Godiva is poem written by Alfred Tennyson about a well known myth regarding a woman named Godiva. The Earl who ruled Coventry wanted the people to pay more tax which they could not afford. Godiva asked him to lower the tax, and the Earl told her he would repeal the tax if she rode through the town naked. Godiva therefore agreed to this, and the townspeople stayed inside and shut all the doors and windows so no one would see Godiva, allowing her to keep her dignity. Godiva rode through the town naked on her horse, however someone peeped through a hole to see Godiva exposed. His eyes shrivelled into his head and he never saw Godiva naked. She saved her people by sacrificing herself and took the tax away. Godiva is a narrative poem written in blank verse and unrhymed iambic pentameter.
This form shows respect towards the character, and helps to enhance the poem’s message. Rather than being lyrical, the narrative form and slow pace gives Godiva dignity and admiration for the sacrifice she made to save her people. Godiva is the Earl’s wife, so in actual fact she is Lady Godiva, however Tennyson chooses not to use her status to enhance the meaning and inspiration behind what she did. It’s not about who she is; it’s about what she did. The poem is written in chronological order regarding the event. This helps the reader understand the situation better, as we understand the desperation and pain of the townspeople, and then we are taken on Godiva’s journey through the town. As a reader we feel the tension of every stride of her sacrifice, and therefore have a full understanding of the appreciation and respect the people feel towards Godiva. Tennyson has written this poem in third person narrative.
There is also some direct speech present. The direct speech on line 15 is effective because it highlights the people’s desperation, and Godiva’s voice on line 20 echoes the townspeople. The poem begins with a four line stanza in first person as if it is the poet speaking. As a reader, this draws our attention to the poet’s respect for Godiva; Tennyson is inspired by her. The first stanza prepares us for Godiva’s sacrifice. Tennyson describes the situation and the people’s feelings, and then goes on to tell us the Earl’s request. The Earl is not given a name, and by doing this Tennyson makes him seem more monstrous and evil. When the Earl talks to Godiva, Tennyson portrays him as being very dismissive and patronising.
He also speaks rather informally, reflecting that he does not behave like an Earl should, and this is made obvious when we discover his proposal to Godiva. The break in the stanza gives the reader a chance to reflect and take in what has happened. This pause builds anticipation and mystery as to whether Godiva will accept the challenge. Purity and innocence are key symbols throughout the poem. The mention of eagles in the third stanza represents wealth and pride. Godiva is proud to help her people. There is natural beauty in her sacrifice and the use of alliteration when describing her hair emphasises this purity.
The fact that no one sees her naked shows how much people respect her and admire her for what she has done. Tennyson builds tension in the penultimate stanza by the use of long sentences with small clauses. As a reader we are taken on Godiva’s journey, and we feel the pain of every moment of her sacrifice. Tennyson chooses to put a dark twist on the myth when the boy peeped to look at Godiva. This is another effective way that reflects the respect for Godiva. The poem ends with the line “and built herself an everlasting name”. This shows the impact of her sacrifice, and the respect and admiration will remain forever.
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