AD's English Literature : July 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sonnet- A Brief History of Its Journey

The Sonnet as a literary form, inferior to none in variety or extent, is superior to many in nobility of thought, in sanctity of spirit and in generality of comprehension. In beauty or prolixity, it can vie with any other literary genre ancient and modern. Despite of the various experimentation, internal and external, Sonnet had to encounter ever since the dawn of its birth, she has successfully held up to the world her archaic literary beauty.

Sonnet, derived from the Italian word ‘Sonneto’ meaning a little sound or strain, is a lyric poem of 14 lines with a formal rhyme scheme, expressing different aspects of a single thought, mood, or feeling, sometimes resolved or summed up in the last lines of the poem. Originally short poems accompanied by mandolin or lute music, sonnets are generally composed in the standard meter of the language in which they were written—for example, iambic pentameter in English, and the Alexandrine in French. Such outburst of lyricism in English literature is shared by almost all the poets of the literary period including Sir Philip Sidney, Spenser ,Shakespeare Henry constable, Samuel Daniel, Michael Drayton, Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, Christina Georgina Rossetti, and Gerard Manley Hopkins ,Henry Wadsworth Longfellow etc.

The two main forms of the sonnet are the Petrarchan, or Italian, and the English, or Shakespearean. The former probably developed from the stanza form of the canzone or from Italian folk song. The earliest known Italian sonneteer was Guittone d'Arezzo. The form reached its peak with the Italian poet Petrarch, who’s Canzoniere (about 1327) includes 317 sonnets addressed to his beloved Laura.

The Petrarchan sonnet consists of an octave, or eight-line stanza, and a sestet, or six-line stanza. The octave has two quatrains, rhyming a b b a, a b b a, but avoiding a couplet; the first quatrain presents the theme, the second develops it. The sestet is built on two or three different rhymes, arranged c d e c d e, or c d c d c d, or c d e d c e; the first three lines exemplify or reflect on the theme, and the last three lines bring the whole poem to a unified close. Excellent examples of the Petrarchan sonnet in the English language are found in the sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella (1591) by Sir Philip Sidney, which established the form in England. There, in the Elizabethan age, it reached the peak of its popularity. Let’s see a Petrarchan sonnet model:

H.W. Longfellow's


As a fond mother, when the day is o'er,   (a)
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,  (b)
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,  (b)
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,  (a)
Still gazing at them through the open door,  (a)
Nor wholly reassured and comforted  (b)
By promises of others in their stead,   (b)
Which, though more splendid, may not please him more;   (a)

So Nature deals with us, and takes away   (c)
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand   (d)
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go   (c)
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,   (c)
Being too full of sleep to understand    (d)
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.  (c)

The English sonnet, exemplified by the work of William Shakespeare and by Amoretti (1595) by Edmund Spenser, developed as an adaptation to a language less rich in rhymes than Italian. This form differs from the Petrarchan sonnet in being divided into three quatrains, each rhymed differently, and with a final, independently rhymed couplet that makes an effective, unifying climax to the whole. The rhyme scheme is a b a b, c d c d, e f e f, g g. Let’s see a Shakespearean sonnet model:

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun; (a)
Coral is far more red than her lips' red; (b)
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; (a)
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. (b)

I have seen roses damask'd, red and white, (c)
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; (d)
And in some perfumes is there more delight(c)
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. (d)

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know(e)
That music hath a far more pleasing sound; (f)
I grant I never saw a goddess go; (e)
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground: (f)

   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare(g)
   As any she belied with false compare. (g)

 In the first half of the 16th century the sonnet was introduced in England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey, are credited with introducing the sonnet into England with translations of Italian sonnets as well as with sonnets of their own. Tottel's Miscellany of Songs and Sonnets,a collection of their sonnets, is one of the landmarks of English literature. It begins lyrical love poetry in our language. It begins, too, the imitation and adaptation of foreign and chiefly Italian metrical forms, many of which have since become characteristic forms of English verse : so characteristic, that we scarcely think of them as other than native in origin. However, in the Tudor court of England there the sonnet came through them with slight variation from Italian models. Wyatt’s sonnets all ended with a couplet and surrey by offer some experiments, used a pattern of alternately rhymed quatrains, which encouraged logical exposition right up to this final couplet and postponed the turn. However, Wyatt’s sonnets are rigid and awkward, whereas surrey’s have great artistic merits.

 Firstly Sir Philip Sidney set the vogue of writing sonnet sequences. In fact after Wyatt and Surrey, the sonnet was neglected for a number of years. It was for Sidney to revitalize this form by composing one hundred and eight sonnets, all put in Astrophel and Stella, which celebrate the history of his love for Penelope Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex, a love brought to disaster by the intervention of Queen Elizabeth with whom he had quarreled. As poetry they mark an epoch. They are the first direct expression of an intimate and personal experience in English literature. As a sonneteer Sidney is placed next only to Shakespeare and Spenser. His sonnets are mostly written in mixed Italian and English form.

The next most notable Edmund Spenser wrote Amoretti, a sequence of eighty eight sonnets addressed to Elizabeth Boyle whom he married in 1594. In them the poet gives expression to his feeling of his heart in a sincere and unaffected manner without any recourse to allegory. Here is not the unquiet of Sidney’s love for Lord Rich’s wife, nor the complaining tone of Shakespeare whose mistress deceived him with his friend. Spenser’s sonnets are unique for their ‘purity’, ‘maidenliness’, and divine qualities’. In style it is improved upon and rhyme scheme is three interlinked quatrains in an alternative rhyme with the couplet standing alone i.e. abab bcbc cdcd ee.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are expressions of his feelings and experience of love and lust, of friendship and honour, of growth through experience of sin, expiation, of mutability, plentitude and the knowledge of good and evil. According to Oscar Wilde, they are a dramatic presentation of the passions and conflicts raging with in the poet’s own soul. Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets -sequence first published in Thorpe’s edition of 1609. Most critics agree that Shakespeare’s sonnets consists of two group of poems – a long series addressed to the Fair Youth (sonnets – 1 to 126) followed by a shorter series concerned with the Dark Lady (sonnets 127 – 154). The Shakespearean sonnet is divided into four parts – three quatrains and one couplet. Each quatrain has its own rhyme scheme as, abab, cd cd, efef, gg. Like the Italian sonnet the Shakespearean is also normally addressed to dear one, as mentioned already, but unlike the Italian sonnet, it has no turn of thought, hence no pause. Again, Shakespeare’s Sonnets are indeed autobiographic hints. Like the Sun, the Man Shakespeare is hidden in his own brightness. But these are rending of the robe of light, through which glancing, we see something of a darkness, something of that stuff" of mortality of which all mankind are made.

The other notable contribution is Henry Constable’s Diana, containing twenty eight sonnets, besides four sonnets To Sir P. Sidney’s soul prefixed to Sidney’s Apology For Poetry. Henry in his sonnet is often ingenious, sometimes graceful and always conventional. Samuel Daniel’s Delia, a sonnet sequence of fifty sonnets is distinguished by a happy choice of words and phrase and sweet flow of verses. Michael Drayton’s Idea, containing fifty one sonnets however lacks true passion.

The Elizabethan sonneteers, as we saw, used a vocabulary and phraseology in common with their fellows in Italy and France, and none the less produced fine poetry. But they used it to express things they really felt. The truth is it is not the fact of a poetic diction which matters so much as its quality whether it squares with sincerity, whether it is capable of expressing powerfully and directly one's deepest feelings.

The Prologue To Canterbury Tales: A Picture Gallery of 14th Century

14th-century English poet Geoffrey Chaucer’s "Canterbury Tales" (probably written after 1387), the crowning achievement of Chaucer's life, is of perennial importance, invaluable alike to the student of poetry, to the historian who aspires to delineate the social life of the period, and to the philosopher. The Tales is a collection of stories set within a framing story of a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, the shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket. The poet joins a band of pilgrims, who assemble at the Tabard Inn outside London for the journey to Canterbury. The Host of the inn proposes a storytelling contest to pass the time; each of the 30 or so pilgrims (the exact number is unclear) is to tell four tales on the round trip. Ranging in status from a Knight to a humble Plowman, they are a microcosm of 14th-century English society.  Chaucer completed less than a quarter of this plan. The work contains 22 verse tales (two unfinished) and two long prose tales; a few are thought to be pieces written earlier by Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales, composed of more than 18,000 lines of poetry, is made up of separate blocks of one or more tales with links introducing and joining stories within a block.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Analysis of Virginia Woolf's Essay "Modern Fiction"

  Virginia Woolf in her Modern Fiction makes a fair attempt to discuss briefly the main trends in the modern novel or fiction. She begins her essay by mentioning the traditionalists like H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett and Galsworthy, who, while they propound new ideas and open out new vistas to the human mind, still follow the Victorian tradition as far as the technique of the novel is concerned. Read More Essay They believed that a great force on the individual was environment. However, they differed from one another in subject matter – in Arnold and Galsworthy the socialist point of view dominated and Wells, a brilliant writer of scientific romances. Read More Essay Mrs. Woolf marks these three as ‘materialists’. While defining the term Woolf states that these writers as well as their writing is stuffed with unimportant things; they spend immense skill and dexterity in making the trivial and transitory a boost of truth of life. As life escapes, the worth of the literary piece in minimal. Mrs. Woolf while criticizing the three makes a pivotal point of criticism on the traditional method of novel writing of Fielding types.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Critical Essay on the Use of Symbols in Coleridge's The Rime of The Ancient Mariner


The term ‘symbolism’ can be defined as the practice, system and art of representing ideas by means of symbols. The term ‘symbol’ although is a word, a phrase, an object, or a clause even, yet it always represents an abstraction. So the thing represented is an idea, quality, condition, or any other abstract thing.

Kinds of symbols

 Coleridge has employed symbolism in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, as E.E. Stolls sums up, in two artistic symbolic Categories – symbols of distance and symbols of life in middle ages.

            E.E.Stoll, opines that the symbols are based on the ‘principle of perspective’. The symbols of the art of story telling serves to heighten the illusion; credibly the marvels, provide an approach to them, a middle distance, which makes them appropriately more remote. There is also nearer distance. The Wedding Guest is a symbol of the middle distance. He stands between the Ancient Mariner and his voyage in a land of marvels. The marginal comment of the poet is a symbol of nearer distance. It stands between the reader and the marvel land of poetry.

image: wikipedia
Further, the Hermit, the pilot and the Pilot’s boy, again the background of the sea-port hill, the church, and the lighthouse are symbols of the vanished life of the middle ages. Hence in the words of Stoll, “when the Mariner and his strip, equally bewitched arrive, the effect of the mere sight of them on  normal every day Hermit, pilot and pilot boy is startling, shocking. The effect of that, in turn, upon the Wedding Guest and also the reader is convincing”.

The Mariner

 A symbol of inquiring spirit: Adopting the spiritual point of view, E. M. W. Tillyard looks upon the Ancient Mariner a symbol of “an unusually inquiring spirit”, and his voyage as a ‘mental adventure’. Allan grant says that The Mariner’s tale is a story of a voyage into the interior. Not only into the unfathomable depths of the sources of human action; the story also takes us beyond the human world altogether. Again, it is a voyage of extreme contrasts of suffering and of expiation, of the human and social and an altogether alien cosmos with its own terrible yet beautiful order”.

Moon symbolism: According to A. Douglas, “with Coleridge, a weak or waning moon is pretty clearly a powerful symbol for loss of mother love”. In The Ancient Mariner, Part-III the crescent moon rises after life in death has won the Mariner’s soul and Death has won his ship mates, lives. Here the moon rises in the eas6t, while the moon always rises in the west.

Shooting of the Albatross

 The Albatross following the ship stands for the power of Nature, coming to the help of the Mariner and his crew. It saves them from snow and fog. The bird seems to suggest some redeeming force in creation that guides humanity:
“As if it had been a Christian soul,
            We hailed it in God’s name”.
The shooting of the Albatross comes quite suddenly and irrationally. It symbolizes the sin of ignorance the act is explicitly called ‘hellish’. As a result, the ship is becalmed in a tropic sea. Parching heat replaces icy cold. The Mariner gradually discovers from the result of his action that the killing of the Albatross is the violation of a great sanctity. The sympathy between Nature and voyage is broken and terrible, retribution follows. The knowledge of evil is symbolized by the ‘shiny things’ that crawl on the retiring ocean, and the ‘death-fires’ and ‘witch’s oil’ burning by night.


Coleridge defines a symbol as something which presents the eternal in the temporal, and the universal in the particular. It is through the use of symbols that a poet conveys universal truth. The Ancient Mariner, being a tale of the supernatural, is also symbolic and allegorical.
            Through a set of symbols the poem becomes a moral allegory which says,
            “He prayeth well, who loveth well
            Both man and bird and beast”.
The whole poem illustrates the moral of an intimate kinship between all living things. God is on the side of pity and love, and the forces of the universe become hostile to those who show cruelty towards animals. According to Bowra, this poem is a “myth of guilt and redemption”.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is the Search of an Artist in Exile.

Escape is the natural complement to the theme of Entrapment and Constraint. Joyce depicts escape metaphorically by the book's most important symbol and allusion: the mythical artificer Daedalus is not at all an Irish name; Joyce took the name from the mythical inventor who escaped from his island prison by constructing wings and flying to his freedom. Stephen, too, will eventually escape from the island prison of Ireland.

What are the specific objectives of teaching English as a second language at the secondary stage? How far is the current high school curriculum helpful in realizing the objectives?

In order to make the programme of Teaching English effective, we should first of all identify our objectives we want to achieve. It will help the teacher to apply the correct methods and devices to achieve the particular object at any particular stage. So it is extremely necessary to fix up the objectives of teaching English in the beginning. Read More Teaching English (TEFL) 

                With the change of the position of English in the new set up of India, the aims and objectives of teaching English has naturally undergone a change. We have accepted English as a second language. English is , therefore, taught now as a skill subject as opposed to literary subject. So the objectives of teaching English in schools will be the acquisition of linguistic or communicative skills.

Monday, July 11, 2011

How to Approach Coleridge's Masterpiece,The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

No ballad is so fun to read than Coleridge's masterpiece, The rime of the Ancient Mariner. Lowell, a renowned critic, Says ,"Coleridge has taken the old ballad measure and given to it, by an indefinable charm wholly his own, all the sweetness, all the melody and compass of a symphony and how picturesque it is in the proper sense of the word. I know nothing like it. Read More Romantic Period There is not a description in it. It is all pictures." For a clear understanding, obsolete words must be discussed, figures must be explained, and pictures must be clearly dwelt upon. In studying this poem, we cannot help but feel the wonderful imagery weird, grotesque, and romantic; we recognize back of it a powerful allegory; we see the double setting of a story within a story; we thrill at the supernatural; we feel the music of rhyme and rhythm, the throb of the internal rhymes, and the fascination of alliteration; we project ourselves back into the emotions of the Middle Ages. We recognize the ballad influence in the metrical form, in the quaint expressions, in the repetition of certain phrases. 

An Account of the Diasporic Literature: Characteristic Features, Multicultural Identities, Hybridity, Historical Understanding

Diaspora (Greek, “dispersion”), is a term used for large scale migration of people from the country of their origin to other countries, either voluntarily or due to economic or political compulsions. When we speak of the Indian Diaspora we mean Indians settled in England, America, Africa, and the Caribbean. Similarly one can discuss the Caribbean Diaspora to England, Canada and France. Diaspora studies also became an academic discipline. In literature too the text composed of such displacement constitutes the Diaspora Literature.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Analysis of S. T. Coleridge's Kubla Khan as a Dream Poem

  Coleridge’s dream faculty is his strong point as a poet and he is a dreamer of dreams and his Kubla Khan(1798)  is not the product of his observation but has come out from mysterious dreams. Coleridge himself claimed that the poem “Kubla Khan” was the product of a hallucinatory dream experienced after he had taken opium “in consequence of a slight indisposition.” On awaking, he began to commit the experience to paper but was interrupted by “a person on business from Porlock.” On returning to his desk, he found that the intensity of his impressions had faded. The poem claims to be “scattered lines and images” from a longer, forgotten work. Whether the story is true or not, the poem takes the unrecapturable nature of such dreams as its theme. It opens with sumptuous images of a mythic land, in which a powerful ruler orders the construction of a fabulous palace. It is an edifice of dream, a fragment of pure romance and a product of a dream rooted in imagination.  

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an ‘Aesthetic Autobiography’ of James Joyce

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is a semi-autobiographical novel about the education of a young Irishman, Stephen Dedalus, whose background has much in common with Joyce’s. However, in determining the genre of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man readers and critics both face a lengthy debate. In terms of its critical reception A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has had its share of detractors and its admirers. As far as its autobiographical elements are concerned A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man can be seen both as a ‘Bildungsroman’ which describes the youthful development of the central character and as ‘aesthetic autobiography’ or ‘kunstlerroman’. We will now carryout our discussions on Joyce’s portrayal of Stephen and see how he keeps varying his distance from Stephen but never does so drastically.

Timeline of English Literature- Age of Chaucer (1350 – 1450)

Age of Chaucer (1350 – 1450)

History / Events

1381 Peasants’ revolt

1429 Siege of Orleans

1431 Joan of Arc burned

1441 Kings’ College, Cambridge founded
1356. Mandeville's " Travels."

1362 Langland’s Piers the Plowman The full title of the poem is The Vision of Piers Plowman. Three distinct versions of it exist, the first c. 1362, the second c. 1377, and the third 1393 or 1398. It has been described as "a vision of Christ seen through the clouds of humanity." It is divided into nine dreams, and is in the unrhymed and alliterative.

1380 Wycliffe’s Bible

1380-83 Troylus and Cryseyde by Chaucer.
1382 The Parlement of Foules by Chaucer
1384 The House of Fame by Chaucer
1385 The Legende of Goode Women by Chaucer

1385-91 English poet Geoffrey Chaucer writes The Canterbury Tales, a work which places him in the front rank of the narrative poets of the world. It contains about 18,000 lines of verse, besides some passages in prose, and was left incomplete. In it his power of story-telling, his humour, sometimes broad, sometimes sly, his vivid picture-drawing, his tenderness, and lightness of touch, reach their highest development. He is our first artist in poetry, and with him begins modern English literature. His character—genial, sympathetic, and pleasure-loving, yet honest, diligent, and studious—is reflected in his writings.

1393 Confessio Amantis.

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