Critical Essays on English Poetry

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Critical Essays on English Poetry

Critical Essays on English Poetry





Menonim  Menonimus



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Critical Essays on English Poetry By Menonim Menonimus, Published by Growhills Publishing.




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1. The Art of Characterisation in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’

2. The Theme of Love in Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet Sequence ‘Amoretti’

3. Petrarchan Elements in Edmund Spenser’s Sonnets

4. John Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ as an Elegy

5. Salient Features (Characteristics) of John Donne’s Poetry

6. The Theme of Religion in the Poetry of George Herbert

7. Salient Features (Characteristics) of Metaphysical Poetry

8. John Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe as a Mock Heroic Poem

9. S.T. Coleridge’s Poem ‘Kubla Khan’ as an Allegory

10. The Use of Greek Myths in John Keats’ ‘Hyperion’

11. The Use of Myth and Symbolism in T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’

12. D.G Rossetti’s ‘The Blessed Damozel’ as a Pre-Raphaelite Poetry



Table of Contents




The Art of Characterisation in Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’


Use of Irony and Humour in ‘The Canterbury Tales’

Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) is a great master of characterization. His characterization is realistic (life-like), discriminating (detail), ironic (humorous) and exhaustive (all-inclusive). All classes of people or people of almost all professions have gone under the purview of his characterization. He is so keen an observer that he has portrayed all his characters both as types and individuals. Let us illustrate Chaucer’s art of characterization with special reference to his Canterbury Tales as below.

First, we can take the Knight, one of his secular characters, into our consideration. Evidently, Chaucer presents his Knight as a real representative (type) of his class. During those days, the Knights were required to be wise, provident, just and pure. They were expected to serve Christianity against the infidels and the barbarians. They were to be the protector and exemplars of moral virtue. There is no doubt that Chaucer’s Knight fulfills all these types of conditions. The poet says:

‘He was a verray parfit gentil knight.’

At the same time, this Knight possesses certain individual characteristics as- he never wore gaudy garments but gypon (doublet) of coarse clothes.

Secondly, Prioress, one of the ecclesiastical characters, is portrayed both as a type and as an individual. She is a type as- she was well-bred, she could speak French fluently, she was charitable, full of pity and she acquired excellent table manners. But she is also individualized as- she bears a romantic name ‘Eglantine’, she keeps dogs as pets and feeding them with meat and bread, she wears a brooch which bears an ambiguous motto: ‘Amor Vincit Omnia’. There is the use of irony in her characterization as-her romantic name, her feeding of pet dogs and the motto on her brooch etc. make her an object of ridicule. 

Thirdly, the Pardoner is an ecclesiastical character who is portrayed both as a type and an individual. He is a type as he sells indulgence. He carries too pig’s bones which he sells as the relics of saints. He is also individualized as he has spare hairs, shining hair like hare’s, his voice is as tiny as goats and his cheeks are beardless. His type characteristics are highly ironic and his individual traits are amusing.

Fourthly, the Summoner is portrayed with the same success as a type of his class as- he makes a parade of his shallow knowledge of Latin, he tells people not to be afraid of the Arch-deacon’s curse; because according to him, money can settle all such problems and thus he acts as their adviser. On the other hand, he has been individualized as- he has a pimpled face, narrow eyes and black brows so that children feel afraid of him. His type characters are ironic while his individual features also amuse us.

Fifthly, the Friar is represented first as a type as- he carries knives and pins to give to the fair women, he deals neither with the poor nor with the sick but with the rich and the fruit sellers. But he has his individual traits as- he has merry voice, he can sing well and can play on the fiddle. Here his type characteristics are portrayed ironically which makes us ridicule him.

Sixthly, the Doctor has truly typed as- he administers remedies at the opportune moments according to the stars, he knows all the standard medical textbooks and he is in league with the chemist. He is also individualized as- he is clad in blood- red and blue-grey, he is slow in spending and he loves gold especially. His type characteristics are ironic giving rise to humour.

Seventhly, the Miller is mostly individualized by Chaucer as- he is stout, he can open a door by striking his head against it, he has a wart on the tip of his nose on which grows a tuft of red hair, he is a loose talker and a ribald joker.  Thus his individual traits are all humorous.

Eighthly, the Wife of Bath is highly individualized as- she is deaf, she wears scarlet stockings, she has large hips, she is open-toothed, she had several lovers in her youth and married to as many as five husbands one after the other.

Ninthly, the Cook is typically an expert and individually he has a weakness for ale and he has an ulcer on his shin.

Tenthly, the Merchant is characterized as a type as he makes money by usury and through the illegal transactions. He is also individualized in the respect that he is in debt but no one knows it.

Eleventh, the Lawyer is highly typed as- he has extensive knowledge of legal cases, he can expertly draft a document, he has acquired much property by unfair means and he seems busier than he actually is. He is ironic while he is portrayed as an individual.

From the above illustration of Chaucer’s art of characterization, we may come to the following conclusions as-

First, Chaucer is very keen and discriminating in characterization as he has portrayed all his characters with their typical and individual traits, with their virtues and vices and strength and weakness.

Secondly, Chaucer has dealt with all classes of people or people of almost all professions with success.

Thirdly, Chaucer is a satirist as he has employed irony in depicting his characters which gives rise to mild humour throughout The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry

The Theme of Love in Edmund Spenser’s Sonnet Sequence ‘Amoretti’

Edmund Spenser (1552- 1599) was one of the pioneers of English sonneteers. He wrote a sequence of 89 sonnets entitled Amoretti in praise of his beloved Elizabeth Boyle. His notion of love as expressed in this sonnet sequence is traditional (classical or courtly) and Christian (spiritual). The traditional sense of love is almost one-sided lovemaking in which there are three phases as-in the first phase, the beloved remains indifferent and cruel to the poet (love-seeker) but the poet keeps persuading her to the love-making; in the second phase, the beloved seems to show sympathy and consents to the poet’s love-making and in the third phase, she turns again against the poet’s calling. The traditional sense of love is passionate about sexual attraction. On the other hand, Christian sense of love is spiritual and almost ideological. It is free from amorous passion and the beloved is conceived of as the embodiment of spiritual salvation and the poet focuses on the virtues of his beloved rather than expressing amorous passion. Let us illustrate Spenser’s treatment of love in Amoretti with special reference to his representative sonnet nos. 34, 47 and 77. 

Sonnet no.34 depicts the first phase of the classical or traditional sense of love. In it, the poet’s beloved seems to remain aloof from the poet. She is utterly indifferent to the poet’s calling. This sense of love is portrayed through the metaphor of a ‘sailor’ who is guided by the lodestar in the wide sea. The lodestar stands for the poet’s beloved by whose light the poet makes his way. But a ‘cloud’ or ‘storm’ (which signifies the cruelty of the poet’s beloved), has darkened the poet’s way for which the poet is wandering here and there without being able to reach his destination. But the poet is hopeful of getting the favour of his beloved. The poet says:

‘My Helice the lodestar of my life 

Will shine again and look on me at last.’

The sonnet no. 47 is a representative sonnet of the second phase of the traditional sense of love-making. In this sonnet, we see that the poet’s cruel lover, at last, becomes kind to the poet and submits to the poet’s desire. The poet here again invokes a metaphor of a ‘huntsman’ and of a ‘deer’. The ‘huntsman’ refers to the poet himself and the ‘deer’ refers to his cruel beloved. The poet being a huntsman chases his pray ‘deer’. In the pursuit of his prey, the poet becomes much tired and sits under the shade of a tree for rest. Then the poet sees that the deer (beloved) has come to the poet willingly and consents to the poet’s passionate love-making. The poet says:

”The gentle deare returned the self-same way

Thinking to quench her thirst……”

The sonnet no. 77 is a representative sonnet where the poet spiritualizes his sense of love. It is free from carnal desire for his beloved; instead, he glorifies the physical beauty or virtues of his beloved. The poet says that his beloved is rich in beauty and virtues. Her two breasts are apples of valuable price. But there is no carnal attraction for the poet. He says:

”Two golden apples of valuable price


Exceedingly sweet, yet void of sinful vice.”

Thus from the illustration of Spenser’s three representative sonnets from ‘Amoretti’, it is seen that love is the sole theme of his sonnets the treatment of which is both traditional and Christian or conventional and spiritual. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry 

Petrarchan Elements in Edmund Spenser’s Sonnets

The Sonnet is a form of lyrical poetry on a single theme, especially on ‘love’ composed of fourteen lines in iambic pentameter with a varied rhyme scheme. This form of lyric originated in Italy in the thirteenth century and Alighieri Dante (1265-1321) is said to be its originator. But it was Petrarch (1304- 1374), another Italian poet who gave it a definite form and established it as a special form of lyric. He wrote a sequence of sonnets entitled Canzoniere expressing his love for his beloved ‘Laura’. His notion of love is conventional (traditional or classical). The traditional Sense of Love is almost one-sided. In the traditional sense of love, there are three stages or phases as-in the first phase, the beloved remains indifferent and cruel to the poet (love-seeker) but the poet keeps on persuading her to love-making; in the second phase, the beloved seems to show sympathy and consents to the poet’s love-making and in the third phase, she turns against the poet’s calling and in this stage the poet spiritualizes his love and celebrates the beauty and virtues of his beloved rather than showing passionate or carnal desire. Petrarch has depicted this traditional notion of love in full in his sonnet sequence. Structurally the sonnets of Petrarch fall into two parts of eight and six lines respectively. The first eight lines are called Octave which expresses the flow of a thought or feeling and the remaining six lines are called Sestet which expresses the ebb of the thought. The rhyme scheme of his sonnet is ‘abbaabba’ in the octave and ‘cdc, cdc’ or ‘cde, cde’ in the sestet. The form of sonnet used by Petrarch is called Petrarchan or Italian form of Sonnet. Most of the English sonneteers, especially the Elizabethan sonneteers were inspired by the Petrarchan form of sonnet. They often imitated the Petrarchan tradition of the theme of love and even Petrarchan structure. Edmund Spenser, one of the pioneers of the English sonneteers, was also influenced by Petrarch. His notion of love and treatment of love in his sonnet-sequence entitled ‘Amoretti’ is Petrarchan. But in structure, Spenser made a deviation from Petrarch. Let us bring out the Petrarchan elements in Spenser’s sonnets as below:

As Petrarchan sonnets bear three phases of traditional love, so is done by Spenser in his sonnet sequence entitled Amoretti. For example, Sonnet No. 34 depicts the first phase of the traditional sense of love in which the poet’s beloved ‘Laura’ remains indifferent and cruel to the poet’s passionate calling. The poet illustrates this through the metaphorical imagery of a ‘sailor’ in the sea and of the ‘lodestar’ that guides a ship. But the poet is hopeful that one day he would be able to get the favour of his beloved. He says:

”My Helice the lodestar of my life

Will shine again and look on me at last.”

In Sonnet No. 47, the sonneteer Spenser, imitating Petrarch, portrays the second phase of the conventional notion of love-making. In this sonnet, we see that the poet’s cruel lover, at last, becomes kind to the poet and submits to the poet’s desire. This sense of love is shown again through a Petrarchan metaphor of a ‘huntsman’ and of a ‘deer.’ The poet, being the huntsman chases after the deer (his beloved) and eventually, she submits to the poet’s desire. The poet says:

The gentle deare returned the self-same way

Thinking to quench her lust……

In Sonnet No. 77, the poet Spenser, like Petrarch, spiritualizes his love. It is free from carnal desire; instead, he glorifies the physical beauty and virtues of his beloved. The poet says that his beloved is rich in beauty and virtues. Her two breasts are apples of valuable price, but there is no carnal attraction. He says:

”Two golden apples of unvalued price


Exceedingly sweet, yet void of sinful vice.” 

From the above illustration, it is seen that the notion of love and in the treatment of love, Petrarchan elements are apparently present in the sonnets of Spenser. But in structure, Spenser has made a deviation. Unlike Petrarch, the sonnets of Spenser consist of three quatrains and a concluding couplet the rhyme scheme of which are-abab, bcbc, cdcd and ee.

From the above discussion, we can come to the conclusion that in theme and in the treatment of the theme the Petrarchan elements are visible in Edmund Spenser’s sonnets, but in structure, Spenser has made a novel deviation. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry

John Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ as an Elegy

‘Elegy’ is a type of poem written on the theme of lamentation for a dead person. There are some special features that distinguish elegy from other forms of poetry, they are- (i) mournfulness, (ii) absolute sincerity of emotion and expression, (iii) subjectivity (the charm of personality), (iv) reflectiveness and (v) universality. Besides elegy proper, there is another form of elegy called Pastoral Elegy which, in addition to the general characteristics, is featured by these as- (i) it portrays the unsophisticated country life, (ii) the characters are shepherds or shepherdess who roam over from pasture to pasture lamenting over the death of a dearest one and with the lamenter, some fairies or nymphs or other shepherdess take part and (iii) it ends with the resignation to the inevitable. John Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ is a fine elegy of the pastoral order. It has all the common characteristics of an ideal elegy that falls in the convention of pastoral elegy. Let us illustrate Lycidas as an elegy as below:

First, the poem Lycidas deals with the poet’s deep sorrows and lamentation for the premature death of his dear friend named Edward King. He was drowned in the Irish Sea in 1637 A.D. His feeling of sorrow is very deep and intensive. Throughout the poem, he casts his mournful tone which has affected his readers equally with the poet. He portrays his depth of sorrow, as: 

”As killings as the canker to the rose

 Or taint worms to the weanling herds…


Such Lycidas, thy loss to Shepherd’s ear.”   

Secondly, the poet has taken absolute sincerity of emotion and expression in dealing with his theme. His depiction of sorrows and pain of separation is so overflooded that they have flown out spontaneously. But what flows out of his core of heart gets a sincere expression, as he says:

 ”But oh, the heavy change, now thou art gone

Now, thou art gone and never must return!”

The third feature of an elegy which is reflectiveness or speculativeness is also highly present in Lycidas. The poet broods over his theme so deep that it philosophizes his feeling and goes on to reflect on the futility of worldly glory. Milton portrays in stanzas nos. V and VI that worldly glory is nothing, the real glory of life is bestowed by God after examining one’s deed. He philosophizes:

”Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil


And perfect witness of all judging Jove

As he pronounces lastly- on each deed.”

The fourth attribute of an elegy is subjectivity (the charm of personality). The present poem ‘Lycidas’ by Milton is replete with the charm of the personality of the poet. The poet’s longing for becoming a great poet, his critical attitude towards the sensuous decorative poets and his dislike for the corrupted clergy are explicitly expressed beside his deep sorrows for his dead friend. The poet says:

”So may some gentle Muse

 With juicy words favor my destined urn.”

The fifth feature of an ideal elegy is its universality which is attained by the sincerity of feeling and expression, the faithfulness of felt sorrows and the realization of the transience of human life. The poet John Milton has rendered this quality to his ‘Lycidas’ successfully. The lines quoted below show how his feelings have got a universal appeal:

”Weep no more, woeful shepherd, weep no more

For Lycidas, your sorrow is not dead.”

In addition to the presence of all the general characteristics of an elegy, the poem ‘Lycidas’ also bears all the qualities of a pastoral elegy, as-

First, the poet sets off his narration in a pasture and portrays wildlife with trees and herbs and keeps up the natural surrounding throughout the poem, as: 

”Yet once more, o ye Laurels and once more

Ye myrtles brown, with ivy sere.”

Secondly, the poet puts his lamentation to the mouth of a shepherd who expresses his lamentation roaming over the pasture and with whom the other shepherds and wood-nymphs take part and at last, after telling the tragic story, the shepherd rises up to go to the fresh woods, as the poet says: 

”And at last he rose, and switched his mantle blue

Tomorrow to fresh woods and pasture new.” 

Thirdly, an elegy of pastoral order often ends with the resignation to the inevitable. Lycidas is so, as the poet consoles himself:

”So Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high

 Through the dear might of Him.”

From the above illustration, we can come to the conclusion that Milton’s Lycidas bears all the characteristics (features) of an ideal elegy of the pastoral order. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry

Salient Features  (Characteristics) of John Donne’s Poetry

John Donne (1572-1631) is one of the major poets of early seventieth-century England. With him, a new school of poetry began which is termed as ‘Metaphysical Poetry’. John Donne (the leader), George Herbert, Andrew Marvel, Henry Vaughan and a few others belonged to this so-called Metaphysical school of poets. The main features which distinguish this so-called school of poetry from traditional poetry are that the poets of that school added ingenious and intellectual reasoning (arguments) to the conventional themes of love and religious poetry. Their arguments were highly fantastic, far-fetched and fanciful made up of hyperbolic similes, metaphors, oxymoron, and so on which are called Metaphysical Conceits. The conceits were used, not for mere decoration, but to illustrate, elaborate or prove a point of view. John Donne’s poetry is the paragon of English Metaphysical poetry. The major poetic output of John Donne includes- The Songs and Sonnets, The Holy Sonnets, The Progress of The Soule, The Elegies and the Satires. The main features (characteristics) of his poetry may be discussed under two distinct headings as- thematic characteristics and stylistic characteristics. Thematically his poetry is characterized by the themes of love, religion and death. Stylistically his poetry is characterized by the use of conceits, wits, puns and Biblical and contemporary allusions and references, dramatic notes and compact words and phrases. Let us illustrate these features below:

First, the theme of love plays a dominant role in Donne’s poetry. His sense of love is ideological as well as realistic. His love begins in the flesh and dwells in the heart. His physical love sours up to heaven where it gets perfection and attains immortality. But he is free from the amorous description of his beloved’s beauty. His sense of love lies, not in physical charm, but in mutual attraction and trust. Donne has written a large number of poems on this theme among which the poems entitled -‘The Canonization’, The Anniversarie,  The Flea, The Good Morrow, The Sun Rising,  A Valediction: Forbiding Mourning are worth mentioned. In the poem entitled ‘The Anniversarie’ he says that everything in the universe is a subject of decay, only true love is immortal. He writes:

”All other things to their destruction draw 

Only our love hath no decay

This no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday.”

The poet is static in his love for his beloved and he is so deep in love with his beloved that wherever he looks, he sees the image of his beloved only. In the poem ‘Good Morrow’, he says:

”If ever any beauty I did see

……… was but a dream of thee.”

In another poem entitled ‘The Sun Rising’, he expresses the same motto, as:

”She is all states, and all Princes I 

Nothing else is.”

Secondly, the theme which fascinates his readers’ hearts and minds is the theme of religion. His poems dealing with the theme of religion is truly Christian. The very creed of Christism has been well-portrayed in his religious or devotional poems. Through his religious poems, he has expressed his genuine belief in the oneness of God who is highly great and merciful. He believes, like a true Christian, that Christ suffered the pangs of the Crucifixion on behalf of the redemption of mankind. Most of the sonnets are given a place in his poetic book entitled ‘The Holy Sonnets’ are devotional. In one sonnet, he says:

”Teach me how to repent……..

As if thou hast sealed my pardon….” 

Thirdly the theme of death is another thematic feature of Donne’s poetry. He has written some exquisite sonnets on the theme of death, among which mention may be made of ‘Death Be Not Proud’, ‘If Poysonous Minerals’, ‘Oh My Blacke Soule’ and so on. In these sonnets he has expressed his Christian view that death is inevitable, but death is not the end of life. It is a grace of God through which we enter heaven and thus get immortality. In some of his sonnets dealing with the theme of death, he also invokes ‘sickness’ which means sufferance and through sufferance, he hopes to get redemption. In the poem entitled ‘Oh My Blacke Soule’, he says:

‘Oh my Blacke Soule! now thou art summoned

By sicknesse, deaths herald and champion

Thou art like a pilgrim.’

In the poem entitled ‘Death Be Not Proud’, he expresses that death leads us to immortality, as: 

‘One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more, Death thou shall die.’

Stylistically (technically), Donne’s poems are characterized by the use of conceits, wits, puns, references dramatic notes and compact words and phrases. Let us illustrate below:

First, which strikes our mind and excites our sense of wonder while going through his poems, is his imageries which are called conceits of the metaphysical order. His conceits are ingenious; drawn from a variety of sources as- theology, astrology, geography, law, medieval philosophy and contemporary sciences. His conceits are far-fetched, fantastic and fanciful which give testimony to his deep learning and cleverness. It is conceit through which he makes a unique and surprising blend of feeling, emotion and intellect. He is far away from using the conventional stock of conceits that are found in the Elizabethan poems. Unlike the Elizabethan, his conceits are not mere decoration, but an integral part of his poetry. His conceits are instruments as well as soul through which he illustrates, persuades and proves his point of view. In the poem ‘A valediction: Forbiding Mourning’ he uses the imagery of a compass to illustrate his static and heartily love to his beloved, as:

”Our two Soules, therefore which are one,


If they be two, they are two so

As stiff twin compasses are two.”

In the poem entitled ‘The Flies’, he invokes a striking conceit made of the metaphor of a flea which is highly fantastic and exciting, as:

”This flee is you and I, and this

Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.”

Secondly, he has used ‘wits’ in his poem which not excite our sense of wonder only, but also amuse us, as:

”If yet I have not, all thy love

Deare, I shall never have it all.”

In another poem entitled ‘Thou Hast Made Me’ he uses the wit, as: 

‘And thou, like adamant draw my iron heart.’

Thirdly, he has created ‘pun’ with such words like: ‘sonne’, ‘shadows’, ‘will’ and so on.

Fourthly, his poetic style is characterized by dramatic notes. Many of his poems open abruptly, like a drama that imparts dramatic detachment though his poems are extremely subjective. For example, his poem entitled ‘The Canonization’ opens, as:

‘For Godsake hold your tongue and let me love

Or chide my palsie or my gout.’

The poem entitled ‘The Sun Rising’ he opens abruptly as a dramatic piece addressing to the sun, as:

”Busy old foole, unruly sun

Why dost thou thus

……… on us.”

Fifthly, there is ample use of ‘allusion and references’ from medieval philosophy, the Bible, and contemporary sciences. For example- ‘the seven sleepers’,’ St. Lucy’, ‘the constellation’,’ the earth being flat’; the imageries of ‘Christ’s Crucifixion and resurrection’ etc.

Sixthly, he uses both concrete and abstract words which sometimes render complexity and absurdity, though overall, his style is both smooth and rugged. Within the small space of his poem, he has brought in the ideas and images of life, soul, earth, heaven, death etc. The poem entitled ‘The Good Morrow’ may be taken as an example of his complexity as well as his delicate smoothness. 

In conclusion, it can be said that John Donne is a metaphysical poet both in theme and style as- he has employed such metaphysical themes as love, death, God, heaven etc. and a style that is characteristically metaphysical such as – the use of ingenious conceits proving and leading his point of view to a logical conclusion and the blending of emotion and intellect. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry

The Theme of Religion in the Poetry of George Herbert


Geroge Herbert as a Religious Poet

In the long list of English poets, the name of George Herbert (1593-1633) should be pronounced with reverence as a great poet who has written poems on the theme of religion and religion only. As a poet of religion, he was by heart and soul a true Christian. Through almost all his poems, he conveys the very creed of the Christian Religion, as- there is only one supreme God who is full of love and mercy; Christ is the son of God who suffered death in the Crucifixion in order to pay for the sin of mankind; man is originally sinful who can get salvation through the realization of sin and repentance for sin. All his religious poems are rich with the thoughts and feelings of his personal sense of sin and sufferance and continuous conflicts between his worldly desire and spiritual aspiration. Let us illustrate this with reference to his poems as below:

In the little lyric entitled ‘The Agonie’ the poet strikes the very creed of the Christian Religion that the realization of sin, repentance for sin and devoted love to God is the way to salvation. As regards the nature of sufferance, the poet invokes the imagery of Christ’s Crucifixion at the Mount of Olive. He says:

”Who would know sinne, let him repair

Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see

A man so wrung with pain.”

Through the poem ‘Easter Wing’ the poet implies that rejuvenation of spiritual life is possible through sufferance and repentance for sin. He says: 

”Thou didst so punish sinne

That I became 

Most thine.”

‘Affliction’ is a poem in which the poet has expressed his conflicts between his worldly desire and spiritual aspiration. But despite his worldly desire, he loves God the most. He says:

”Ah my deare God, if I am clean forgot 

Let me not love thee, if I love thee not.”

‘The Temper’ is another poem where the poet reveals his dilemma in getting God’s favour. Sometimes he feels spiritual elevation and sometimes he feels spiritual darkness. Sometimes he feels that he is in direct contact with God and sometimes he feels the complete absence of God. He says:

”Sometimes I peer above them all

Sometimes I hardly reach a score, 

Sometimes to hell I fall.”

In the poem entitled ‘Virtue’, the poet teaches us that everything in the world is subject to decay, but a virtuous soul is immortal. He says:

‘Only a sweet and virtuous soul

Like season’d timber, never gives.’

‘The Pearl’ is another poem in which the poet has depicted the conflicts between his worldly desire and spiritual aspiration. He confesses that he becomes the victim of earthly glory; but in spite of this sin, he loves God. He declares:

”I know the ways of pleasure, the sweet strains

 The lullings and the relishes of it,


Yet I love thee.”

In the poem entitled ‘Man’, the poet declares that God has created man with all his grace and glory. Everything created by God is meant for human beings. So the poet admonishes us to love God and remain grateful to God. He says:

”That as the world serves us, we may serve thee

And both thy servants be.”

‘Mortification’ is a lyric through which the poet conveys the truth that human life is mortal and short-lived. Every moment, after birth, we are heading to death. But there is only one way to regain life after death and that is love and devotion to God. The poet prays to God to instruct him on the ways through which he can get life after death. He  writes:

”Yet Lord, instruct us so to die

That all these dyings may be life in death.”

In the poem entitled ‘The Flower’, the poet Herbert says that God is all-powerful. He enables a man’s soul to rise upwards to heaven and in no time brings down the same soul to hell. Everything is determined by God. When God favours us, our grief melts away, as the poet says: 

”Grief melts away 

Like snow in May

As if there were no such cold things.”

Besides being based on the Christian set of beliefs, all his poems are rich with Biblical imagery of Christ’s crucifixion and ascension. He makes titles of some of his poems with Biblical terms, as- Jordan, Aron and so on.

From the above illustration of some of Herbert’s poems, as done above, we can come to the conclusion that Herbert is a true Christian poet. Through almost all his poems, he conveys the very creeds of the Christian Religion along with his continuous mental conflicts between worldly desires and spiritual aspirations. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry

Salient Features (Characteristics) of Metaphysical Poetry

In the nick of the 16th century as well as in the first half of the 17th century there came out a group of English poets that included John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, Richard Crashaw, John Cleveland, Abraham Cowley and a few others who are termed as Metaphysical Poets. The term ‘Metaphysical’ was first used by John Dryden in his book entitled ‘Discourse Concerning Satire’. In regard to John Donne, he said, “He (Donne) affects the metaphysics not only in his satires but also in his amorous verses.” Later on, Dr Johnson used the label ‘Metaphysical’ for all the poets of this group headed by John Donne. Since then this group of poets has been being called blindly as “Metaphysical Poets.” The term ‘Metaphysics’ means something beyond the physical world. The themes of love, God, death, angel, heaven, hell etc. which are beyond our physical perception are called metaphysical. There is no denying the fact that, these early 17th-century English poets dealt with metaphysical themes in their poetry. But here a question arises that there is ample use of metaphysical themes in the sonnets of Shakespeare and Spenser, in John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, in Alexander Pope’s ‘The Essays on Man’ and in some others. Then why are they not called Metaphysical Poets? This question still remains unsettled. But whatsoever the denomination is for this group of early 17th century poets- the main features which distinguish this school of poets from other poets who dealt with the same themes are that this group of poets headed by John Donne added ingenious and intellectual reasoning (arguments) to the conventional theme of love and religious poetry. Their arguments were highly fantastic, far-fetched and fanciful made of metaphor, simile, oxymoron and so on which are called Metaphysical Conceits. They used conceits, not for mere decoration, but as arguments to illustrate, elaborate, persuade, or prove a point of view. In this respect, it is better and reasonable to denominate their poetry as ‘Poetry of Arguments’ or ‘Poetry of Reasoning’ or ‘Poetry of Conceit’. Though the treatment of the themes of these poets differs something from each other yet there are some features that are seen to be common either much or less to all of these poets which may be brought under discussion as- thematic characteristics and stylistic characteristics as below:

Thematic Features:

Thematically the poets of this group deal with metaphysical themes, especially with love and religion. Let us discuss the thematic features in brief as below:

First, the theme of love plays a dominant role in the poetry of these poets, especially in John Donne and Andrew Marvell. Their sense of love is ideological as well as realistic. Their love begins in the flesh and dwells in the heart. Their physical love sours up to heaven where it gets perfection and immortality. But John Donne is free from the amorous description of his beloved’s beauty. His sense of beauty lies not in physical charm but in mutual attraction and trust. Donne has written out a large number of poems on this theme among which mention may be made of ‘The Canonization’, ‘The Anniversary’, ‘The Good Morrow’, ‘The Sun Rising: A Valediction Forbidding Mourning’ and so on. The following lines quoted from- ‘The Anniversary’ expresses his motto that true love is immortal, as:

”All other things to their destruction draw

Only our love hath no decay

This no tomorrow hath nor yesterday.”

Andrew Marvell’s sense of love is something different from that of John Donne. In his love poems, we get ample description of the physical beauty of his beloved. Among his typical love poems mention may be made of- ‘To His Coy Mistress’, ‘The Definition of Love’, ‘The Unfortunate Lover’, ‘Young Love’ and so on. In the poem entitled ‘To His Coy Mistress’, he persuades his beloved to consent to the poet’s desire. The poet is so indulged in the physical charm of his beloved that he utters:

”An hundred years should go to praise

Thine Eyes and on thy Forehead gaze

Two hundred to adore each Breast

But thirty thousand to the rest.”

Secondly, the ‘theme of religion’ makes a striking place in many of the poems of this group of poets. But the theme of religion that they dealt with is truly Christian. The very creed of Christism has been well portrayed in their religious and devotional poems. Among the so-called metaphysical poets George Herbert, John Donne, Andrew Marvell and Henry Vaughan are great religious poets ever born in Christianity. Almost all the poems of George Herbert are religious and genuinely Christian. He expresses his personal conflicts between his worldly desire and spiritual aspiration. In his poems, he confesses that he becomes the victim of worldly glory but in spite of this sin, he loves God. He says:

”I know the ways of pleasure, the sweet strain

The lullings and the relishes of it


Yet I love thee.” 

John Donne, like Herbert, is a true Christian in his religious and devotional poems. He believes that through sufferance and repentance for sin, one can get salvation, he says:

”Teach me how to repent

As if thou hast sealed my pardon.”

Stylistic Features:

Stylistically the poems of the metaphysical poets are featured by the use of elaborate conceit, epigrammatic quality, wits, puns, dramatic notes and compact words and phrases. Let us illustrate the stylistic features as follows:

First, which strikes our mind and excites our sense of wonder while going through the poems of these poets is the imagery which is called ‘metaphysical conceit’. Their conceits are ingenious drawn from a variety of sources as- theology, astrology, law, physiology, geography, medieval philosophy and contemporary science. Their conceits are far-fetched, fantastic and fanciful which give testimony to their learning and cleverness. It is conceit through which they have made a unique and surprising blend of feeling, emotion and intellect. They are consciously far away from using the conventional stock of conceits that are found in the Elizabethan sonnets. Unlike the Elizabethans, their conceits are not mere ornament but are integral parts of their poetry. Their conceits are instruments (arguments) through which they illustrate, persuade and prove their point of view. In the poem ‘A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’ John Donne has used the imagery of a compass to illustrate his static and heartily love to his beloved, as he says:

”Our two Soules, therefore which are one


If they be twoe, they are twoe so

As stiff twin compasses are twoe.”

George Herbert also uses ample conceits in his religious poetry. In the poem entitled ‘The Agonie ‘George Herbert has given a vivid description of the effect of sin which becomes a fantastic metaphysical conceit. He says:

”Sinne is that presse and vice which forceth pain

To hunt his cruel food through every vein.”

Henry Vaughan another metaphysical poet makes abundant use of conceits in his poems. For example, we can cite one of his poems ‘The Shower’. In the opening lines he gives a very perfect and fantastic idea of the birth of the shower as below:

‘‘twas so, I saw thy birth: That drowsie Lake 

From her faint bosom breathe thee.”

Secondly, the metaphysical poets are witty which do not excite our sense of wonder only but also amuses us. In Donne we get:

”If yet I have not all thy love

Deare I shall never have it all.”

In Marvell, we find such uses of wits, as:

”Ah my dear God! If I am clean forgot

 Let me not love thee, if I love thee not.”

Thirdly, they are also skilled in the use of pun. John Donne has made puns with these words, as- sonne, shadow, will etc.

Fourthly, the poetic style of all these metaphysical poets is characterized by a ‘dramatic note’. Many of Donne’s, Marvell’s, Herbert’s and Vaughan’s poems open abruptly like a drama which have imparted dramatic detachment though their poems are extremely subjective. For example, the poem ‘The Canonization’ opens, as:

”For Godsake, hold your tongue and let me love

Or chide my Palsie or my gout.”

Fifthly, there is ample use of allusions and references from medieval philosophy, the Bible and from contemporary science. For example- almost all the poets have made ample allusions and references to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in their poems.

Sixthly, metaphysical poets have a weakness and predilection for both concrete and abstract words, sometimes, which become epigrammatic that often render complexity and absurdity to their poetry. For example:

”The grave is a fine and private place

But none, I think do there embrace.”  (Andrew Marvell) 

In conclusion, it can be said that the poets of the first half of the 17th century are unique both in theme and style; because the use of metaphysical themes has got perfection in their poetry and in style they are full of conceits that have been used in a novel way to persuade and prove their point of view. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry

John Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe as a Mock Heroic Poem


John Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe as a Satire

A ‘Mock-heroic Poem’ or ‘Mock-epic’ is one in which the subject is mean or trivial while the style of treating the subject is grand or elevated. The author of such a poem makes the subject look ridiculous by wrapping it up in a framework that is utterly inappropriate to its nature. In brief, to say, a mock-heroic poem is a toy adorned with a royal robe. The mock-heroic poems are humorous and satiric in character. It aims at exhibiting the vices and follies of society and individuals with laughter. The mock-heroic poets use various weapons to work out their heroic purpose. They use plain narrative, invectives, and irony with historical allusions and references which look inappropriate but aid to create ridicule and laughter. John Dryden’s Mac Flecknoe is a satire. It has some elements of mock-heroic poems also. In it, he has brought about the follies and vices of some poetasters, especially of Shadwell, an Irish poetaster. In a broad sense, Shadwell is the representative of all those inferior poets and dramatists who claim to have great genius. There are ample episodes that fall into the purview of satire of the mock-heroic kind.

First, we see that the poet has made a comparison of Flecknoe with Augustus the great Roman Emperor. Flecknoe ruled over the kingdom of dullness as Augustus ruled over Rome. This comparison is satiric of a mock-heroic kind. The poet writes:

”…………….like Augustus young

Was call’d to Empire and had govern’d long.”

Secondly, we see that Flecknoe when grew old muses over the question of his succession. He was the monarch of the realm of nonsense and his children were all dull and wretched poetasters and dramatists. His problem was to select that son who would prove to be the dullest. Finally, he resolves that his son Shadwell is the worthiest as he is the dullest of all. The poet writes:

”Shadwell alone my perfect image bear

Mature in dullness from his tender years.”

Thirdly, the poet has compared the bulky body of Shadwell to the huge oak tree that extends its branches in an unpleasant manner. As the oak tree does not possess anything substantial, so is Shadwell. This comparison is highly satirical of the mock-heroic order. The poet says:

”Thoughtless as Monarch Oaks that shade the plain

And spread in solemn state.” 

Fourthly, there is a sharp taunt in the use of the word ‘prophet.’ Dryden calls Shadwell a prophet is a ludicrous comparison between Jesus Christ and Shadwell. Jesus Christ was a prophet who showed people the way to a holy life. But Shadwell is a prophet who shows people how to indulge in dull and worthless writings. The poet says:

‘Thou last great prophet of Tautology.’

Fifthly, we see that the poet has attributed the quality of John the Baptist to Flecknoe. John the Baptist came before Jesus Christ to prepare the heart of men and women for acceptance of the great messages of Christ. Flecknoe came before Shadwell to prepare the ground for the display of his son’s (Shadwell) dullness. The poet says:

”Even I a dunce of more renown than they

Was sent before but to prepare the way.”

Sixthly, there is a sharp irony when the poet says that the fishes gathered round the pleasure boat of Shadwell as Dolphins were gathered and charmed by the song of the celebrated Greek poet Arion. But the fishes that gathered round the Shadwell’s boat were only to enjoy the fragments of bread. The poet says: 

”Methinks I see the new Arion sail

The lute still trembling.”

Seventhly, the poet Dryden shows the idiocy of Shadwell by depicting the movement of his hands in the fashion of threshing the corn. The term ‘threshing hand’ bears a pointed taunt. Besides, the entire description of the decay of the ancient buildings is presented in a mock-heroic fashion. The poet says:

”An ancient fabric raised to inform the sight 

There stood of yore, and barbaric it height.” 

Eighthly, the depiction of the coronation of Shadwell to the throne of the realm of dullness is highly satiric of the mock-heroic order. The poet portrays that the goddess of Fame had announced the report of Shadwell’s coronation all over the town and people assembled there from Bunhill to Watling Street. The torn and mutilated works of poor poetasters were strewn over the ground as carpet. Then Shadwell came on the throne which was made up of his voluminous writings. The poet says that he was a hero like Hannibal the Carthage hero who swore to wage eternal war against Rome. Similarly, Shadwell swore that he would keep up his dullness till his death. Then his father adorned him with poppy leaves and flowers. In the meantime, twelve owls flew over his head as it was said that twelve vultures flew over Rumulus, the founder of Rome. The gathering crowd took the flight of the owls as a sign of Shadwell’s bright future. All these descriptions and imageries of Hannibal, the twelve owls, Rumulus etc. are not only satiric but also heroic in an ironic sense.

Besides the subject matter and the treatment of the subject matter, the style of the poem is grand to the mock-heroic order. The poet has employed a heroic couplet which consists of a pair of lines with the same rhyme order, each line comprises of five iambic feet to the poem in order to render mock-heroic ingredients to it. In addition to this, the poet has used lots of historical as well as mythological allusions and references as- Augustus, Arion, Rumulus, Hannibal, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist etc. along with these, the poet makes ample allusions and references from contemporary history of poets, dramatists and musicians like- Johnson, Heywood, Shirley, St. Andre, Villerus etc. All these references and allusions have added flavour to the poem and enhanced its grandeur but in a mock-heroic way. 

From the above illustration, we can come to the conclusion that Dryden’s ‘Mac Flecknoe’ is a satire as well as a successful mock-heroic poem. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry

S.T. Coleridge’s Poem ‘Kubla Khan’ as an Allegory

An ‘Allegory’ is a narrative- either in prose or verse- which carries a second (deeper) meaning besides its literal or surface meaning. In other words, to say, an Allegory is a narrative description of a subject under the guise of another similar subject. In a sense, an Allegory may be called an ‘Extended Metaphor’ because in an allegory the theme (story) is meant to be something else. In an allegory, the author invokes objects with symbolic significance. S. T. Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan‘ is a narrative poem that carries three fragmental episodes: first, it is about a palace that the poet heard of; secondly, it is about a singer (an Abyssinian maid) that the poet dreamt of and finally, it is about a poet that the poet imagined of. Besides the superficial or literal meaning, the poem may be interpreted as an allegory of arts, especially on poet and poetry. Let us interpret the poem as an allegory as below:

First, the poet has given an account of the city called Xanadu. In the 13th century, a Monghul Emperor by the name of Kubla Khan built the city as his pleasure palace. It was built by the side of a sacred river called Alph. The river flowed through deep caverns and ultimately fell into a ‘sunless sea’. The city was encircled by walls and towers. There were beautiful gardens, winding streams, and trees laden with fragrant flowers and fruits. There was a fascinating ‘chasm’ that ran down the slope of a green hill. It was a wild and awe-inspiring place often haunted by a woman wandering about in search of her ‘demon-lover’. Deep down the ‘chasm’ a mighty ‘fountain’ gushed forth making a roaring sound. The mighty outburst of water threw up massive rocks which fell here and there like hailstones striking the earth. The mighty fountain was the source of the sacred river Alph. Amid the roaring sound, Kubla Khan heard his ancestors’ voices prophesying future wars. Thus in this part of this poem, the poet has endeavoured to show that it is the art that reflects life the best with all its complexities and contradictions. The objects that the poet delineates in the poem have borne symbolic (allegorical) meanings as- the ‘palace’ built by Kubla Khan in Xanadu signifies the greatness of art created by men. The ‘sunless sea’ signifies ‘death’ where life finally ends. The ‘woman’ wandering about in search of her demon lover suggests the inexplicableness of art. The ‘chasm’ signifies the ‘unfathomable human consciousness. The ‘mighty fountain’ symbolizes pure art (poetry) which comes out from the depth of the human mind. The ‘ancestral voice’ heard by Kubla Khan signifies human experience. Thus allegorically Coleridge finds an ideal art in Kubla Khan’s palace.

Secondly, the poet says about an Abyssinian maid that he dreamt of. She was playing on her dulcimer and was singing a melodious song about Mount Abora. Allegorically the maiden and her song suggest that art transcends life and it becomes celestial. 

Thirdly, the poet expresses his vision of becoming a great poet who would change a life with new ideas and new hopes in the mind of man. The poet hopes that he would be such a great artist (poet/ singer) that would draw children out of their homes and follow his path being enamoured by his song.

Thus the poet S. T. Coleridge through the poem has illustrated the allegorical significance of the achievements of great art, especially poetry. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry

The Use of Greek Myths in John Keats’ ‘Hyperion’

John Keats’ (1795-1822) ‘Hyperion‘ is a narrative poem in epic style written in three books often said to have been left incomplete. It is a poem on Greek mythology the theme of which is ousting of the old system of the regime by the new one. The poem shows that the two sets of gods as- the Titans and the Olympians are in a war and how the Titans were replaced by the Olympians of their power. The Titan set of gods includes- Saturn, Hyperion, Oceanus, Clymene Enceladus, Thea and some others. They symbolize the old system of the regime. On the other hand, the Olympian set of gods and goddesses includes- Jove (Zeus), Hades, Poseidon, Apollo, Mnemosyne and some others. They represent the new system of the regime. The poet John Keats has brought the myth into account in three books which may be recounted briefly as below:

The story of the poem begins in the middle after the style of Milton’s Paradise Lost. With the opening of Book I, we see that the war between the Titan set of gods and the Olympian set of gods is over. Saturn the leader of the Titans is defeated and he is sitting in solitude lamenting the loss of the war. Then Thea, the spouse of Hyperion comes to Saturn and tries to console him, but she keeps weeping sitting at the feet of Saturn. But Hyperion says that they must fight to restore Saturn to his throne, because if Saturn is not restored, then Hyperion will also lose his throne. Hyperion says:

”Saturn is fallen, am I too fall

And to leave this heaven of my rest.”

In Book II, we see that Thea has led Titan to the other Titans to discuss the reasons for their defeat and what they should do next. Most of the Titans suggest that they should fight to recover their power. But Oceanus and Clymene are the exceptions. In the conference, Oceanus says that change is natural and they should accept their defeat. He says:

”We fall by course of Nature’s law, not force 

Of thunder or of Jove.”

Then Clymene, a Titan goddess begins to make music to soothe her grief at their defeat. Suddenly more beautiful music overpowered her music. She heard Apollo’s name being called out which indicates that Apollo will be the hero of the new set of gods and of a new system of the regime.

In Book III, we see that Apollo is with his sister Artemis in Delos. Apollo has never been out of Delos and therefore is ignorant. But Mnemosyne the goddess of Memory and the mother of the Nine Muses renders Apollo the knowledge of sorrow and sufferance by mystic communion with him. Since the Titans refuse to accept the change they lose their divine power. On the contrary, Apollo becomes the god of the new order because he makes the sorrows of the world his own.

This myth of the gods may be interpreted in two ways, as- a political allegory and as a philosophical poem on poet and poetry. Let us interpret the poem as below:

First, we can interpret it as a political allegory (Allegory is a narrative of a subject under the guise of another similar subject). Some writers use allegory to evade censorship and as they cannot criticize the government openly, so they do it in disguise by means of allegory. In the poem, ‘Hyperion’, the Titan set of gods represents the monarchy of the old system who do not like change. Reference may be made to the French Monarchy which was overthrown by the new ideals of Democracy. Here the Olympian set of gods with the leadership of Apollo represents the new system of administration called Democracy. Through the poem, the poet John Keats wants to convey that the act of governing should go to those who have the knowledge of the sorrow and sufferance of the world.

Secondly, it may be interpreted as a philosophical poem about poet and poetry. This is shown by Keats when he says in regard to Apollo that he dies to live. The pang that he suffered at his birth symbolizes purgation and inspiration for creative art. Like the god of poetry, the living poet has the pang of being genuinely creative. The earthly poets achieve perfection through struggle. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry

The Use of Myth and Symbolism in T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’

A Myth is a fictitious story of unknown authorship having its roots in the primitive beliefs of a race or nation that presents supernatural episodes as a means of interpreting some natural events concerning how something comes to exist. On the other hand, a Symbol is an object- animate or inanimate- that stands for something else. In a literary sense, when an object is used to represent, illustrate, clarify, deepen, reinforce or intensify the meaning or significance of something else is called Symbol. T.S. Eliot has used some symbols in his epic-like poem ‘The Waste Land‘. Let us discuss the use of myths and symbols in the poem as below:

Besides abundant use of allusions, references and quotations T. S. Eliot has employed three myths, as- (i) the Myth of Holy Grail, (ii)the Myth of Fertility and (iii) the Myth of Tiresias as extended metaphors to represent the intellectual and spiritual barrenness and sterility of modern human civilization. The myths serve a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity. The sources of Eliot’s myths used in this poem are- (i) Miss Waston’s ‘From Rituals and Romance’ and (ii) Frazer’s ‘The Bough’. We can recount these myths as below:  

The Myth of Holy Grail: According to the Grail Legend, the ‘Grail’ (bowl-shaped drinking cup) was used by Jesus Christ at his last supper with his disciples before he was put to the Cross. The myth says that the Grail was supposed to have been brought to England by a mythical early Christian saint named Joseph of Armathea. It had been the symbol of holiness and an object of a quest for the chivalrous knights. But the story relevant to Eliot’s poem concerns the Grail and the Fisher King. The Grail was in possession of the Fisher King or at least the king knew the whereabouts of it. But the king was a sinner of adultery, fornication and other abnormal sexual acts. As a curse, the whole kingdom was afflicted with drought and the land had become waste and sterile. But eventually, one of the king’s knights, who went through the ordeals of the way, reached the Chapel Perilous and both asked and answered himself certain right questions and right answers and then the king along with his land got cured of the curse. This myth represents that through sufferance and penance one can get rid of the curse of sins and spiritual peace may be regained.

The Myth of Fertility: Several stories are connected with this Myth of Fertility. One is of the god of Fertility called Orisis in Greek Mythology. According to a ritual, the effigies of Orisis with some corn grains are buried under the earth after yearly crop harvesting. But soon the grains that are buried with the effigy germinate. The burial of the effigy of Orisis symbolizes ‘death’ and the subsequent germination of corn symbolizes ‘rebirth’. Secondly, the myth of fertility has been adopted in the Christian Myth as- the birth, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus by this fertility myth, the poet Eliot wants to represent that spiritual regeneration is possible through devotion to God and Christ.

The Myth of Tiresias: In Greek Mythology, Tiresias is represented as blind, hermaphrodite and a soothsayer. According to the myth, once he happened to see the goddess Athena enjoying a naked bath and then being offended the goddess turned Tiresias blind. Another story says that once he disturbed a pair of copulating serpents with his stick and they being angry, transformed Tiresias into a woman; but after seven years, he again happened to disturb another pair of serpents who turned him into a man. Thus Tiresias had got the experiences of both a man and a woman. Tiresias in this way serves obviously as a connecting link between the wasteland of the past and of the present. The Myth of Tiresias serves as the parallel between the past and the present in this respect that sexual passion makes the present age as sterile as that of the past as happened during the times of King Oedipus.

In addition to the use of all these myths and their significances, the poet has employed abundant symbols, as- the fertility theme is projected through the symbolism of ‘spring’, ‘rain’, ‘wet hair’, ‘vegetation’ and ‘flower’. ‘Spring’ symbolizes ‘life and regeneration’, but to the waste Landers, it is a symbol of ‘decay’. Thus the ‘rain and flower’ symbolize spiritual rebirth’; ‘dog’ in the poem symbolizes ‘human conscience’; the ‘rock’ stands for the wrath of God’, ‘broken Coriolanus’ symbolizes ‘human pride and ego’; ‘King Fisher with his Trishul’ symbolizes the’ threefold ways to salvation. The ‘card’ having the picture of a wheel stands for the ups and downs of life.

Thus, the poet has successfully brought about the uses of myths and symbols to represent his theme of sterility of human intellect and conscience as a parallel to the past and present. But the uses of those myths and symbols have imparted complexity and obscurity to the poem for which the poem is not easily appreciable by the general readers. 0 0 0

Critical Essays on English Poetry 

D.G Rossetti’s ‘The Blessed Damozel’ as a Pre-Raphaelite Poetry

The term ‘Pre-Raphaelite Movement’ refers to a movement in art and literature especially in painting and poetry in England during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). The movement arose as an idealistic reaction against the didacticism, moral fervour, social sordidness and materialism of Victorian Society. The main exponents of this movement were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everest Millais and William Holman Hunt. They formed a group in 1848 A. D. called The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Later on, Morris and Swinburne joined the brotherhood. It is called so because they derived their inspiration and ideals from the 14th and 15th-century Italian painters, especially from Giotto and Bellini who were prior to Raphael. The members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood advocated freedom of thought, glorification of beauty, mysticism, melancholic note, symbolism, simplicity, melody and cleanliness of style in art and literature in contrast to the existing ideals of the Victorians. In other words, to say, they advocated art for art’s sake. They had no morality to preach, no reform to introduce through the medium of art and literature. To create beauty reflecting human instinct as a source of joy was their hidden motto. In this respect, the Pre- Raphaelite Brotherhood revived the Romanticism of Keats and Coleridge without employing the term ‘Romanticism’. The members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were painters cum poets. D. G. Rossetti was the leading figure of this movement. His poem entitled ‘The Blessed Damozel’ is a representative poem of this movement. In the poem, he has portrayed the freedom of thought, glorification of beauty, sensuous appeal, medieval mysticism, the richness of imagination, simplicity, melody, and cleanliness of style. Let us illustrate Rossetti’s poem ‘The Blessed Damozel‘ as an example of Pre- Raphaelite Poetry.

First, the Poet D. G. Rossetti makes freedom of thought and turns his mind from this ugly, disordered materialistic human society to heaven which is full of beauty, peace, and order. He is not concerned with the affairs that is worldly but with the affairs that is heavenly. Hence he has portrayed a Damozel who is not on earth but in heaven. The poem is full of fertile imagination which has created the imageries of beauty and beauty alone. For example, we can cite the following lines:

‘The blessed Damozel leaned out

 From the gold bar of heaven


She had three lilies in her hand

And the stars in her hand were seven.’ 

Secondly, the description of his sense of beauty is highly sensuous. His imageries affect our sense-organs more than they affect our intellect. His sensuous imageries sometimes become voluptuous.  The whole poem is a bunch of sensuous imageries. In it, we get the imageries of heaven with its ridge, wall, garden and buildings; we get the imageries of Christ, Mary, and the imageries of the pair of lovers walking hand in hand. We get such lines in the poem, as:

”Surely she leaned ov’r me, her hair

 Fell at about my face…..”

Thirdly, there is a note of medieval mysticism, as we get in S. T Coleridge’s poem ‘The Rime of Ancient Mariner’. In ‘The Blessed Damozel’ we get such lines, as:

”I’ll take his hand and go with him

 To the deep wells of light


And bathe there in God’s sight.”

Fourthly, there is a melancholic note throughout the poem. Though The Blessed Damozel is in heaven, yet she is not happy. She craves to be united with her lover who is on the earth. The poet says:

”And then she cast her arms along

The golden barriers

And laid her face, between her hands,

And wept.”

Fifthly, the technique and the style of the poem are featured by simplicity, melody and cleanliness in the use of words, phrases and cadence. The following lines serve as an example quoted at random:

‘Her voice was like the voice the stars

 Had when they sang together.’

From the illustration done above, it is seen that the poem ‘The Blessed Damozel by D. G. Rossetti is a representative poem of The Pre-Raphaelite School of Poetry where all the features conceived of by the poets of the school have got full depiction. 0 0 0.


Chief Characteristics of Wordsworth’s Poetry

William Wordsworth is generally called a great Romantic poet who entered into the empire of poetry with his own revolutionized theory and practice. But before saying him to be so, it would be reasonable to bring out the salient characteristics of his poetry.

A close and deeper study of his poems shows us clearly that there are two distinct themes throughout the range of his poems. First, Nature and then Man and besides the two there is nothing else. But his treatment of the two is absolutely his own.

Between the two which is vaster and stronger is Nature. But his treatment of nature is manifold. Throughout his nature poems, he deals with the objects of nature as it is and then he brings out the appeal that the object casts on his mind and senses. Hence his nature poems are sensitive. For example, we can take his poem entitled ‘The Daffodils which is nothing but a plant of flower which dances in the wind. The daffodils which were dancing in the wind, appeal to his mind and woke up the poet’s sense of beauty and joy. But for the poet, the joy and beauty are not temporary but permanent. The poet writes:

”For oft when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills

And dances with the daffodils.”

In the poem ”Lines written in Early Spring”, the poet says that nature is full of joy and pleasure as:

”And I must think do all I can

That there was pleasure there.”

Besides, Nature being a source of happiness is a shelter for the poet that has healing and lulling power. He says in a poem:

The silence that is in the starry sky

The sleep that is among the lonely hills.

The second attitude towards nature is that nature is a teacher, a guide, and a nurse for him. He admits this without hesitation in Tintern Abbey.

”In nature and the language of the sense

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse

The guide, the guardian of my heart and soul of all my moral being.”

In the poem ”The Tables Turned” he asks his friend to leave his books and come out in the open field, because he says:

”One impulse from a vernal wood

May teach you more of man,

Of moral evil and of good

Than all the sages can.”

The third attitude towards Nature is that nature is a Divine Power i.e. the expression of God Himself. At this point, it is to say that nature is full of mystery, and mystic note prevails everywhere in nature. Hence his mystic attitude to Nature is what his attitude to God is. ‘The Excursion’ and ‘The Prelude’ illustrate this aspect of Nature. In the poem entitled ‘The Tintern Abbey’ he receives Nature as a Divine Being and says:

”……………………a sense sublime

 of something for more deeply interfused

A motion and a spirit that impels

All thinking things all objects of all thoughts

And rolls through all things.”

In ‘The Prelude Book VI’ the poet speaks:

”When the light of the sense

Goes out in flashes that have shown to us

The invisible world.”

Again in another poem he says:

”……………the features

Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree

Characters of the great Apocalypse

The types and symbols of Eternity

Of first and last and midst and without end.”

The second great theme of his poetry after Nature is Man. He thought of man as a part of Nature. But there are some causes that turned his mind to write poems on Man. The first cause is the French Revolution. He welcomed the slogan of the French revolution ‘Fraternity, Equality and Liberty’. But when he saw, later on, that Man had not received his due what he wished to have after the revolution instead he saw many people had lost their lives in Guillotine under the rule of the Terrorists. This sense humanized his soul. The second thing which humanized his heart is the influence of Rousseau who gave emphasis on social equality. Thirdly, when Wordsworth studied Nature then he met some poor and forlorn people, living in contact with nature under very pathetic conditions. A man stands in his poetry as his sympathetic friend; his lover and as the divine spirit. But unlike his nature poems which are the work of fertile sensitiveness, his poems on man are not so. His poetry on man is as he sees them, feels about their poor and afflicted conditions. He sympathizes with them. Moreover, Wordsworth was a poet of nature first so he loved nature most and disliked every sort of artificiality. So in his poetry dealing with man, there is no portrayal of the upper classes. He was, in depicting men in poetry, as Charles Dickens was in his novels. Wordsworth for the first time brings the lower classes of men into the compass of poetry and portrayed their lives, without any artificiality, with greater force. That makes him a poet of humanity. In depicting the poor classes of people he becomes a realist. And so he may be called the first realistic poet of man. Many of his poems dealing with the theme of man read like a modern short stories which are the true representations of the human plight in society. The poems like ‘The Leech Gatherer’, ‘Michael’, ‘Lucy Grey’, and ‘Simon Le’e are read like short stories.

The Poems entitled ‘Three Years He Grew in Sun and Shower’, ‘She was a Phantom of Delights’—are true pictures of real men and women. But the poet only depicts the pathetic states of people. And in doing so, he becomes the poet of the lower classes of people.

The above-quoted passages show that he was a poet of common rustic life. In one of his poems he says:

”……………we brothers all

In honour as in one community

Scholars and gentlemen.” (The Prelude)

The above discussion proves that Wordsworth is a great poet of nature no doubt; but as a poet of man he is greatest as no poet before him portrayed the poor classes of people who struggle with Nature for Survival, and even no poet after him had portrayed the poor plight of people in poetry so lively as was done by Wordsworth.

The mood of expression of his feeling and emotion in poetry is neither humorous nor witty but pathetic and melancholic. Fugitiveness from the bustling life of society is another feature of his poetry.

In dealing with the themes of his poems Wordsworth uses the subjective method. He depicts the object of nature at first, and then he portrays the appeal of the object of nature which his mind and senses receive. In this respect, he is an egoist.

He revolutionized not only the themes, feeling and outlook towards Nature but also the poetic diction. He eschewed all the artificial complexity of poetic diction preceding him and introduced an easy and simple style. His language is simple close to everyday conversation. His language is less figurative and more simple which is characteristically the language of the common people. His diction is characterized by simplicity, clarity, purity and orderliness.

These are the chief characteristics of his poetry.

Now the question is that how far is he a romantic poet? Before going to substantiate this we must know what romanticism is. The Phrase Romanticism comes from the word ‘romance’ which means something fanciful that arouses the sense of excessive wonder, joy, and mystery by means of free imagination which is not possible in real life. So Romanticism is an ‘ism’ of imagination that is fanciful and extravagant and invoke to arouse our sense of wonder, joy, and mystery. In this respect,  is a Romantic poet.

There were romantic elements in the poems of poets previous to Wordsworth as in Grey, Crabe and in the poem of William Blake. But Wordsworth perfected it in poetic literature with conscious force and left it in perfection. Being inspired by him, poets succeeding him as Shelly, Keats, Byron and many others practiced the tradition romantic poetry. But among them, Wordsworth is an ideal romantic poet. After him, Keats and Shelly made the culmination of Romantic Tradition in English Literature.

The Romantic Tradition inaugurated officially by William Wordsworth was not confined to poetic literature only but soon it impacted the other branches of literature such as short story, novel, and even the arts and sculpture.

As a founder and practitioner of romantic tradition in literature Wordsworth’s place is after none but is above all. 0 0 0.


Chaucer’s The Nuns Priests Tale as a Fable

A fable is a short narrative either in verse or prose with a moral ending. The main features of which are— (i) the character are not human beings but beasts, birds, supernatural agents or any inanimate objects. (ii) Characters are mostly type representing frailties, foibles, vices, sins or virtues of men and women living in society. (iii) Allegorical or metaphorical in device (iv) humorous or satirical in tone and (v) ends in moral lessons expressed by the characters or by the narrator. For example, – Aesop’s Fables in Greek, Roman de Renard in French, Vishnu Sharma’s Hitopadesh in Sanskrit etc. English literature is not poor in fables. Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Nonnes Preestes Tale’ (The Nun’s Priest’s Tale) is a fable with all the characteristics of a fable in it. Now let us illustrate the tale as a fable.

The first feature of ‘The Nonnes Preestes Tale’ (The Nun’s Priest’s Tale) is that its main characters are birds and beasts, namely cocks by the names & Chauntecleer and Pettelote and a fox by the name of Russell. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer has narrated how the cock Chauntecleer was induced by the flattery of the fox Russell and how in turn the fox lost its Victim by being induced by the sweet words of the cock. The poet has attributed human characteristics upon them as he says:

‘Tor thilke tyme, as I have understonde

Beestes and brides kounde speke and synge.’

Besides Chauntecleer, Pertelote and Russell, these are allusions of some other animals such as – the dogs by the names of Colle, Talbot and Gerlands. But they have played little roles in the tale.

Secondly, the characters are mostly type rather than an individual. Here Chauntecleer represents all the cocks. So Pertelote stands for as a type of all the hens and likewise, the fox has shrewdness of all the foxes of its kind. The crowing of the cock at definite hours of the day is a type of all cocks; but he gives a touch of individuality by invoking highly poetic imageries, as:

‘His voys was murier than the murie orgon

On massedayes that in the chirche gon

We sikerer was his crowing in his logge

Than is a clokke or an abbey orlogge.’

In addition to this, the scene of the fox’s flattery and chasing scene is also typical which is common in any village by woods.

Thirdly, the device of representing the tale of the cock and fox is allegorical. An allegory is a story in verse or prose of a higher order under the guise of a lower one. In that sense it is allegory of a couple of humans—husband and wife. The cock Chauntecleer stands for all human husbands and the hen Pertelote stands for all the human wives. The relationship between the cock and the hen is the relationship between a human husband and wife. Husbands are generally proud, wayward and authoritative over their wives. So is Chauntecleer. He does not pay any attention to the hen’s suggestion. He overcomes the hen’s suggestion by invoking stronger arguments in favour of his view that dreams have significance. Pertelote also represents her insolence by scolding Chauntecleer for being afraid of a mere dream. Thus their relationship is truly the allegorical portraiture of the conjugal relationship of any human husband and wife. In boarder sense what is allegorical is metaphorical also. If we set aside the fox and cock episode from the poem it would be a specimen of perfect allegory. In other words to say, ‘‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ moves on two levels —the animal and human.

Fourthly, ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is humorous as well as satirical from the very beginning to the very end. Among the abundant use of humorous elements in the tale, the mention may be made of Pretelote’s methods of diagnosis that some excess of humour on bile in the blood of Chauntecleer is responsible for his dreadful dream. Thus we are greatly amused to hear Chauntecleer’s compliments to madam Pertelote on the beauty of her face just any Knight might admire the beauty of his sweet-heart. Likewise the description of the lamentation of the hens when Chauntecleer was carried off by the fox, the description of the chasing scene, Chauntecleer’s puffing up with the vanity by the fox’s flattery, the cock’s flattery to get free from the mouth of the fox, again the fox’s flattery to entrap the cock for the second time – all are highly humorous and satirical. And it is these satires that add a new and ever-pleasing flavour to the tale.

Fifthly the tale of the cock and the fox has come to the conclusion with the two distinct morals which have been expressed by the mouth of Chauntecleer and the fox Russell. Chauntecleer concludes –

“For he that wynketh whan he sholde see

Al wilfully God lat hym nevere thee.’’

After this, the fox Russell extracts his experience what he has learnt from his encounter with the Cock.

‘……. God yebe thym meschaunce

That is so undiscreet of governance

That jangleth whom he sholde holde his pees!’

From the above analysis of the poem, ‘The Nun’s Prieste’s Tale’ we can come to the following conclusions.

First it is a perfect beast fable as all the characteristic of a fable are abundantly present in it.

Secondly beside being it a beast fable it is a higher kind of comedy because comic elements predominate over all the elements.

Thirdly, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer made so much allusions and references in the tale which generally suit to a heroic kind of poetry, It might be reasonable to call the ‘Nonnes Preestes Tale’ (‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’) heroic fable.

Fourthly, the cock and the fox story in the form of folktale has been existing in French, Italian and in some other languages also but Chaucer, by his art of narration, gives it an exceptional grand style, which makes it a grand thing in the whole range or English fables. 0 0 0.


The Nuns Priest’s Tale—A Critical Analysis

Introduction: ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is a beast fable in verse. Its characters are not human beings but birds and animals i.e. a cock by the name of Chauntecleer and a fox by the name of Sir Russel. The tale shows how the cock was deceived by the flattery of the cunning fox and how the fox lost its chance of eating the cock being arrogant and losing self-control. The tale teaches us two moral lessons as one who is induced by flattery fall into peril and one who boasts and speaks, while he should remain silent, loses his desired thing. The style of treating and representing the theme is mock-heroic wherein the elements of satire, humour, allegory and dramatic notes predominate.

Subject Matter: ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ may be distinctly divided into three sections — the Prologue, the tales told by the Nun’s Priests, and the Epilogue.

The Prologue serves the purpose of background and introduction to ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’. In this Section, the poet gives a brief account of how ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ happened to be told. The background of taking shape of the tale is that once a company of thirty pilgrims including the poet went to a journey from London to the shrine of Saint Thomas at Canterbury. To break the boredom of their long journey the pilgrims, under the leadership of the Knight and the Host of a tabard agreed to tell two stories each while travelling to Canterbury and two each while returning from there. Acting upon that agreement the pilgrims told their stories. Amongst the pilgrims, one was a Monk. He told a very pathetic story of how a man of prosperity had fallen down to adversity.

After hearing the Monk’s Tale the Knight commented adversely and said that the story told by the Monk was highly tragic which had filled the hearts of the pilgrims with pain. The Host also supported the comment of the Knight and said that there was no joy in the tale told by the Monk. Then the knight requested the Nun’s Priest, a fellow traveller to tell a story that might gladden the hearts of the company. The Nun’s Priest agreed readily to tell his tale (story).

Thus after the Prologue (the introductory speech), the tale of the Nun’s Priest begins. The tale of the Nun’s Priest is comprised of several episodes, as- the episode of a widow, the episode of a dream of Chauntecleer the cock, and the episode of the significance of the dream and the cock and the fox episode.

First, comes the episode of a widow, who was poor, and somewhat advanced in age. She lived in a small cottage that was situated close to a groove in a valley. Since she became a widow, she began to lead a very simple and moderate life. Her income was meager. But she was contended with whatever God gave her. With her small income, she managed her family and lived happily with her two daughters

Among her belongings, there were three large sows (female pigs), three cows, and a sheep called Moll. Her kitchen and bedroom were sooty. She took a scanty meal. She never felt the need for pungent sauce. No delicious morsel of food passed through her throat. Her diet was in accordance with her means. Overeating never made her sick. She was physically hale and sound and fit as she ate moderately and took exercise.

Her food items were milk, bread, eggs and bacon. She had a yard enclosed all round with sticks. There was a dry ditch outside the yard. In the yard, she had a cock by the name of Chauntecleer which lived happily with her seven hens who were his wives. In all the land there was no equal to Chauntecleer at crowing. His voice was merrier than the merry organ. His crowing in the cottage was more reliable than a clock or an abbey timepiece. He knew by instinct the beginning of each equinox. His comb was redder than fine coral. His bill was black and it shone like a jet. His legs and toes were sky-blue. His nails were whiter than lily and his colour was like burnished gold. His seven hens were wonderfully like him in colour. The one who had the best coloring on her throat was called the fair lady Pertelote. She was courteous, discreet and gracious. She was companionable. She was so beautiful that truly speaking, since the day when she was only seven nights old she won the love of Chauntecleer which was now locked in each of her limbs. He was in love with her and all was well with him. Every morning they sang in sweet harmony, ‘My beloved has gone away to the village.’

Here the poet attributes human qualities to the cocks and hens. From an allegorical view-point, the cock and hens represent human beings especially a couple of husband and wife.

After this, the dream episode comes. The poet says that one morning while Chauntecleer was sitting on his perch with all her hens (seven wives) then suddenly Chauntecleer began to groan in his throat like one who felt sorely troubled in a dream. And when Pertelote heard him rise in such a manner she feared and said to Chauntecleer what made him roar in that manner. She said that it was a matter of shame for Chauntecleer to groan in such a way.

Then Chauntecleer replied that he saw a dream last night. In his dream, he saw a beast resembling a hound that had seized his body and had him dead. The colour of the beast was yellow and red. His tail and ears were tipped with black unlike the rest of his body. His eyes were glowing and the snout was small. Chauntecleer said that he was almost dead on account of this fear of that beast’s look.

After hearing the description of Chauntecleer’s dreams, his wife Pertelote began to mock at him. She said that to be afraid of a beast was a matter of shame for Chauntecleer. She said him to be a coward. She, being insolent said to her husband Chauntecleer that she had lost her love to him because she did not want to love a coward. All women want that their husbands to be hardy, wise, generous and trustworthy. They never want a husband who is foolish, boaster and who is afraid of any weapon. She rebuked him saying that he had no manly heart.

After saying so Pertelote began to put forward his arguments against dreams that dreams are folly or fancy. Dreams are produced by overeating and often by vapour and by physical disorder when touches of humour are excessive in a person. She put forward her arguments against his dream saying that the dream seen by Chauntecleer was due to the superfluity of red bile in him The superfluity of red bile causes a man to be afraid of arrows, of fire with red flames, of red coloured beasts and of cubs large or small. In this way, the humour of melancholy causes many people to cry in their sleep for fear of black beasts or black bulls or the black devil. In favour of her arguments, she quotes from Cato that dreams are not to be afraid of.

Here we see that Pertelote persuades her best to convince her husband that dreams are nothing to be afraid of. After putting forward her argument, she puts forwards some suggestions to pursue of the bad effect of the humour in his body. Her suggestion is that he should purge himself by taking some laxatives. She persuades him that she will find some herbs like laurel, centaury, fumitory and some others from the yard and Chauntecleer should have them without delay.

Her suggestion to have the herbs is really medicinal. It shows that she has good knowledge of medieval ayurvedic medicine. Besides this, her suggestion is totally womanish as generally in our days it is seen.

Chauntecleer is very adamant about his views that dreams are not to be ignored. They have significance in real life. So Chauntecleer repudiates his wife’s advice and puts forwards some instances in favour of his view that dreams have meanings.

In his first instance (example), Chauntecleer quotes a story (probably from the writings of Cicero) as – once there were true friends who went on a pilgrimage with good intention. They went on and came into a town where there was such a scarcity of accommodation that they did not find a place or cottage to spend the night together. So the two friends, for the night, parted from each other for shelter. One of them was lodged in a stall with oxen and the other was lodged in another place comfortably.

Then the friend who was lodged well saw a dream in his sleep. In his sleep, he saw that his friend who was lodged in a stall had come to him and said that he was going to be murdered this night. So he asked for his help otherwise he would die. The man startled up of his sleep. But he gave no heed to the dream and thought that dreams are mere fancy. Thus in his sleep, he dreamed twice. The third time, he saw the same dream and then he saw that his friend, coming to him began to say that he is slain now. He asked his friend to look at her bloody deep wounds. Then the man said to his friend that his dead body had been hidden in a cart full of dung.

Even he directed his friend to rise up early in the morning and asked him to go to the west gate of the town where his body was laid gaping upward amid the dung in the cart.

The next morning the man got up and went to the place where his friend slept. When he called by his friend’s name, the hostler of the stall said that the man had left the place before it was morning. On hearing this, he grew suspicious and went to the west gate of the town as he was directed in his dream. Going there he found the cart and then he began to cry and call for vengeance and justice for that crime. He shouted loudly asking for help. Then people rushed out and overturned the cart and in the midst of the dung they found the dead body of the murdered man. Then the magistrate of the town arrested the cart man and the hostler and hanged them by the neck bone.

In the second instance in support of his view that dreams have significance Chauntecleer says that once two friends had to cross the sea for a distant country. But the wind was unfavorable. So they decided to spend the night at a town beside the sea coast and planned that they would begin their voyage the next morning. That night, while they were asleep, one of the two fellows had a dream. In his dream, he saw that a man came to him, stood by his bedside and commanded him to stay where he was and said to him that if he would go the next day on their voyage then they would be drowned. After dreaming so, he told his companion what he had dreamed and prayed for him to postpone their voyage. But his friend who lay in bed beside him began to laugh and scorn him. His friend commented that he did not care a straw for his dream as dreams were merely fancies and tricks. So being negligent of the dream, he bade goodbye to his friend and set out for his voyage the next early morning. But before he had sailed half his course, the bottom of his ship spilt accidentally and the ship with all its passengers went underwater in sight of other ships.

In this instance, Chauntecleer persuades Pertelote that there are some dreams which are sore to be dreaded.

After this Chauntecleer goes on to put forward some other instances from history and mythology in support of his views on dreams. Chauntecleer made an allusion that saint Kenelm, who was Kenelphus’ son, the noble King of Mercia dreamed that he was murdered. His nurse explained every detail of his dream and bade him guard himself properly against treason. But he was seven years old then and paid no heed to the dream. Consequently, he was murdered in treason.

Besides this, Chauntecleer brings forward some others who hold the view that dreams have significance. He told that Macrobius who wrote about the vision of Scipio in Africa also said that dreams are the warning of things that men meet afterward. Alone with this, Chauntecleer alludes to the names of Daniel, Joseph, Pharao, and Croesus who had held the views that dreams bore meaning. In his last instance, Chauntecleer says about the dream of Andromache the wife of Hector, a Trojan hero. One night Andromache dreamed that her husband Hector would lose his life in battle. She warned him but it did not avail. He went out to fight and was slain at once by Achilles.

From these instances, we see that Chauntecleer is wise enough to explain his views on dreams and admonishes his fair lady Pertelote that dreams should not be passed unheeded.

After persuading Pertelote, to be not negligent of dreams, Chauntecleer says about his amorous relationship with her dear wife Pertelote. In praise of Pertelote, he says that he is happy enough with her. Because he says, when he looks at her face, she becomes enamored of her matchless beauty as her face was so scarlet-red around her eyes that it makes all his fear come to an end. Then he cites a sentence from Latin in praise of his wife which means, ‘Woman is man’s joy and all his bliss.’ He says more that when he feels the soft side of her body at night, though he cannot mount her (for sexual intercourse) because of the narrowness of their perch. Yet he becomes full of joy and solace that he defies both vision and dream. And with that word, he flew down from the rafter, for it was already day. With him, all his hens also flew down. And with a cluck, he called his hens as he found some corn lying in the yard. Then he feathered Pertelote twenty times and trod on her as often before it was fully morning.

Here sacred relations (the sexual relationship) between husband and wife has got narration amorously.

After this, the episode of the Cock and Fox has begun. On the 3rd May morning, as he was crowning joyfully walking here and there with his wives, he suddenly happens to see a collfox who was full of cunning injustice. He had been living in the grove for three years. On that morning he was laying in a bed of herbs until it was passed mid-morning and was waiting for an opportunity to pounce upon Chauntecleer with the same joy which is felt by all murderers who lie in wait to kill their victims. Seeing the fox, he jumped up like one who was frightened in his heart. Chauntecleer, when he caught a glimpse of the fox, would have fled, but the fox immediately said, ‘Noble sir, alas, where would you go? Are you afraid of me who am your friend?” Saying so, the fox began to flatter the cock and said that he had come to him, not with any evil intention, but to hear his song. He praised the cock saying that he had a voice sweeter than anyone else. He sings as his father used to sing. Certainly, all that he sang came from the heart. By such sweet words, he incited the cock to crow shutting up her eyes and standing on his tip-toe stretching forth his long and slender neck. Being puffed off by the flattery of the fox, the cock stood high upon his toes, stretching his neck and closing his eyes began to crow. Then all of a sudden the fox pounced upon the cock and seized Chauntecleer by the throat and carried him on his back towards the woods. Then the hens began to make hue and cry. The poor widow with her two daughters, hearing the hue and cry, came out of doors and shrieked for help. Then other people in the locality rush out with sticks. The dogs, which were called Call, Talbot, Gerland, Malvin, and even the hogs and cows came out and all ran after the fox. They cried and shouted so noisily and sorrowfully that the wives of the Troy- heroes did not cry so louder when their husbands were killed in the war. Neither Hasdrubal’s wife nor the Romans made such an outcry while Rome was burnt by Nero.

Amid such a noisy and boisterous situation the cock designed a trick and began to flatter the fox by saying that if he had been in place of the fox, then he would have mocked at the chasing crowd that he had reached the edge of the woods and none could rescue the victim. I would eat him at once.

Being induced by the cock’s flattery the fox lost its self-control and said, “In faith, it shall be done! As soon as the fox gapped up to utter the words, the cock broke nimbly from his mouth and at once flew high up a tree. When the fox saw that the cock was gone he said, ‘Alas, O Chauntecleer, alas! I made you afraid when I seized you … but sir, I did it with no wicked intention …. Come down, I shall tell you what I meant ….” Then the cock said that he could never be deceived twice. Because God never lets him prosper who is moved by the flattery of somebody. Hearing this moral from the cock, the fox also draws a moral out of the incident and said that one should not speak while he should remain silent.

Thus with these two moral lessons, the fable of the cock and fox comes to an end.

The poet, after making an end to the tale, adds an ‘Epilogue’ (concluding speech) to the tale where he praises him (Nun’s Priest) and blesses him so that good luck befalls him for his good tale.

Style: The style of ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is heroic. The poet uses the characteristics of heroic poetry to the trivial theme of a cock and a fox. His style of treating the subject matter is realistic and detailed. He describes his characters as if his eyes were wandering over them noticing a detail here and a detail there. His narration is dramatic in nature; his device is ironical, allegorical, and poetic which is full of miscellaneous references and allusions from history mythology legends, and classical literature. There is an abundant use of similes also. 0 0 0.


Art of Narration in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

The term ‘art of narration’ refers to the characteristic manner (style) of expression or representation of the subject matter (theme) of any piece of literature. Chaucer set off his literary career with some inspiring novelty both in the outlook of theme and in the art of narration (style) by adding vigour, freshness and grandeur and thus inaugurated the golden path of modernism in literature. His art of narration is realistic, dramatic, philosophic, ironical, allegorical, and poetic full of miscellaneous references and allusions. Let us bring out these salient features of Chaucer’s art of narration in his ‘Nun’s Priest’s Tale’

First, Chaucer’s art of narration is realistic, exact and detailed. He describes his characters as if his eyes were wandering over a detail here and a detail there. He paints his men and women realistically as he found them. He gives detailed accounts of face patterns, bodily structures, voice, costume etc. as realistically as a photograph. For instance, his description of Chauntecleer’s beauty and bodily structure is highly realistic besides being poetic. He says

‘His comb was redder than the fun coral

And batailled as it were a castel wal

His byle was blak and as the jeet it shoon

Lyk asure were his legges and his toon

His nayles whiter than the lylye flour

And lyk the burned gold was his colour’

He notices the Nun’s Priest so minutely that enables him to say about him as:

‘See which braunes hath his gentil preest

So greet a nekke and swich a large breest.’

The above-quoted lines bear testimony of how keen he was in observing his men and women. In addition to these, his portrayal of the cock and hens are realistic. We see how Chauntecleer ignores Pertelote’s arguments regarding dreams and how Pertelote scolds him for being afraid of a dream – all are life-like.

Secondly, Chaucer is dramatic in his art of narration. ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ may be divided into several distinctive scenes – as an introduction (prologue), the scene of the household of the widow, the scene of Chauntecleer’s groaning and his description of the dream, the arguments in favour of dreams having significances, the appearance of the fox Russel and his flattery which leads Chauntecleer to be the victim of the fox, the chasing scene and the cock’s escape from the mouth of the fox and the conclusion which ends in morals. Thus the theme of the long poem rises up dramatically till Chauntecleer forgets his dreams and walks in a leisurely manner joyfully with the hens. After this, the chasing scene serves the purpose of denouement.

Besides this, the poet vivifies his description by putting the statements of his characters in their mouths. The very first line begins dramatically:

‘Hoo, quod the Knight, ‘goode sire, namoore of this!’

Along with those dramatic qualities the poet succeeds in arousing suspense in the tale as he gives a detailed account of the beast which he was afraid of. Thus the poet loiters a long in giving arguments in support of dreams having significance. Thus it is the dramatic quality that enhances the gusto of enjoying the story.

Thirdly, Chaucer’s art of narration is coloured by philosophical and psychological accounts of free will, simple necessity, conditional necessity, and Pertelote’s psychology towards her husband Chauntecleer. Allegorically Pertelote’s account of what a husband should be is the women’s psychology of human beings.

Fourthly, Chaucer’s art of narration is ironic. He is utterly ironic in portraying the widow. About her, the poet writes that she led a very simple and temperate life but her food items were something costly which bear two contradictory ideals, as

‘Ful sooty was hire bour and eek hire halle

In which she eet full many a sclendre meel’

After saying so, the poet says about her food items which is no way poor or scanty:

‘His bord was served most with whit and blak

Milk and broun bred in which foond no lak

Seyn bacon and sometime as eye or tweye

For she was as it were, maner, deye.’

Fifthly, Chaucer’s art of narration in ‘The Nun’s Priest Tale’ is allegorical. The conjugal relationship between Chauntecleer and Pertelote is allegorical which strikes us as soon as we go on reading the tale. Their relationship is ironic in the sense that Chauntecleer stands as a representative of all human husbands and Pertelote of all human wives. All husbands are indifferent, arrogant, and authoritative over their wives and so is Chauntecleer. He ignores every suggestion of Pertelote to get rid of the bad effect of his dream. On the other hand, Pertelote is very sincere and deep in love for which she becomes easily insolent and scolds Chauntecleer very badly as most human wives do.

The main tale about the fox and the cock serves an allegorical or metaphorical purpose. Besides its superficial meaning, we may derive its deeper or allegorical meaning. Superficially it is a story of a cock and a fox. But to think deeply it is the story of these two classes of human beings who represent those people who get easily induced by flattery and fall in peril. On the other hand, there is a class of people, (though shrewd) who are very proud and tender to lose their self-control for which they lose their desired thing.

Sixthly, Chaucer’s art of narration is poetic which is full of miscellaneous references and allusions. There are abundant uses of similes in the poem that not only gives felicity to its language but also render a force to its beauty. For example:

‘His vys was murier than the murie orgon

On massedayes that in the churche gon.

Besides the use of similes, there are some passages of fertile imagery. For example- the imagery of the chasing scene is noteworthy. Along with these, there are a lot of allusions and references from mythology, history, philosophy, legends etc. In support of dreams having their significance, Chauntecleer alludes to stories from Cicero and references to Kenelm, Macrobius, Joseph, Daniel, Croesus, Andromoacle etc.

In narrating the lamentation of the hens, after Chauntecleer was being seized off, the poet ransacks the pages of history and legends and gives a rich allusion to king Priam, Pyrrhus, Hasdrubal, Nero, and son on.

Thus from the above analysis of the poem we see that Chaucer’s art of narration is grand that has the capacity to grip the readers’ attention. And it is his art of narration that makes him a great poet in the English language. 0 0 0.


Mock Heroic Elements in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

A mock-heroic poem is one in which the subject is mean or trivial while the style of treating the subject is elevated. The author of such a poem makes the subject look ridiculous by wrapping it up in a framework that is utterly inappropriate to its nature. In brief, to say, a mock-heroic poem is a toy adorned with a royal robe. English literature is rich in heroic poems. Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is a gem among them that has enriched the storehouse of English mock-heroic literature. The subject matter of ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is the seizing off a cock by a fox and the cock’s escape from the mouth of the fox. Evidently, it is a trivial subject because the seizing off a cock by a fox can under no circumstance be regarded as a matter of significance. But Chaucer dealts the subject with such an elevated style that it becomes a mock-heroic poem. Here is to say that elevated style refers to a style that is full of learned imageries comprising especially of long and novel similes, metaphors and other figures of speech and which is full of allusions and references from history legends, mythology, scripture, literature etc. which excite our sense of wonder, pleasure, gravity and thus give us heroic enjoyment. Geoffrey Chaucer has applied such elements to ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ in treating its trivial matter and developing it into a mock-heroic poem. Now let s bring out the mock-heroic elements of the narrative poem.

First, the poet uses his elevated style in describing Chauntecleer (the cock)’s merits and beauty through a series of similes as:

‘In al the land, of erowyng has his peer

His voys was murrier than the murie orgon


His combs were redder than the fyn coral.’

In the above-quoted lines, we see that the poet has invoked a series of similes to celebrate the beauty of the cock as if the cock is not a cock but a national figure.

Secondly, good deals of allusions and references have been employed to analyze the significance of dreams seen by Chauntecleer. The poet makes references of Kenelm, Daniel, Joseph, the King of Egypt, the King of Lydia, and Andromache. Certainly, it is a source of satire to explain the significance of a dream seen by a mere cock with such important historical and Biblical figures. Besides this, the poet creates the problems of predestination and free will and has mentioned the names of some persons of worldwide fame as-Augustine, Bradwardine etc. which is absurd and inappropriate to the story of a cock and fox but they impart a mock-heroic tone to the story.

Thirdly, the mock-heroic elements have got an immense exhibition in the description of the lamentation of Pertelote while she saw Chauntecleer being carried off by the fox. The poet says:

‘Certes, swich cry ne lamentaion

Was never of ldyes maad whan Ylion

Was wonne…………’

Here the lamentation of the hens for Chauntecleer has been compared to that of the ladies and wives of King Priam when the Spartans seized Troy and brought a total destruction to it. Again the poet alludes to the lamentation of Husdrubal’s and Nero’s wives when they were killed to make an analogy between their lamentation and that of the hens. Those comparisons are incongruous but mock-heroic.

Fourthly, the poet invokes apostrophes of Venus, Destiny, God, and Christ in the poem to increase its gravity but really the use of such apostrophes has ridiculed the tale of the fox and the cock and excited our sense of laughter.

Fifthly, there are the references of Jack Straw, Peasant Revolt of 1381, and King James to make a comparison of the hue and cry made by the hens while Chauntecleer was carried off by the fox. These references are inappropriate to the story of a trivial theme of a cock and a fox. But the poet uses much force to fit it to the tale and thus increases the mock-heroic tone of the tale.

Sixthly, the chasing of the fox by the widow, her two daughters, and the household dogs and other animals is highly mocking. The poet gives vivid imagery of the chasing scene as follows:

‘And shoutying of the men and women eek

They ranne so hem thought hir herte breck.’

From the above discussion, we can come to the conclusion that the style of treating the subject matter of ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is so much elevated that it uplifts the subject matter to a heroic level, but the tale is so trivial that the high style enhances the force of its lightness. So ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ may be called a higher specimen of a mock-heroic poem in the English language. 0 0 0.


The Nun’s Priest’s Tale–Background and Introduction

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is a story in verse that is taken up from Geoffrey Chaucer’s masterpiece ‘The Canterbury Tales’. There are a total of twenty-four stories in ‘The Canterbury Tales’, twenty-one of which are complete and the three incomplete. The background of the creation of those tales is that once a group of thirty pilgrims including the poet himself took a journey from London to the shrine of Saint Thomas at Canterbury. Each pilgrim happened to tell two stories during their journey to break the boredom of the long journey. Chaucer was very much inspired by those stories and hence he wrote twenty-four stories in verse and collected them in his grand poetic work ‘The Canterbury Tales’. The tales are the finest specimen of narrative poems in the English language. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is one among those twenty-four stories. In the sequence of the twenty-four stories ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ comes just after the Monk’s Tale.

‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is a fable. Its characters are not humans but beasts and birds i.e. fox and hen. Human characteristics are attributed to them and sins, vices, and foibles of men and women in society are expressed through them. It ends with a moral teaching that one should not be influenced by flattery. In the treatment of the theme ‘The Nun’s Priest’s Tale’ is satirical, allegorical, ironical, and dramatic. 0 0 0.


Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knight as a Romance

In the Medieval Age (1066-1450), a new form of narrative literature came into being in French and English which are called ‘Medieval Romance’ or ‘Chivalric Romance’. In English, there had been composed more than sixty romances. Some of the notable romances are –Chanson de Roland, Geste of Robin Hood, Sir Gawayne and the Greene knight, Sir Orfeo, Sir Launfal, The Avowing of Arthur etc.

A study of well-read Medieval Romances shows that there are some features or characteristics which are generally common to all to romances. They are-

First, Medieval Romances deal with the themes of chivalric love.

Secondly, the hero of such a romance is often a warrior or Knight who represents courtly virtues like courage, honour, mercifulness, dutifulness, truthfulness etc.

Thirdly, the hero of such a romance fights alone against some evil powers such as monsters, giants or witches to rescue a fair lady in distress or peril.

Fourthly, the hero of such a romance undertakes an adventurous and thrilling journey to a romantic, mysterious and wonderful fairyland.

Fifthly, the materials or the sources of Medieval Romances were taken from history or legends but the narration was fully imaginative far from being a reality.

Sixthly, the romances were written in rhymed or unrhymed verses, and later on few were written in prose.

Seventhly, the main purpose of composing such romances was to provide entertainment to the illiterate persons who listened to the tales sung or read aloud to them.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, many romances were produced concerning the exploits of Arthur the king and his Knights which are called Arthurian Cycles of Romances. For instances,- Sir Orfeo, Sir Launfal, The Avowing of Arthur, Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knight may be mentioned here.

Among the Arthurian Cycles of Romances, ‘Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knight’ is the best-known one. Now, let us analyze ‘Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knight’ as a medieval romance.

‘Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knight’ deals with the theme of chivalric love. In it, the hero Sir Gawayne is a Knight of the court of Arthur who fights against a giant clad in green who appears dramatically at Arthur’s court. The Greene Knight challenges one of Arthur’s Knights to strike him a blow with his heavy axe on the condition that the Knight will find a blow in return. Among the Knights of King Arthur’s court, one by the name of Sir Gawayne accepts the challenge and severs the Greene Knight’s head with one blow. The Greene Knight, however, picks up his severed head and leaves the court with the warning that Gawayne should remain faithful to his promises. Accordingly, after a year Sir Gawayne sets out in search of the Greene Knight. After this long thrilling adventurous journey through the wilderness, Sir Gawayne reaches the castle of the Greene Knight. There he is tempted by the Greene Knight’s wife but he remains firm to his truthfulness. The Green Knight, however, fails to defeat him and Sir Gawayne returns to Arthur’s court safely and honorably. Thus we see that Sir Gawayne is an emblem of courtly love, honour, courage, dutifulness, faithfulness, and morality.

The romance of Sir Gawayne is an Arthurian one as he belongs to the court of Arthur. The story begins dramatically in the court of Arthur. He represents the courtly vigour of Arthur.

In brief to say, ‘Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knight’ is an ideal Medieval Romance as it bears all the common characteristics of a perfect romance such as Gawayne is the hero that represents courtly virtues, and who fights against a giant called Greene Knight, he takes an adventurous journey to a romantic fairyland. Besides this, though this romance has a historical basis yet the narration is highly imaginative and supernatural.

From the above discussion, though brief, we can come to the conclusion that ‘Sir Gawayne is perfect Medieval Romance’. 0 0 0.


Jean Bodel’s Classification of the Medieval Romance

In the Medieval Age (1066-1450) a new form of literature mostly in verse and a few in prose came into being in French and English which are called ‘Medieval Romance’. The themes of those romances were chivalric love and courtly virtues such as courage, honour,, dutifulness, truthfulness, mercifulness etc.

The tales or stories that those romances dealt with were picked up from various sources, especially from history and legends of the world. Jean Bodel, a scholar has classified the Medieval Romances into three categories (after the sources of the materials they dealt with) as- (i) The Romances dealing with the matter (stories) of Rome (ii) The Romances dealing with the matter of France, (iii) The Romances dealing with the matter of England.

The Romance dealing with the matter of Rome refers to those romances the sources of which are Rome and Greece. In other words, to say, these romances are created out of the tales or stories from the legends of Rome and Greece. For example, the Romances of King Alexander and The Destruction of Troy are worth noting. In the ‘Romance of King Alexander’ the materials are taken from Greece and it narrates the mighty deeds of Alexander the Great hero of Macedonia. In the romance entitled ‘The Destruction of Troy’ the legend of Rome has found a way to supply the materials.

The Romances dealing with the matter of France refer to those romances whose stories are picked up from the legends or history of France. In this category of romances, there is a cycle of romances that deals with the heroic exploit of the great French peer Charlemagne and his followers. These romances are better known as Charlemagian Cycles of Romance. The chief one of this cycle of romances is ‘Chanson de Ronald’ which celebrates the heroism of Ronald in his last battle against the Saracens.

The Romances dealing with the matter of England refer to these romances which are made out of the native sources of England. In this category of romances, the Arthurian Cycles of Romances are worth noting. Among the Arthurian Cycle of Romances ‘Sir Orfeo’, ‘Sir Launfal’, ‘The Avowing of Arthur’, ‘Sir Gawayne and the Greene Knights etc. are worth mentioning.

Here it is to note well that there is another category of romances the stories or tales of which were taken from the legends of the East, especially from the legends of Asia. Among such romances, mention may be made of The Flore and Balank which narrates the tale of a pair of young lovers who are separated for a certain period of time. It is a matter of regret that scholar like Jean Bodel has ignored such a category of romances dealing with the matter of the East. 0 0 0.


Reformation or Puritan Elements in John Milton

‘Renaissance’ ‘Reformation’ and ‘Puritanism’ are the terms that have, though not synonymous, a close analogy and relationship among them. Because it was the ‘Renaissance’ that instigated the Reformation and it was Puritanism that set down the principles and goals of the Reformation. John Milton was a devout student as well as a scholar of the Renaissance spirit, but his mind was more inclined to Puritanism. In brief, Puritanism refers to the strict pursuit of the basic principles and tenets of the original Christian creed. In other words to say ‘Puritanism’ advocates and admonishes people to follow the original teachings of the Christian scripture and to consolidate the Hebraic or Biblical tenets in Christianity. The Reformation came out as a reaction against the corruption and disorder of the Church ministries. The main tenets of Puritanism were – obedience and faith in one and only God, belief in Christ as the Savior of Mankind, staunch belief in order and discipline, love of man, emphasis on morality, and belief in the victory of virtue over sin.

Of all the English Puritans, John Milton was the most devout and true. The elements or main tenets of Puritanism are immensely found in all his writings which have got blended with the elements of the Renaissance and Reformation. Now, let us find out the Puritan elements in his poetry.

Belief in one and only God: The Puritans were firm in belief in one and only God- in His supremacy, omnipotence, and omniscience. They condemned idolatry and believed God to be the root of all things. Milton was conscious of recording this creed in his Paradise Lost and wrote –

‘I may assert Eternal Providence

And justify the ways of God to man.

Milton condemns the worship of animal images of the Egyptians in favour of one God-

‘With monstrous shapes and sorceries abused

Fanatic Egypt and her priests to seek

Their wandering gods disguised in burnished forms.’

The Puritans believed that the best prayer to God is to have absolute faith in Him. Milton reflects this faith as-

‘Henceforth I learn that to obey is best

And love with fear the only God.’

Belief in Christ as the Saviour of Man: John Milton, as a true Puritan believed in Christ who died for the redemption of mankind. The poet says:

‘Of Man’s first disobedience….


Brought death unto the world and all over woe

With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us.’

Staunch Belief in Order and Discipline: The Puritans believed in orderliness and discipline in every sphere of life. Milton believed that through discipline, men could fulfill their passions and enjoyment, and obedience to God and his laws is the highest order. He says:

‘The law of God exact he shall fulfill

Both by obedience and by love through love

Alone fulfill the law.’

Emphasis on Morality and Moral Life: The Puritans emphasized on morality and moral teachings. They hated and revolted against all immorality and corruption. During the Middle Ages, the church in the name of religion did many misdeeds which were anti-religious. The Puritans were against immortality and the poet Milton abhorred it. He says that immoral life leads us to a state of misery. He writes:

Of all things transitory and vain, when sin

With vanity had filled the works of men.’

The poet himself also implores God to purge him, as-

Irradiate, there plant eyes, all must from hence

Purge and disperse…. .’

Love of Man (Humanism): Another factor of the Puritanical creed is love of man. The Puritans thought that men were the crown and root of all creations. Milton turned to the scripture for the best records of man’s nature in relation to God. For his love of man, Milton advocated natural as well as spiritual liberty, especially from the corruption of the churches, and supported individualism as a true Puritan reformer. He writes:

‘What might be public good myself I thought

Born to that end …’

Thus as discussed above, there are immense Puritanical elements in Milton’s poetry. Though the poet was a strict Puritan, he was much influenced by the spirit and blood of the Renaissance also. The elements of the Renaissance are stronger and more spacious in all his writings. Here to conclude that in Milton’s Paradise Lost, the elements of Renaissance, Reformation, and the spirit of Puritanism are blended so diffusely that all have undergone a chemical mixture. 0 0 0.


John Milton Hail Holy Light: a Critical Analysis

‘Hail Holy Light’ is an extract from John Milton’s Paradise Lost Book-III. In this extract, the poet makes an earnest invocation to God asking for His help and guidance in writing out his magnum opus ‘The Paradise Lost. For a better understanding of this piece of poetry we can divide it into two parts:

The first twenty-two lines of the poem contain the poet’s invocation of Holy Light and there it is said that Holy Light is the offspring of God. It is co-eternal, that is–as eternal as God because God is light. Here the poet has made a Biblical reference to the creation of the world. God has enveloped the world like a mantle. The poet says that there is an immeasurable space covered by the nether world of Hell and the vast empty region of chaos. (Here the poet says what he has described in the Paradise Lost Book No-I & II). On his return to the real world of Light in Book –III, the poet is able to feel light but he remains bereft of the sign of light because of his blindness.

In the second part i.e. from line no. 23 to line no 55 the poet makes a digression from the main theme of his great work ‘The Paradise Lost’ and says about his own blindness. Here the poet laments that being bereft of eye-sight; he is unable to see the light of God. The ‘drop serene’ (a disease that caused Milton’s blindness, as said by his physicians) makes him blind. So he cannot enjoy beautiful natural objects. But his blindness cannot crush his spiritual ardor. He believes that his loss of eyesight is amply compensated for by his faith that the light of God would continue to shine on him. The poet admits that in spite of his sightlessness he can, with the help of the Muse (God), wander about in the world and can narrate the beauty of Nature by virtue of his inner vision. Here the poet recollects Homer (a Greek epic poet) and Thamysis (a Thracian poet) as well as Tiresias (seer of Thebes) and Phineus (king of Salmydessus) who were blind. But in spite of their blindness, they could perform huge tasks memorable in history. Milton wishes that he were equal to them not only in blindness but also in renown. His physical blindness has deprived him of enjoying the beauty of nature during different seasons of the year and also the cheerful contact with men in society. Yet the poet thinks that his physical blindness is not a curse; it is a blessing in disguise. Because he thinks it has opened up his inner vision. The poet, therefore, appeals to Holy Light (God) to irradiate his mind and heart so that he may see and tell about Heaven, hell and their spiritual inhabitants in his epic.

From the above analysis of the theme of the poem, we can come to the conclusion that it is primarily an autobiographical poem in which he tells about his own blindness and his submission to God’s grace shown to him. It also shows that John Milton was conscious of his own greatness as he compares himself with the ancient great poets.

The style of the poem (an extract of the Paradise Lost, Book-III) is grand as there is an abundant use of Biblical, mythological and historical (from Greek and Latin) references and allusions such as-

‘And at the voice of God as with a mantle didst invest

The rising world of waters, dark and deep

Won from the void and formless infinite.’ (Bible: Book of Genesis 1:4)

There are allusions and references to Homer, Thamysis, Tirisius, and Phineus from Greek literature and legends with whom the poet compares his own genius.

In spite of these Greek and Hebraic references, there are references to Mt. Sion, stygian pool, flowery brook etc.

Besides this, there are images of a wakeful bird, an orphan lyre, a state of chaos etc. which has imparted a universal poetic appeal to this piece of poem.

To conclude it is to say that ‘Hail, Holy Light’ is an extract of Milton’s great epic ‘The Paradise Lost’ dealing with the theme of blindness written in grand style. 0 0 0.


Grand Style of John Milton

John Milton was a great narrative poet in the English language. In his poetry, he dealt with sublime themes such as –vice, virtue, love, liberty, power, beauty, humanity etc. The characters of his narrative poems were also sublime such as –God, Angels, Satan, Adam, Eve, Prophets, etc. And to fit his sublime (most exalted) themes, Milton used a new bold, grave and mighty style which is called ‘Grand Style’. His grand style is characterized by rich and varied imageries, extended similes and metaphors, wavy blank verse, compressed construction of phrases-clauses, remarkable use of figures of speech, and abundant use of allusion and references. Let us illustrate his grand style as below:

Rich and Varied Imageries

Milton’s imageries are rich and varied. He decorates everything that comes out of his mind with colour, grace, and a mighty body. His imageries are noble and idealized. In making out his imageries he ransacks the entire universe with keen eyes, a sensitive heart, and scholastic knowledge. His imageries are so varied that there are the imageries of light and shadow, of sorrows and pleasure, of vice and virtue, of broadness and narrowness, of beauty and ugliness which are drawn from classical learning as well as contemporary life. In portraying the imageries of Hell and darkness, Milton writes:

‘A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,

As one great furnace flamed: yet from these flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

Served only to discover sights of woe.’

Extended Similes and Metaphors

Milton is a protean master of simile and metaphor. Most of his grand imageries are made of similes and metaphors, but his similes and metaphors are long and vast. In giving the description of Satan’s shield and spear, he writes:

‘His ponderous shield

Ethereal temper, massy, large and round

Behind him cast. The broad circumference

Hung on his shoulders like the moon, whose orb

Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views.’

In drawing similes, Milton was inspired by Homer as his similes extended so long that gave birth to a short descriptive poem.

Use of Wavy Blank Verse

Milton was the first in the English language to use blank verse with great skill in narrative poems. His blank verse is melodious not like lyrics but like the gust of storm wind or like the waves of the sea. The waves are created between clauses and phrases, between ideas and emotions. For instance, we can quote the following lines at random that portrays God’s action against Satan’s foul rebellion:

‘Him the Almighty Power

Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal down

To bottomless perdition, there to dwell.’

Compressed Construction

Milton’s sentence construction is compressed. He successfully tries to convey more meanings by using one word or phrase. He also crowds his verse with meanings by using Latin and Greek construction. He uses ‘Virtue’ for bravery, and ‘manliness’, ‘puny’ for ‘born later’.

Remarkable Use of Figures of Speech

John Milton, in his poetic works especially in ‘The Paradise Lost’ uses abundant figures of speech, as- periphrasis, rhetorical questions and so on. For an example of Periphrasis, we can quote the following lines:

‘Through optic glass the Tuskan artist views

At evening from the top of Fesole.’

Here he uses the term ‘optic glass’ for telescope, ‘Tuscan artist’ for Galileo.

For Rhetorical Question, the following lines may be quoted:

(a) ‘What thought the fields be lost?

And all is not lost: the unconquerable will.’

(b) ’Whose fountain who shall tell’

Milton’s verse is replete with sonorous alliteration and repetition, as-

(a) Fierce as ten Furies

Shook a dreadful dart.’

(b) With ruin upon ruin, rout on rout

Confusion worse confounded.

(c) unrespited, unpitied, unreprieved.

Abundant Use of Allusions and References

Milton’s poetry is rich in allusions and references from history, legends, classical literature, and other sources. His allusions and references have made his poetry a complex one. They also bear the testimony of how learned he was! At random we can quote-

”Those other two equalled with me in Fate

So were I equalled with them in renown.

Blind Thamyris and Blind Maconides

And Tiresius and Phineus, Prophets old.”

Through the quoted lines, Milton compares his own blindness as well as his own genius with that of ancient Greek poets.

From the above analysis we can arrive at the following conclusions:

First, the above analysis, though brief, shows that Milton’s style was peculiar to his won which were as grand and sublime as his themes are.

Secondly, his style is not simple but complex and so varied that they render difficult to his poetry for the average reader. 0 0 0.


Renaissance Elements in John Milton’s Poetry


Classical/ Hellenic, Greek Elements in John Milton’s Poetry


Paradise Lost as a Renaissance Epic

‘Renaissance’ is a French word that means rebirth, revival, or reawakening. Literally ‘Renaissance’ refers to the revival or reawakening of the classical (Hellenic/ Greek) art, literature, and culture in the late fifteenth century after the long silence in the middle ages. The main tenets or characteristics of ancient Greek art, literature, and culture were- love of liberty and power, love of man (humanism), love of beauty, sensuous love of human body, love of individualism, love of music, craving gold and riches etc. Their expression was rigid, highly poetic and stereotyped.

Elizabethan thinkers and writers were much influenced by the tenets of the Renaissance. John Milton, one of the greatest literary figures of seventeenth-century England was no less influenced by the Renaissance. The elements of Renaissance (Hellenic/ Greek) are present in almost every page of his writings. We can summarize the Renaissance elements in his literary works as follows:

Ambition for Liberty and Power

The primary characteristics of ancient Greek literature were love and ambition for liberty and power. John Milton was influenced by this primary tenet of the renaissance as he was a staunch supporter of the Protestants and did not like the slavery of the Roman Catholic Church. In ‘The Paradise Lost‘, Satan the hero becomes the symbol of liberty and power. When God threw Satan down the Hell, he exclaimed boldly:

‘To reign is worth ambition though in Hell

Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.’

Again Satan says:

‘The mind is in its own place and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’

Love of Man (Humanism)

During the long middle Ages, till the advent of the Renaissance, man on earth was guided by the consideration of Heaven and Hell, vice and virtue. A man was no more regarded as a dignified creature. It was supposed that God’s favour or disfavor was the cause of his making or falling. But Renaissance upturned this age-long outlook and brought humanism. John Milton regarded man as the crown and root of all creations. He, through his writings, justifies the ways of God to man and says:

‘I may assert eternal Providence

And justify the ways of God to men.’

But Milton’s humanism was secular. He regarded virtue as inevitable as vice and God and Satan-both are immortal. Milton’s representation of the battle between God and Satan in Heaven shows the spiritual crisis between good and evil.

Love of Beauty

Love of beauty is another element of the Renaissance that Milton grasped tightly and reflected it throughout his monumental work ‘The Paradise Lost’. Satan laments for the loss of beauty and longs for it in Hell-

‘That we must change for Heaven, this mournful gloom

For that celestial light.’

Milton glorifies the beauty of Heaven in his Paradise Lost, as:

‘Thus was this place

A happy rural seat of various view

Groves whose rich trees wept odorous gums and balm.’

Sensuous Love of the Human Body

The human body which was so long despised and ill-treated came to be glorified in the Renaissance. The glorification of the human body gave rise to what is known as sensuousness in poetry. Milton was no miser to glorify the human body in his Paradise Lost. We see, in the following quoted lines, how sensuous Milton’s description of Eve is-

‘She as a veil down to the slender waist

Her unadorned, golden tresses wore

Disheveled, but in wanton ringlets waved.’

The first nuptial meeting of Adam and Eve is narrated sensuously, as-

‘Here in close recess

With flowers, garland, and sweet-smelling herbs

Espoused Eve decked first her nuptial bed.


Brought her in naked beauty more adorned

More lovely, than Pandora, whom the gods …’

Love of Individualism

Love of individualism is another factor of the Renaissance Movement. The phrase ‘love of individualism’ means that a man is conscious of his own merits. It is akin to self-freedom. Milton is also conscious of his great poetic career for which he thinks himself to be equal to ancient poets Homer, Thamyris, Maconides etc. He says:

‘Those other two equaled with me in Fate

So were I equaled with them in renown.’

In his Paradise Lost, Satan symbolizes individualism, as-

‘What though the field be lost?

All is not lost: the unconquerable will.’

Love of Music and Gold

Under the impact of the Renaissance, people developed a keen interest in music. Milton also went under this impact. The Devil in Paradise Lost moves with the soft music of flutes. The effect of music removes their rage and boredom.

‘All the while

Sonorous metal blowing martial sound.’

Love of Gold is also found in Milton’s Poetry. In ‘The Paradise Lost’ the Devil is seen digging a hole in a hill to dig out gold.

‘Soon had his crew

Opened into the hill a spacious wound

And digged out ribs of gold.’

The above discussion shows that Milton was deeply influenced by the spirits of the Renaissance which he depicted in his writings, especially in his epics with much perfection.

Besides this, Milton was also influenced by the style of classical literature. His Paradise Lost is fashioned after the Greek poet Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Moreover, in the use of imagery, especially in the use of similes and metaphors, he imitated the Greek model. His only tragic play ‘Samson Agonistes’ is utterly modeled after Greek tragedy, especially after Sophocles’.

Thus John Milton is perfectly a Renaissance poet whose every literary work bears the salient stamp of the Renaissance with new vigour. 0 0 0


Books of Composition by M. Menonimus:

  1. Advertisement Writing
  2. Amplification Writing
  3. Note Making
  4. Paragraph Writing
  5. Notice Writing
  6. Passage Comprehension
  7. The Art of Poster Writing
  8. The Art of Letter Writing
  9. Report Writing
  10. Story Writing
  11. Substance Writing
  12. School Essays Part-I
  13. School Essays Part-II
  14. School English Grammar Part-I
  15. School English Grammar Part-II..

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I am Menonim Menonimus, a Philosopher & Writer.


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