Saturday, March 27, 2010

Woman Trapped

A theme that I picked up on in the reading of both Mariana and the Lady of Shallot is this concept of women being trapped by their despair over a failed love or love gone awry. This gives a keen insight into the way men of Tennyson's time saw women and their dependence on men for fulfillment and romance. I think it also suggests something about the arrogance of men in terms of nature as well. Both poems use a lot of natural imagery and I think suggest a similar kind of dependence of nature on the power and whim of man. Considering the time of empire that Tennyson writes in and his other works (Light Brigade) this kind of imperialistic impulse makes a lot of sense.

The Duke's agency revealed in the poetic structure? - "My Last Duchess"

I think the commentary that Browning is making in this poem is very interesting. I gathered that he was critiquing a man’s absolute control that he has on his wife in society. In the poem, the Duke is so obsessed with control that he killed his first wife because he could not effectively control her.

The way in which Browning portrays the Duke’s voice made me question the agency of the poem. On the surface, it seems that the Duke is controlling the conversation and that he seems very confident in his words, but there is strong sense of artificially that appears throughout the poem. As we learn more about what really happened to the Duchess, the rhythm and structure of the poem ties into the emotion of the speaker. For example, the enjambment of the lines takes the Duke’s seemingly matter-of-fact speech and makes it appear illogical. Thus, while the Duke wants to make it appear as if he is in “control” of the conversation, his overriding obsession with control actually controls him through his guilt…?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Reading "The Lady of Shalott"

I don't know if it was intentional or not, but despite of (and maybe because of) the intense rhyme scheme in "The Lady of Shalott," the entire work came across more as a story than a poem. Obviously poems can tell stories; that's not what I'm getting at. What I mean to say is when reading this poem, it struck me more like a Poe work rather than a Wordsworth or Keats. Perhaps it was just the emphasis on the repetition at the end of each stanza that reminded me of instances like in Poe's "The Raven" (The whole 'nevermore' bit).

I'm not sure. For some reason, the entire thing just threw me for a loop in general. I definitely liked it, it was just... an experience, for lack of a better term.

Women and nature

In both The Lady of Shalott and Mariana I noticed Tennyson's use of nature to illustrate the condition of the central character. As Kathryn points out, the decay of the world around her reflects Mariana's passive degradation. In the third stanza, the oxen's low "without hope of changes" captures her sense of hopeless desertion.

Likewise, in The Lady of Shalott, Tennyson uses the setting to shed light on the protagonist. The entire country seems to have a sense of enchantment, from the image of the sun, the white willows, and the "stream that runneth ever. When the spell is broken, the pastoral imagery changes into stormy weather, the woods turn pale yellow, the stream strains its banks, foreshadowing the Lady's loss of control. I felt like her action had a deep sense of irrationality, since she seems to fulfill her own curse.


Thinking about the theme of this week—Romance Perverted—it is easy to think about just how “messed up” so many of these relationships are—from a girl loving a pot of basil to a serial killing beauty. The theme continues in Tennyson’s poetry, especially “Mariana.” The chief characteristic of the poem that I noticed is the way the natural world reflects Mariana’s interior life. From the very first stanza, nature is described as decaying: “rusted nails”, “weeded and worn”, etc. Mariana declares repeatedly that she wishes she was “dead”—this state would mirror the natural world around her. This wish is caused by the fact that “He cometh not” which suggests that Mariana has been forsaken by a lover or that her lover has died. It seems extreme to wish for death when one loses a lover, but this, of course, fits perfectly with perverted love. It’s interesting that we don’t even know the story about Mariana’s lost love, and it makes me want to build a back story—kind of like what Liz suggested in her post regarding “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and we discussed in class. What is it that made her lover leave or caused her lover’s death and Mariana’s decay into absolute despair?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Keats' Disproportionate Response

Thinking of the two versions of the story of "The Pot of Basil" in terms of the way in which the thematic differences we touched on briefly in class (in addition to the formal change to verse) affected the overall message of the poem, I was interested to think of it in terms of the way in which the relationship between crime and punishment is altered between the renderings. In my understanding, the first version of the story focuses much more on the crimes of the lovers, and the brothers clearly acting as judge and jury in the case, exacting retribution in accordance with a clear break of social norms. In Keats' version, however, it seems that this relationship between crime, judgement, and punishment is complicated. The crime itself is less clear in Keats' language -- the lovers do not seem out of bounds, and therefore the killing becomes a wanton act not based in justice. It becomes, then, the site of the crime itself. This shifting of initial punishment to the locus of the crime then complicates what the judgement for the new crime is in Keats' version, who acts as the judge, and how punishment is executed. This relationship between crime and punishment breaks down, in fact, as it is then Isabella's mind that suffers the punishment. And yet she is not responsible for the crime. What has happened in Keats' transference of the location of the crime in his rendering that breaks down this relationship and structure of proportionality?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Newton's Opticks and Keat's Lamia

I had a class last semester with Professor Porter where we looked at the relationship between Science & Literature, and this poem was particularly striking for me in its portrayal of science. Newton's Opticks was publicized in 1704, and it was a description of the experiments used by Newton to determine the composition of visible light. Using a crystal (and various other scientific devices) he discovered the white light is actually a combination of the rainbow, or ROYGBIV. Here is the link if anyone is interested in reading more...

After reading Keat's "Lamia," I think it is obvious that the image of a rainbow and of light is omnipresent through the poem. The initial description of Lamia evokes a lush, vibrant image: "she was a gordian shape of dazzling hue, / Vermilion-spotted, golden, green, and blue / striped like a zebra, freckled like a pard, / eyed like a peacock, and all crimson barred" (47-50). When Apollo transforms her into a woman, she becomes a "lady bright" as in white light, which is scientifically composed of the rainbow. This now begins to relate back to Zach's initial question of philosophy and science in relation to magic and perhaps nature. Apollonius begins "Brow-beating her fair form, and troubling her sweet pride" with his cold philosophy, and Lamia becomes a "deadly white" as all subtle color fades from her face and her magic is destroyed (247, 272-76 for fading of color to death). Keats seems to be commenting on the relationship of Science to nature. A scientist's unemotional analysis of nature removes all of the mystery and wonder from the world; it removes the ability to love irrationally and focus on emotions, and I think "Lamia" is a beautiful integration of science and magic to convey Keat's sentiments.

La belle dame sans merci in "The Eve of St. Agnes"

This post is in response to Liz's post.
Liz, I love the painting you posted, and I think the question you raise is really interesting. I guess we tend to focus on the anguish of the knight at the end of the poem, of how he was tricked, but you made a point that perhaps there was some other motive for her love...and yes I agree with you that La Belle Dame sans Merci has probably duped a string of men.
ALSO, this poem is connected to Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes," which is definitely about perverse romance. The longer poem "...Eve..." can be read in many different ways, but what is most..."perverted" about the poem is that Porphyro breaks into the castle to be united with his love Madeleine on a stormy winter night, and her room is the only safe place of warmth in the entire castle of his enemies, and he ends up taking advantage of her. It is never really clear whether he rapes her, but it is interesting to see the effect of the poem "La Belle Dame sans Merci" when Madeleine hears it:

Awakening up, he took her hollow lute,—
Tumultuous,—and, in chords that tenderest be, 290
He play’d an ancient ditty, long since mute,
In Provence call’d, “La belle dame sans mercy:”
Close to her ear touching the melody;—
Wherewith disturb’d, she utter’d a soft moan:
He ceased—she panted quick—and suddenly 295
Her blue affrayed eyes wide open shone:
Upon his knees he sank, pale as smooth-sculptured stone.

Madeleine wakes up horrified (to find Porphyro in her bed, the eerie song of "La belle dame sans merci," or probably a combination). Her agitated gaze has the power to turn the flesh of her lover into "smooth sculptured stone." The fact that Porphyro chooses this song to play can mean no good can come to the lovers, and this dream actually appears to be a nightmare to Madeleine. The song could be a prefiguration of what is to come. Unlike most other star struck lovers in poetry, Madeleine and Porphyro escape into the night together without being caught. However, the poem ends there, the two lovers out in the "bitter cold," nobody having heard of them since that desolate winter night. The fact that they venture into the raging storm does not seem like it is going to bode well for them, and even if their love does last, it probably ends up being the kind of weird and obsessive love for a lover who appears to be less than real, or an illusion.

Monday, March 22, 2010

La Belle Dame Sans Merci - Psychology of the Faery

First of all, La Belle Dams Sans Merci is probably one of my favorite poems, but that's also because I just absolutely love the Pre Raphaelite's and John William Waterhouse's paintings. Here's one that describes Keat's poem:
In terms of body language in this painting and the general tone of the poem, it seems like it is mainly the faery that is causing the temptation. In the painting, she is the one who is literally ensnaring him by wrapping her hair around his neck and pulling him closer. My question is: why?
I've never taken a psychology class, BUT...I think maybe she's going through that whole process that occurs when something really traumatic has happened, and so the people keep on having to relive it in multiple situations, hoping for a different ending. Like how some women with alcoholic fathers marry alcoholic husbands. I just wondered what had maybe happened to the faery before that would make her into a type of serial killer reminiscent of the prostitute-killer played by an uglified Charlize Theron in Monster.
Maybe she'd encountered another knight who had promised her love and instead had raped her and abandoned her or something else.
I know none of this can REALLY be said to come from the poem at all - but she does cry, and all of this does happen very quickly, and there are so many other knights that suffered the same I thought she must have SOME sort of motivation...

Romantics vs. Gothics

After reading the poems for Tuesday's class, I thought that there were many elements to the poems that were reminiscent of the gothic poems, particularly in Keats' Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil. While reading this poem I couldn't help but think of it as Keats' romantic version of Alonzo the Brave. There seemed to be many parallels throughout the poem, although the ending was different.

In addition, I also noticed that in Isabella and La Belle Dame Sans Merci that Keats would often incorporate the seasons into his poems to represent life and death. He would compare winter to paleness and decay, while using Spring to represent beauty and life. I thought this was an interesting difference between Isabella and Alonzo the Brave, as Isabella plants her lover's head in a pot and her tears water the pot so that a wonderful basil plant is grown. Again, we have gothic elements of death and the supernatural, but here we have death being brought back to life and sadness creating joy.

Beauty, Reason, and "Lamia"

I was both fascinated and confused about the assertion Keats makes about beauty and truth in his poem, "Lamia." At the end of the work, it becomes clear that the philosopher Apollonius, though described as a "trusty guide and good instructor" by Lycius, acts as the antagonist of the poem. As a representative of cold reason and human rationale, he vanquishes the mystical beauty of Lamia. The justification of this act is that Lamia is not really a woman, but a serpent. Apollonius, then represents for Keats the philosophy of the Enlightenment - that truth and what you can prove are what really matter. But by portraying Lamia as a faithful, kind, and loving partner of Lycius, the revelation performed by Apollonius appears a sinister and cruel act. Indeed, it seems to me that anyone who reads this poem must wish that Apollonius had never come to the wedding. So what does all this signify towards the notions of beauty, truth, and reason? I would say that, using this poem, Keats sends the message that imagination and reality are not incompatible, and that reason alone is not enough to make something true. The love between Lamia and Lycius is depicted as true and right by Keats, even if it does lack "reality" or reason. There are some powerful elements of human life that transcend the material world of what can be tested scientifically. This was my interpretation, anyway, but what do others think?

Original vs. Published Version of La Belle Dame...which is stronger?

As I read La Belle Dame, I couldn't help but notice the changes between the manuscript and the actual publication. I think that the word change right at the very beginning is significant and changes the way the reader views the knight. "Knight-at-arms" gives the picture that this man is ready for any situation that may come. "Wretched wight" is not as serious and is more laid back in my opinion. Since it repeats in the second stanza, it helps to create this image for the reader.

I think the order of stanzas five and six is also important in understanding the fairy's power over the knight. First, I think it makes more logical sense for him to make the garland for her, become entranced with her, and then take her away on his horse rather than the published version which changes the order. When Keats talks about her "faery song" in the original version, I think it introduces the magical power she has over him. She feeds and loves him, he kisses her, and then she lulls him to sleep (stanzas 7-9). In stanza 9 of the edited edition, the focus is on both of them...and there we slumber'd on the moss,/And there I dream'd-Ah! woe betide!... in contrast to Keat's version...And there she lulled me to sleep/And there I dreamed- Ah woe betide! I think the magical quality is lessened when the emphasis is changed and the intensity of the dream doesn't capture the reader as strongly.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Keats, "The Tyger," and the appeal of melancholy

I know this seems random but the first thing I thought after reading Keats' "Ode on Melancholy" was how much it reminded me of William Blake's "The Tyger." In that poem, Blake poses the question; who created evil? Could God, the creator of good, have also introduced the terrible tyger into the world? Ultimately, I think Blake decided that the existence of good and evil is a necessary paradox. Indeed, each is defined in terms of its opposite and so they cannot exist without one another. More importantly, I believe Blake asserts in his poem that evil is not only necessary, but can be beautiful as well.

For me, this notion connects intimately with what Keats is saying in "Ode on Melancholy." Melancholy, like happiness, must be celebrated because it is a fleeting, powerful human emotion and without it we could never come to appreciate happiness the way we do. Having said that, I think most people would agree that melancholy is a necessary part of life -- that seems fairly obvious. Keats, however, takes this notion a step further by declaring melancholy attractive in and of itself. The poet flirts with this attraction in both "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on Melancholy." That Keats says he is "half in love with easeful death" is probably the most easily identifiable evidence for this odd relationship.