English poetry historical overviewPresentation Transcript
ENGLISH POETRY Historical Overview
ANGLO-SAXON (OLD ENGLISH) ERA 450 - 1066
much of poetry was intended to be chanted by the scop
bold, strong, elegiac in spirit, emphasizes sorrow and ultimate futility of life and helplessness of humans before the power of fate
composed without rhyme
verse has four stressed syllables alternating with an indeterminate number of unstressed syllables
BEOWULF (8 th -10 th century)
Begins and ends with the funeral of a great king
Composed against background of impending disaster
Describes exploits of Scandinavian cultural hero in destroying the monster Grendel, Grendel’s mother and a fire-breathing dragon
Beowulf is shown both as glorious hero and savior of the people
Old Germanic virtue of mutual loyalty between leader and followers
Weakening of the sense of the ultimate power of arbitrary fate
Injection of Christian idea of dependence on a just God
A PERILOUS path, it proved, he trod who heinously hid, that hall within, wealth under wall! Its watcher had killed one of a few, and the feud was avenged in woful fashion. Wondrous seems it, what manner a man of might and valor oft ends his life, when the earl no longer in mead-hall may live with loving friends. So Beowulf, when that barrow's warden he sought, and the struggle; himself knew not in what wise he should wend from the world at last.
Excerpt from Chapter XLII, Beowulf
MIDDLE ENGLISH PERIOD 1066-1485
Poems continued to be written in forms like the Old English alliterative, four-stress lines.
Poetry expressing a mystical longing for, and union with, the deity
Allegory; tales of chivalry and adventure, chivalric idealization of love in medieval romance
Chaucer’s nonalliterative verse
The Knight’s Tale (lines 1-16)
Once on a time, as old stories tell to us,
There was a duke whose name was Theseus:
Of Athens he was lord and governor,
And in his time was such a conqueror
That greater was there not beneath the sun.
Very many rich countries had he won;
What with his wisdom and his chivalry
He gained the realm of Femininity,
That was of old time known as Scythia.
There he married the queen, Hippolyta,
And brought her home with him to his country.
In glory great and with great ceremony,
And, too, her younger sister, Emily.
And thus, in victory and with melody,
Let I this noble duke to Athens ride
With all his armed host marching at his side.
Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;
Of Atthenes he was lord and governour,
And in his tyme swich a conquerour,
That gretter was ther noon under the sonne.
Ful many a riche contree hadde he wonne,
What with his wysdom and his chivalrie;
He conquered al the regne of Femenye,
That whilom was ycleped Scithia,
And weddede the queene Ypolita,
And broghte hir hoom with hym in his contree,
With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee,
And eek hir yonge suster Emelye.
And thus with victorie and with melodye
Lete I this noble duc to Atthenes ryde,
And al his hoost, in armes hym bisyde.
THE RENAISSANCE 1485-1660
Poetry was generally less important (earlier part of 16 th century)
Sir Philip Sidney inaugurated the vogue of the sonnet
Motif of poetry: the idealization of the beloved
2 poetic tendencies toward end of 16 th and in early part of 17 th centuries:
a. Metaphysical poets
b. Cavalier poets
wit, inventiveness, and a love of elaborate stylistic maneuvers, subtle argumentations, paradoxical style
Metaphysical concerns are the common subject of their poetry, which investigates the world by rational discussion of its phenomena rather than by intuition or mysticism.
rigorous verse appeals to the reader’s intellect rather than emotions
much of their poetry is light in style, and generally secular in subject; avoid the subject of religion
attempt no plumbing of the depths of the soul
treat life cavalierly and sometimes they treat poetic convention cavalierly too
life is far too enjoyable for much of it to be spent sweating over verses in a study
They use direct and colloquial language expressive of a highly individual personality, and they enjoy the casual, the amateur, the affectionate poem.
RESTORATION & 18 TH CENTURY 1660-1789
Writers reacted against the imaginative flights and the ornate or startling styles and forms of previous era
Admiration for Ben Jonson and his disciples
Literature in general was characterized by reason, moderation, good taste, simplicity
Literary period was divided into three: ages of Dryden, Pope, Johnson
Age of Dryden
Poetry was characterized by easy, sociable style.
John Dryden’s poetry set the tone of the new age in achieving new clarity and establishing a self-limiting, somewhat impersonal canon of moderation and good taste.
Satire became the dominant poetic genre of the age
His polished heroic couplet became the dominant form in longer poems
* Heroic couplet - refers to poems constructed from a sequence of rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter lines. The rhyme is always masculine.
Age of Pope
Deeply conservative but also playful; developed classicism and literary conservativism
The works cast a strange light on modern times by viewing them through the screen of classical myths and forms
Pope’s poetic lines reflect ease, harmony, grace and the quality of precise but never labored expression of thought
Age of Johnson
A respect for the good judgment of ordinary people and for standards of taste and behavior independent of social status
Poets most tried to see and represent nature , understood as the universal and permanent elements in human experience.
THE ROMANTIC AGE 1789-1837
Romantic age stressed emotion over reason; subordination of reason to intuition and passion , the primacy of the individual will over social norms of behavior; the preference for the illusion of immediate experience as opposed to generalized and typical experience
Theme: world of simple, natural things, in the countryside or among people; preference for ordinary, everyday language (Wordsworth)
Bent on the strange, the exotic, the mysterious (Coleridge)
Second generation of Romantic poets was revolutionary:
Satirical spirit and sense of social realism (Byron)
Shelley’s poetry expresses his 2 main ideas:
1. external tyranny of rulers, customs or superstitions is the main enemy
2. inherent human goodness will, sooner or later, eliminate evil from the world and usher in an eternal reign of transcendent love
Keats’ poetry is a response to sensuous impressions, an awareness of immediate sensation
THE VICTORIAN ERA 1837-1901
Notable poets were absorbed in social issues
Tennyson’s poetry: problems of religious faith, social change and political power
Browning’s poetry: intellectuality and bracing harshness
Arnold’s poetry: sorrowful, disillusioned pessimism over the human plight in rapidly changing times
20 th century to the present
Two notable poets of the modern period combined tradition and experiment:
Yeats - more traditional; developed an honest, profound and rich poetic idiom.
Eliot – expressed despair over the sterility of modern life through a mass of symbolic associations with legendary and historical events
Successive generations of poets:
Used private or esoteric symbolism (poetry was barely intelligible to any but a small group of readers)
Characterized by experimentalism
The Movement: poets sought to appeal to the common reader with a nonsentimental poetry of the everyday, written in colloquial language