Revised Thesis

Original:

When interpreting the poems of William Blake, the accompanying illustration, in addition to the poem itself, contributes to the reader’s understanding of the poem. In Blake’s “The Tyger”, the speaker questions the existence of evil in the world, asking if it is a reflection of its creator, God. Blake uses imagery of production to describe God’s creation of the tiger and directly links himself to God by also creating a tiger in his illustration. The illustrated tiger stands in opposition to the tiger described in the poem. Whereas the described tiger is frightening and threatening, the illustrated tiger looks frightened and unassuming. The symmetry of the description of the tiger and illustration of the tiger as opposing entities is reflected in the poem’s juxtaposition of its most powerful imagery: the Tyger and the Lamb. The Lamb can be equated to Blake’s illustration: gentle and innocent. The Tyger can be equated to the poem itself: fierce and antagonistic. Just as God created both the Lamb and the Tyger, so too has Blake created the poem and illustration. Unlocking the meaning of Blake’s poetry requires an examination of his accompanying illustrations just as an understanding of the Tyger requires an understanding of the Lamb, which suggests that meaning resides in knowledge of both evil and good.

Revised:

Blake’s “The Tyger” questions the benevolence of God through its depiction of the Tyger itself. Blake describes the Tyger using a network of imagery of unnatural production that stands in opposition to a series of natural images as well as the Romantics’ celebration of nature, painting the Tyger in negative terms. In addition, the meter of the poem likens its sound to a primitive chanting which, when coupled with its imagery and diction, portrays the Tyger as menacing. Blake juxtaposes this threatening image of the Tyger with that of the Lamb, representing goodness, to question the motives of God, wondering how God could be good if he created something so evil. Blake creates a connection between himself and God by also fashioning a tiger in his illustration. The illustration of the Tyger, depicted as scared, is at odds with the threatening description of the Tyger in the poem. This tension reflects the tension inherent in all of creation: the simultaneous existence of good and evil. The emphasis on a slightly unbalanced symmetry in the illustration and in the poem itself, through the repetition of the first stanza, the symmetry of certain lines, and the highlighting of the actual word “symmetry”, implies that God intentionally did not create the world to be perfect, just as Blake purposefully did not create a perfect harmony within his poem and between his poem and his illustration; furthermore, by creating an imperfect poem, Blake, like God, allows one to gain knowledge through experience without which the poem, and the world, would be meaningless.

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Paper

John Keats’ “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” reveals how to read a poem. The speaker does so by describing his feelings upon first reading George Chapman’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey. He draws upon the language of the Odyssey itself to describe the process of reading a poem as a journey. This process relies on a person’s unique sight or perspective to gather meaning from the poem, showing that this meaning is not fixed to an author’s intent or one reader’s interpretation. The arrangement of networks of imagery in “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” demonstrate that poem’s meaning should not be isolated or fixed, but rather reexamined using a process of sensory experience to unlock a different way of looking at the meaning.

The process of “seeing” a poem involves emotion comparable to discovery, as demonstrated through the repetition of two similes in the sestet. The first, “Then felt I like some watcher of the skies/When a new planet swims into his ken”(9-10), compares the feeling of reading a poem to the excitement and wonder of discovering a new planet. The second, “Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes/He stared at the Pacific”(11), compares this feeling to the conquistador Cortez first seeing the Pacific Ocean. Both a planet and the Pacific are very large spaces. By comparing these spaces to a poem, the speaker conveys the immensity of the meaning of a poem. Ironically, neither a planet nor the Pacific is really a discovery; both are extremely old. A planet has existed for millions of years before the watcher and likewise the Pacific before Cortez. Furthermore, the Pacific had already been seen by non-Europeans, and Cortez was not even the first European to see it, Balboa was. So, the meaning that one sees in a poem existed before one saw it, but one still feels as though they have discovered it. Through this irony, the reading of a poem contains all of the excitement and wonder of a discovery, but in all probability another person has experienced that same feeling before. That feeling is not unique, but each person’s perspective on the poem is unique.

 

 

 

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Paradise Lost

Nay cursed be thou; since against his thy will

Chose freely what it now so justly rues.

Me miserable! Which way shall I fly

Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?

75           Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;

And in the lowest deep a lower deep

Still threat’ning to devour me opens wide,

To which the Hell I suffer seems a Heav’n.

O then at last relent! Is there no place

80         Left for repentance, none for pardon left?

None left but by submission; and that word

Disdain forbids me, and my dread of shame

Among the Spirits beneath, whom I seduced

With other promises and other vaunts

85         Than to submit, boasting I could subdue

Th’ Omnipotent.

 

In general, Milton uses enjambment in “Paradise Lost” to create a more conversational, less formal style of poetry, which allows him to create dramatic characters with emotional depth. In characterizing Satan, Milton makes use of soliloquy, a technique of drama in which characters express their inner thoughts. Presumably, since these are the thoughts of the character, the reader believes them. In lines 71-86, Satan provides reasoning for continuing to turn away from God instead of asking for forgiveness. He chose freely and even though he regrets his decision, he disdains submission because he is too proud. Through the use of enjambment, Milton explores the issue of power, the way in which power is used, and the justification of this use.

The enjambment in this passage simulates motion, which can have a jarring effect on the reader. By ending line 73 with the word “fly”, the reader feels the affect of flying off the line, only to infinite despair and wrath in the next line. This juxtaposition also emphasizes the length of infinity. In line 76, Milton simulates the effect of sinking with no end by adding no punctuation to the end of, “And in the lowest deep a lower deep”, highlighting the hopelessness of Satan’s state and the futility of hope. By using this motion of falling and sinking into despair and Hell, Satan aims to convince the reader that his goal of ultimate power is merely a result of the powerlessness of his current state.

The enjambment of this passage serves to draw one’s attention to certain words and phrases, most specifically the last word of the line and the first word of the next line. The word “shame” ends line 82, emphasizing Satan’s motivations for refusing to repent and endowing him with human qualities. “Seduced” ends the next line, highlighting a skill of Satan that all must be aware of, even in the reading of this soliloquy. This is tied to the power of free will, a theme of the poem, in that Satan fools men into going against God’s will. The following line ends with “vaunts” or boasts, which is part of Satan’s seduction and his dread of shame. Through the use of these words, Milton outlines a psychological justification of wrongdoing, in which one’s “dread of shame” causes Satan to seduce his subjects through boasts. In fact, this could apply to all military tyrants.

Enjambment also highlights the relationships between words. For example, the word “will” ends line 71, and this words expounds upon the larger themes of the poem. Here, Satan refers to the will of God. According to the OED, “will” is the power of choice in regard to action, but God’s will directs the choices of his subjects. Although God does not control one’s actions or force them to make a certain choice, he does determine what choices are good and which are bad. So, the first word of the next line, “Chose”, emphasizes Satan chose to turn away from God, and thus evil is a choice, an action performed with full knowledge of consequences. In lines 85 and 86, Milton juxtaposes “subdued” and “Th’Omnipotent”, an oxymoron which demonstrates the folly of Satan and evil, and emphasizes that good will overcome evil. The choice of “subdue” also aligns Satan with his role as a military leader, which could have important connotations for the time period during which this was written. In lines 81 and 82, “word” could refer to both “submission” and “Disdain”, thus tying the two together. Satan’s downfall comes from his disdaining to submit to God; instead, he wishes to subdue and be the most powerful.

 

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When I Have Fears

In Keats’, “When I have Fears that I May Cease to Be”, the speaker is a poet, presumably Keats himself, who fears he will die before achieving fame or reputation and love. The structure of the poem contributes to the speakers’ anxiety of his impending, inevitable death and the brevity of time. The sonnet is a typical Shakespearean sonnet with an ABAB,CDCD,EFEF,GG rhyme scheme. The fact that Keats chooses to adhere strictly to this form lends itself to unlocking the meaning of the poem. Just as the poem’s character and creativity are limited by the structure of the Shakespearean sonnet, so too is the speaker limited by the structure of life and the brevity of time. The repetition of “when” at the beginning of each quatrain also produces the effect of emphasizing the shortness of life. The only thing Keats changes in the form is the turn, which takes place in the middle of line 12. This turn reverses the reader’s expectations of the conclusion, reflecting the unpredictability of life.

In the first stanza, Keats uses agricultural imagery to describe the speaker’s mind. He begins the poem by introducing the subject, fear of death, in line one. In line 2 he introduces his fear of the brevity of time by using the word “before”, which is then repeated in line 3, with the repetition emphasizing this fear. He begins a network of agricultural imagery in line 2 with “glean’d”, meaning to gather or collect according to the OED. The speaker’s pen is the instrument with which information is gathered from his “teeming brain”, which seems to indicate that his poems are the produce of his brain, but cannot be put to use without his pen. “Teeming” means pouring out, so the speaker fears he will die before putting all of his ideas onto paper and thus wasting them. Both “gleaned” and “teeming” have connotations related to birthing, as well, which is interesting when juxtaposed with the speaker’s fear of death. “Teeming” also refers to a fertile, reproductive period. So, his pen gleans his poems, “the full-ripened grain” from the field of his mind, and stores the poems in “high-piled books, in charactery”, the “rich garners”, creating a metaphor between the writing process and the agricultural process. The speaker again juxtaposes death with “full-ripened”, mature or full in development according to the OED, as if furthering the birthing imagery. In other words, he fears his fertile brain will not have the chance to give birth to a fully matured poem.

In the second stanza, the speaker describes the nature as material for poetry. In line 5, he personifies the night, giving it a face. The face is “starred”, with stars representing a life much longer than the speakers. In line 6, “symbols” connect back to “charactery” in line 3, the symbols of his thoughts. So, his writing comes from nature. However, this seems to be the reverse of the metaphor of the first stanza, because in this stanza he seems to “glean” nature for ideas whereas in the first his pen “gleaned” his brain. It is not born in his head, but from the natural world, also demonstrated by the fact that he “traces their shadows” (8). He talks about obscurity with the words “cloudy” and “shadows”. He equates poetry to “magic” (8), which could connect to the genre of the romance, which involve exaggeration and fantasy

The third stanza, in which the speaker addresses his love, is more emotional than the first two stanzas. First of all, the speaker says, “when I feel” (9), instead of “have fears”(1). The action verb emphasizes the intensity of his feeling. This line also ends in an exclamation point, indicating strong emotion. He refers to his love as a “creature of an hour”, referring again back to time, and a short unit of time at that (9). “Faery power” again hearkens back to the magical imagery, perhaps expressing his sentiments that love is an illusion (11). He describes love as “unreflecting”, meaning love does not involve thought, but rather feeling, which is at odds with his poetry written from his thoughts (12).

The turn occurs in the middle of line 12 with a caesura set off by an exclamation mark and a hyphen:”Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore”. The shortness of the third stanza and the abrupt, unexpected turn parallel the speaker’s point about the shortness of time. Both lines 12 and 13 are enjambed, indicating that the speaker is overflowing with thoughts, perhaps because he is running out of time/space to express them, so that the sonnet cannot contain them. The preceding lines build suspense before the turn, which afterwards seems anticlimactic. The sonnet’s built emotion gives way to thought, instead. The reader is left with the image of the speaker standing alone on a shore, a spot where two places meet, a threshold. This could refer the speaker moving from life to death. According to the last line, “till love and fame to nothingness do sink”, death makes everything turn into nothing. This stands in contrast to the tradition of sonnets that seek to immortalize one’s love or one’s name in verse, because according to this speaker, death will erase both love and fame. However, the poem still adheres to the strict form of the sonnet, while at the same time innovating it by placing the turn in the middle of line 12, which seems to indicate that achieving fame does indeed matter. If the sonnet’s strict form represents the limits of life, then the conclusion to stand and think, instead of feel, seems to advocate poetry, the representation of thoughts, as the ultimate achievement in life.

 

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The Sun Rising

In “The Sun Rising”, Donne personifies the sun, as demonstrated by his capitalization of the word, and directly addresses it. In the first stanza, he compares the sun to a kind of messenger. The sun represents the changing of the seasons and from night to day. The speaker believes his love to be outside of time and thus eternal. In the second stanza, Donne compares his lover to “th’Indias of spice and mine”, emphasizing the value he places on her, although this is material value (17). Yet, in stanza three he claims “all wealth alchemy”, seemingly contradicting himself (24). The speaker makes these contradictions throughout the poem, damaging his persuasive techniques.

In the third stanza, the speaker compares his lover to all the countries in the world and himself to all princes of the world. Nothing in the rest of the world matters besides the two of them. He uses the line, “She’s all states, and all princes I”, to emphasize his point of the lovers encompassing a different world by beginning the sentence with “she” and ending it with “I” (21). According to the speaker, the lovers don’t run according to the Sun, or Time, or Space, but the woman is ruled by the man since she is the “state” and the speaker is the “prince”. According to the speaker, “princes do but play us”; their love is superior to even royalty, so that “all honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy” (23-24).  So, things of value are mere imitations of their love and any kind of wealth is a mere imitation of gold, his love.

He continues with this conceit by using “contracted”, which could mean a business or legal engagement according to the OED. If the lovers are the world, then they do have something to answer to if they are “contracted” and are not their own separate world (26). On the surface, the speaker is saying that the world has gotten much smaller because only the lovers matter, so the sun’s job of warming the world is made easier. Because the sun has a “duty” to warm the world, the sun is contracted to the lovers since they are the whole world, continuing with the imagery of kings and territories (27). This seems to contradict the first stanza, in which he berates the sun for interfering with them, but the sun is under the lovers’ control here. Since the sun controls the flow of time in the first stanza, by controlling the sun the speaker is saying that their love does not adhere to time and thus is eternal. According to the speaker, “this bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere” (30). In this line, the speaker refers to the Ptolemaic model of the universe in which the sun revolves around the earth, the center. So, by comparing this bed to the center, the speaker again emphasizes that the lovers are the entire world. According to the OED, a sphere can be defined as “one or other of the concentric, transparent, hollow globes imagined by the older astronomers as revolving around the earth and respectively carrying with them the several heavenly bodies (moon, sun, planets, and fixed stars).” It can also be used as “a standard of comparison to denote a great difference in rank, intelligence, etc”. The speaker extends the conceit of the lovers as the whole world by comparing their bedroom walls to the heavens where the sun, of inferior rank, revolves around their bed. In this paradigm, since the speaker is the prince, he not only controls his lover, the state, but also the sun and also the heavens, which revolve around them.

So, although the speaker aims to convince us that their love is not constrained by time or space, it is controlled by the speaker himself. Furthermore, by using the conceit of countries and kings, the speaker binds love to social structures, despite his intention to convince us of the eternal, boundless nature of his love.

 

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Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116

In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, Shakespeare sets up two networks of imagery and within these two networks exist two contrasting subsets. If the first network consists of natural imagery, it can also be contrasted with imagery of man-made constructs. Then, a correlation can be made between this network and the second network of imagery of impermanence, which is contrasted with imagery of permanence. Through these series of contrasts, Shakespeare proves and emphasizes the ultimate permanence of love, while posing the question of whether true love is natural or whether natural love exists at all.

The obvious natural imagery consists of “tempests” (6), “star” and “bark” (7), and “Time” (9). Contrasted with these natural images are images of man-made constructs, some of which even coincide with the natural images. For example, “bark” can refer to the bark of a tree or a ship. Since in this metaphor love is the “star” which guides the “wandering bark”, the “bark” could refer to the man, since it is man-made, which suggests that love is indeed natural. The natural and man-made imagery again collapse with Time, described as having “rosy lips and cheeks” and a “sickle’s compass” (10).  Love does not adhere to Time, however, or “hours” and “weeks” (11). By describing Time according to hours and weeks, the speaker seems to imply that this Time is not natural, since hours and weeks are not cyclical, but linear. This suggests that love cannot be measured or constructed by man. Other man-made constructs include items of measurement, including “worth” and “height” (8). Paradoxically, its “worth’s unknown although his height be taken” (8). So, it can be measured according to some human measurements but not others.  Finally, love is a  “mark” (5) or a lighthouse guiding ships which resists natural “tempests”, suggesting that love only applies to men and can withhold even nature, thus emphasizing its permanence. So, this network sets up paradoxical images describing love, some natural and some man-made.

The second network consists of imagery of impermanence, and this is contrasted with imagery of permanence. Imagery of impermanence is shown through the words “alters” (3,11), “bends” (4), “remover” and “removed” (4), “shaken” (6), “wandering” (7), “unknown” (9), “bending” (10), and “brief” (11). All of these images of impermanence are negated, to emphasize the permanence of love. Then, love is not altered by Time, something of permanence, although men and women themselves are, suggesting that love is beyond men and even Time itself (10). The speaker further emphasizes it permanence by describing love as an “ever-fixed mark” (5) and a “star” whose “height” can be taken (7). If a “star” is permanent and natural and “bark” is man-made and impermanent, then this seems to suggest that love is natural. However, the fact that love is a “mark” and can withhold nature suggests that love can apply only to man, not nature. Because it can outlast even nature, its permanence is greatly emphasized.

One would presumably make a correlation between nature and permanence. However, nature is permanent in that it is always changing, “altering”, “bending” etc. So, a direct correlation cannot be drawn between the two, which is why a man-made “mark” can be “ever-fixed” while at the same time a man-made “mark” can be “wandering”. Love outlasts even nature, or “bears it out even to the edge of doom” (12). So, the permanence of love is proven by showing that it outlasts both nature and man. It is both a part of nature and man and something beyond nature and man. The concluding line “I never writ, nor no man ever loved”, equates the permanence of writing with the permanence of love. Many sonnets use the theme of immortalizing one’s love through the written word, so by comparing words to love, the speaker once again emphasizes the everlasting nature of true love.

 

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