast, at the beginning of the essay, between reason and imagination, and his discussion of a special "sense" that is involved in the latter.) How does he answer the charge that poetry is often "immoral"? How does he see a relationship between poetry and religion? What is the role of poetry in social change and politics, and how do poets represent "the spirit of the age"? Consider the multiple metaphor that concludes the phrase, "Poets are. . . ." In many ways, Shelley looks forward to modern critical theory. How?

13. In summing up our study of Shelley, we should remember a few works which we have not had time or space to examine, Adonais, "The Triumph of Life," and The Cenci. Each of these is concerned with man’s powerlessness in terms of loss, alienation, death, and evil. Such a perspective should be remembered in relation to Shelley’s optimism, his idealism, his drive for political justice, and his special valuing of poetry and the poet in the human world.

 

 

 

 

John Keats.

1. Explain how the opening metaphor functions to express the narrator’s sense of the importance of Chapman’s Homer? Comment on the visual imagery.

2. Perkins’s Introduction: Review the biographical sketch, noting particularly Keats’s early medical training and his responses to the great writings of literary tradition mixed with awareness of the "inward searching" of contemporary writing. Observe the traits of Keats’s mind and art which the editor points out, particularly as regards his thought about poetry itself, and its power to express–and possibly alleviate–human feeling.

3. "How Many Bards" and "On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer": In the first, what is the connection between Keats’s own sense of poetic identity and his consciousness of others who "gild the lapses of time"? In the second, explain how the metaphor functions to express the narrator’s sense of the importance of Chapman’s Homer? Discuss the nature of effect of the strong visual image that concludes the poem.

4. "I Stood Tip-Toe": Attend carefully to Keats’s language here. The imagery? The poem’s theme?

"Sleep and Poetry": What does the title of this poem mean? of the two nouns in the title? What does this poem say about Keats’s dedication to poetry? What does this poem indicate was Keats’s opinion of the poetry of the previous age? What definition of poetry does the poem give? Finally, discuss the function of the end of the narrative.

Endymion, Book I: Read the editor’s introduction and Keats’s Preface, and note the references to Keats’s desire to succeed with a long poem. Note that the theme of Endymion with proper qualification might stand for Keats’s whole creative purpose. In the opening of the work, what is the full significance of the famous first line in context with the first thirty-three lines?

Endymion, Book I: Follow the story of Endymion and his people and their procession; focus on the "Hymn of Pan." What is the nature of Pan’s relations to Endymion’s people? What is Pan’s power, and what does he symbolize?

Endymion, Book I: Follow Endymion’s account of his dream vision, and note Peona’s reaction to it. Study carefully the speech he makes in response to her–the "Pleasure Thermometer" passage (777-802). What are the gradations of the "thermometer"?

Hyperion. Consider the editor’s explanation of this work’s relation to Keats’s interest in epic and "thinking into the heart," and consider the comments on Milton and epic style. Consider also the idea that the theme was to be "the growth of consciousness." Note the editor’s explanation of the plot of the work, as much as we have of it. How would these relate to the fact that the particular figures in the story are Hyperion and Apollo? With what human concerns is Apollo associated, and what might this suggest as a particular form of "growth of consciousness"? Analyze carefully the speech of Oceanus (2.173-243), especially its criterion of "beauty": Are there implications here regarding art and perhaps especially poetry and poets?

"The Eve of St. Agnes": Consider what the editor calls "the theme of dream and reality" in this work, but bear in mind that it is a light, not heavily philosophic poem in itself. Indeed, the "Eve," drawing upon Shakespearean and "Gothic" sources, has been called a poem of wish-fulfillment, and such a view of it may be our best means of understanding its theme and content. Note the imagistic qualities of the work, the way in which its descriptive details appeal to the senses: What sort of wish-fulfillment is suggested (or supported) by such strong sensory language? In relation to this, notice the references to the age of the beadsman and Angela, and the part they play in the conclusion of the narrative. Consider also the dream itself, the central action of the tale. Is there any sense in which the idea of wish-fulfillment applies to the dream? How?

11. "La Belle Dame sans Merci": If "Eve of St. Agnes" draws upon Shakepearean and "Gothic" sources, this poem surely draws upon medieval folklore and romance; but its theme is surely other than wish-fulfillment. What significances do descriptive details carry here? Consider references to the landscape and elements of the natural setting. What season of the year is suggested? What flowers are associated with the knight, and what do they symbolize? What are the most striking features of the "lady," and does she have something to do with the knight’s present condition? Who are the figures in the knight’s dream, and what do they have in common with the knight? Note the editor’s discussion of this poem’s theme, and consider whether the theme he identifies for "Eve of St. Agnes" could apply here too. If it could, what would be the implications?11. Letter to Benjamin Bailey, 22 November 1817: Regarding Keats’s letters generally, consider that T. S. Eliot judged them "the most notable and the most important ever written by any English poet." Note carefully the passages of this particular letter wherein Keats discusses "Men of Genius," the imagination and "Adam’s dream," and the idea of "a finer tone." We shall discuss the first and third of these more particularly when we take up Keats’s idea of Negative Capability; for now, focus on the passage regarding the imagination. What does Keats seem to be getting at by comparing the imagination to the episode of Paradise Lost wherein Eve is created from Adam’s rib while Adam lies asleep, "dreaming" of it? Can we see any relationship between the idea of Adam’s dream and the two "dream" poems, "Eve of St. Agnes and "La Belle Dame sans Merci"? How might the contrast between Madeline’s dream and the knight’s dream suggest a problem with Keats’s idea of the imagination?12. 	Many critics believe that the great odes of April-May and September, 1819 ("To Autumn") constitute Keats’s most important achievement. Regarding all of the odes, consider the Keatsian themes of dream and reality, the power and validity of the imagination, and, particularly, the conflict between the natural world of fleeting beauty perceived by the senses and the ideal world of permanence intuited, and longed for, by the mind.

13 "Ode to Psyche": Consider the traditional symbolism of Psyche, and consider the speaker’s statement of dedication to her. Note his emphasis on her emergence "too late for antique vows." What significance do you see in the sort of "temple" that is to be built to Psyche?14. "Ode to a Nightingale": Read the editor’s comments on this work, noting the reference to the "richness and universality" of it and "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and the "tension" in the themes of both poems. With reference to the account of Keats’s writing of this work, we might note especially its carefully crafted verse structure. In "Nightingale" itself, what is the speaker’s response to the song of the bird, and why does he wish for "a draught of vintage"? What is his alternative to this "draught"? What complications arise (another significant "but"), and what is the significance of the nature imagery in the fifth stanza? How do the concluding stanzas on death and immortality reflect upon "the fancy," and what problem arises regarding the actual bird to which the poem is addressed? Do we see a version of the dream-reality theme here?15. Ode on a Grecian Urn: Observe the editor’s comments on the differences between this poem and "Ode to a Nightingale." Do these differences make for a more promising treatment of the theme? Observe structure again, particularly in relation to theme. Consider not only the significance of the urn as a work of art, but also the speaker’s approach to it as an object to be understood. What is the relationship between the series of questions in the first stanza and the statement of the second stanza? What is the nature of the tone of stanza three? What new subject arises with the questions of stanza four, and what is the effect of that subject on the function of the urn as symbol? Finally, in stanza five notice the "paradoxical" language as the urn is addressed directly: Is this appropriate to the final statement? 16. "Ode on Melancholy": Note the references in this poem to what the editor calls "conventional symbols" of melancholy and the poem’s mention of "the melancholy fit." Consider the conception of melancholy as a Renaissance "humor," observed in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy and cultivated in Keats’s day in the tradition of Gothic "sensibility." What is Keats’s advice to those who wish to create and indulge in that emotion? How does his advice relate to themes seen in his other poems?

17. "To Autumn": How might we characterize the theme of this poem, considering its subject? How does the imagery contribute to the theme? Since winter follows autumn, do we detect in these lines a sense of foreboding, sadness, loss, or despair? If we were to yield to the temptation to interpret poetry as autobiography, what would our conclusions be about Keats’s attitude within a year and a half of his death?

18. Letter to George and Tom Keats, 21-27 December 1817: Note Keats’s criticism of Benjamin West’s painting, as lacking occasion for "intensity," and study particularly the passage on "Negative Capability," comparing that passage both to the mention of "Men of Genius" in the earlier letter to Benjamin Bailey and to the discussion of "the Poetical Character" in the letter to Richard Woodhouse mentioned in the editor’s note on Negative Capability. Is there a contradiction between Negative Capability and that "intensity" referred to in connection with West’s painting?

  1. Letter to J. H. Reynolds, 3 May 1818: Follow the discussion of the uses of "knowledge," and of the difference between Wordsworth and Milton. Which poet is greater, in what ways, according to Keats? What two things does Keats claim his comparison "proves"? In the middle of this discussion Keats illustrates his ideas with his famous description of life as "a Mansion of Many Apartments"; study his metaphor closely. How does it reiterate concerns Keats has already voiced in his poetry? How might we apply it to our own lives?
  2. The Fall of Hyperion: Consider the editor’s not on this second fragmentary poem on the same subject, especially as it regards a change in style. There, it is suggested that an incompatibility of styles explains why Keats ultimately abandoned altogether his effort to write a poem about the Hyperion myth. But we may wish to consider as well whether there is some significance to the change in point of view in the second version–that is, from an "omniscient" point of view to a first-person point of view; from, as it were, Milton’s style to that of Dante. the change from Mnemosyne to Moneta? from a Greek to a Roman name? a change in character? Who speaks in Hyperion? Mnemosyne did not speak; here, Moneta does. What is the issue she addresses? How does this relate to Keats’s own ideas about poetry and his ambitions as a poet?

In our summing up the achievement of Keats, and in considering Lamia which we did not read, we should consider his growth and development as a poet as seen in his use of imagery, his experimentation with poetic forms, and particularly his elaboration of poetic themes. Our concern with the latter has revealed a fresh and earthy treatment of nature and the senses, an uncompromising approach to the theme of the real versus the ideal, an often painful inquiry into the question of poetry and service to humanity, and a daring investigation of the authenticity of the imagination and the relationship between beauty and truth.

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