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Poetry Analysis – Coleridge, Tennyson, Hopkins Essay

The Romantic poet Percy Shelley once wrote, “Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” Both the Romantic and the Victorian periods of poetry followed Shelley’s vision of poetry as they exposed their respective societal issues. Romantic period lasted from1785 to 1830, a time in which England moved from an agrarian to industrial country and overall nationalistic ideals threatened the individuality of the poets and artists. The Romantic period of poetry was therefore very reactionary.

It was a reaction to enlightenment ideas, to the disregard for human life in revolutions, and to the uniform of nationalism. The decay of social values that took place in the latter part of the Victorian period spurred many writers to shift the context of their work from the Romantic natural forms to education, women’s rights, and political ideologies. Though both periods produced a momentous achievements in structure, language, and musicality of the poetic movement, the Romantic period effectuated an extreme feat in poetry in a mere fifty years.

Samuel Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is a Romantic ballad in seven parts, with fairly regular quatrains. Its short sentence structure develops steady movement, allowing to the reader’s engagement to grow as the tale progresses and the speaker’s message is unveiled. The tetrameter structure reveals an explanation of the title; the Ancient Mariner orally recites his tale, teaching a universal lesson on nature’s value and the earth’s deserving of respect. Coleridge uses both dialogue and varying perspective to establish a credibility in his work. An omniscient narrator speaks of an instance where the “bright-eyed” Mariner tells his story to a wedding-guest and the effect the tale has on him; “a sadder and a wiser man, / He rise the morrow morn” (Coleridge 624-625).

Coleridge often utilizes the effect of exclamation points when the Mariner is speaking to convey his passion, as in “Farewell, farewell! but this I tell / To thee, thou Wedding-Guest! / He prayeth well, who loveth well / Both man and bird and beast” (610-613). By capitalizing the first letter in various important words, Coleridge successfully enables to the reader to interpret a symbolic meaning behind the select terms. For instance, “Albatross,” though not a proper noun, is capitalized in each reference he makes to the creature yet when referring to the “water-snakes” and the “sky-lark” Coleridge does not capitalize the terms as they hold less symbolic value in the Mariner’s tale.

‘Is this the man?
By him who died on cross,
With his cruel bow he laid full low
The harmless Albatross.

The spirit who bideth by himself
In the land of mist and snow,
He loved the bird that loved the man
Who shot him with his bow.’
(Coleridge 397-405)

The Albatross is capitalized to depict the pure innocence and divinity of nature and God’s creations. Further interpretation also shows Coleridge’s capitalization of the Albatross to allude to Jesus Christ.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” is a comforting and uplifting Victorian Era poem about the end of life’s journey. Tennyson’s calm language and peaceful imagery envelop the reader in consoling compassion rather than a miserable mourning at the thought of a loved-one’s passing. He introduces the dwindling of life’s candle as he opens with a metaphor beautifully comparing life ending and death to “sunset and evening star” (Tennyson 1). Hoping for the end to be as painless as the sunset Tennyson alludes to the sound of the ocean thrusting against the sandbar, “And may there be no moaning of the bar, / When I put out to sea” (Tennyson 3-4).

Tennyson’s word choice throughout the extended metaphor of this poem impels the reader to think carefully about what his meaning is, rather than take the literal sense. For instance, when Tennyson refers to turning “home again” his home is not meant to be the humble earthly abode in which he’s carried out his years; he instead is alluding to heaven (Tennyson 8). The imagery of the concluding stanza informs the reader of the entire poem’s meaning; “For though from out our bourne of Time and Place / The flood may bear me far, / I hope to see my Pilot face to face / When I have crossed the bar” (Tennyson 13-16). Here Tennyson’s meaning of the bar manifests as he alludes to meeting his creator in this striking image of crossing the ocean’s sand bar, the boundary of life and death, into the unknown afterlife.

Upon reading Gerald Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall: to a young child” it becomes difficult to stop oneself from creating a tune to match the beat of this musical Victorian Era poem. With an AABBCCDDDEEFFGG rhyme scheme the poem begins with three rhyming couplets, followed by a rhyming triplet, and concluded by another set of three rhyming couplets. The varying line lengths express the drama in the speaker’s voice; ranging from the short iambic triameter to the longer tetrameter exposing the speaker’s message. A strong biblical message is surfaced by the melodic and hymnic movement of this piece. Hopkins uses alliteration to make his point clearly understood.

The repetition of the “W” words, in “Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie: / And yet you will weep and know why,” is used to tell Margaret about the changes maturity brings and the misery of knowledge (Hopkins 8-9). The alliterations used in the last rhyming couplet impart the speaker’s firm religious beliefs to the reader as Hopkins states “It is the blight man was born for, / It is Margaret you mourn for.” Hopkins uses the “B” and “M” words to emphasize the connection between her future sins and those made by Adam and Eve. As the speaker both open and closes this short poem repeating Margaret’s name he creates an alpha and omega image for the reader; Margaret is her beginning and her own end.

Perfection derived from mayhem would be an apt description of William Wordsworth’s “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood;” though perfection is not quite a befitting word to depict the pulchritude of this piece. This poem is both a reactionary piece, and a revelation of time, as the prefatory four stanzas were written at least two years prior to the latter seven. Through the chaos of its structure comes the beauty of one of Wordsworth’s most renowned poems. Following the aberrant nature of the Romantic poets, Wordsworth’s Ode is composed of eleven stanzas irregular in form, length, meter, and syntax.Though subtle in nature, this piece veraciously speaks the whispers of juvenescent truths as its title would suggest. “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” implies a dedication to the indications of eternal life, which from early childhood memories are stirred.

Wordsworth’s way of adorning a beautifully worded poem with familiar images and symbolic undertones helps this poem to outshine others of its like. Swathed in epiphanic universal tenets this Ode is all but trivial. In the first two short stanzas Wordsworth introduces his dilemma; the speaker has lost touch with the celestial light which once had bedecked his corporeal life. He expresses his ability to appreciate the natural beauties of daily life but knows “there hath past away a glory from the earth” (Wordsworth 18). Wordsworth identifies the poignancy in life’s realization when childhood innocence is lost. Left with lingering questions of his embryonic virtue’s transience he concludes the first portion of his poem asking “Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?” (Wordsworth 56-57). With his questioning, Wordsworth obliges the reader’s musing on the eternal poignancy of this forsakenness.

Two years time would pass before Wordsworth could conclude his enlightenment of the soul’s cyclic journey and the effect it has on man. He begins the fifth stanza with an intriguing metaphor: “our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting” (Wordsworth 58). Extended throughout the poem, the idea, that the soul pulls away from the glories of heaven as man ages, is not easy for the reader to grasp; thus Wordsworth explains “heaven lies about us in our infancy!” but with age heaven and its splendor “fade into the light of common day” (Wordsworth 76). The paradox, between the fading light of God and the overpowering light of daily life, is harsh but, comprehendible. As man grows closer to the natural earth he grows apart from the virtues of the ethereal heaven.

To explain the shift man weathers, Wordsworth discusses the ways sanguine children become mechanic by making plans and charts; man takes pride in learning organization but in the process slights imagination. He continues on to address a child directly “thou Eye among the blind,” metaphorically telling the boy he provides a virtuous vision to those who have outgrown a strong bond with glory (Wordsworth 111). Though this bond is fleeting, Wordsworth finds happiness in the idea that man is always questioning; he realizes “O joy! that in our embers / Is something that doth live, / That nature yet remembers / What was so fugitive!” there is a connection deep within every man that drives him to search for the truths of life (Wordsworth 129-132). His use of ABAB rhyme scheme, alternating iambs, and the metaphor of the soul to a fire that burns low and hot makes this passage stand out to the reader and bring forth Wordsworth’s optimism.

As he guides his reader through the climax of this Ode, Wordsworth incorporates heavy imagery and a more constant rhyme scheme. He explains that man cannot go back and relive the virtues of childhood but, will always have memories to bring him back to its glories:

Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
(Wordsworth 161-167)

He tells of how one is unable to experience these past memories but, can instead look back and observe the bliss of childhood as these recollections are immortal. Having recognized the joys that still are attainable he realizes his appreciation for the mortality of the somatic world. Though he no longer rolls as freely as the brook, he loves its beauty more than ever.

Wordsworth imparts the value of this brief life on earth. Man must not view life’s course as a race. He reminds the reader of life’s impermanence, alluding to the Corinthians which suggest there is no great prize for first place in life’s race. Instead man should give thanks; “Thanks to the human heart by which we live, / Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears, / To me the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears” (Wordsworth 200-203). Humanity blesses men with the power to treasure the meek and the ordinary, as long as man steps out of the race and stops to admire his surroundings.


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