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Forum Home > Poetry > AQA's Love Through the Ages

Neil Bowen
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Extracts from our new critical quides to these poems will appear in this pages shortly. 

June 20, 2016 at 10:08 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

Extracts from The Art of Poetry vol. 5 on AQA's Love Poems Through the Ages, Post-1900 poems.


After the Lunch, Wendy Cope

 

Drama, trivia and confession

Why might someone, anyone, be afraid of falling in love? Celebrity magazines have a field day announcing who’s partnered up with who, and rom-coms usually conclude with a breath-taking demonstration of love. In light of this, it’s fair to say that falling in love has a certain amount of drama associated with it – and what if you’re a shy introvert? Falling in love also brings with it a great deal of vulnerability. After all, a person’s powerful feelings might not be reciprocated. Likewise, falling in love might not happen in the right place or at the right time, or with the right person! As this analysis will show, Wendy Cope adds to these thoughts and fears on falling in love.

 

Let’s take the poem’s title as a starting point. Why is it not simply ‘After Lunch’ or ‘After a Lunch’, but After the Lunch? Using the definite article (‘the’;) indicates that this was not any old lunch, but a momentous event. The fact that the poem begins ‘On Waterloo Bridge’ pursues this rather serious tone. After all, bridges in London are cultural icons – not only for tourists, but also settings for meaningful 0observations and encounters. William Wordsworth’s poem, Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, for example, depicts the beauty of London before its inhabitants have woken up. Waterloo Bridge is also the setting, and the title, of a popular romance film made in 1940 in which the bridge is crucial to the meeting of two lovers.

 

So what kind of momentous event does Cope represent?

 

On Waterloo Bridge, where we said our goodbyes

the weather conditions bring tears to my eyes.

I wipe them away with a black woolly glove

and try not to notice I’ve fallen in love

 

The fact these details are delivered by a first-person ‘I’ lends a certain confessional quality to this poem. This creates an intimacy with the reader, whilst also anticipating instances of self-dialogue that we’ll discuss later on. Cope’s language shifts from the significant – ‘goodbyes’ – to the commonplace and seemingly banal – ‘weather conditions’. Given the way the poem sets itself up in a rather sincere manner, the latter phrase appears more suitable for television forecasters. Why doesn’t Cope refer more lyrically to high winds or cold blasts? As it happens, this prosaic diction, or style of speech, deliberately undercuts the gravitas of the poem’s opening. This happens again in the final line of the quatrain (or four-line stanza) through another juxtaposition of the trivial with the dramatic. We try not to notice a fly buzzing around the room, or someone speaking in the library as we’re trying to read, but here the speaker tries not to notice that they’ve fallen in love! This change of scale – from the unimportant to a suddenly significant occurrence – comes as a surprise. It also encourages us to reconsider those ‘tears’ earlier in the stanza. Indeed, looking back it seems ‘the weather conditions’ might have just been an excuse, a cover up, for the embarrassment of crying.

 

June 21, 2016 at 11:27 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

 

 

An extract from The Art of Poetry vol. 4 on AQA's Love Poems Through the Ages, Pre-1900 poems

 

Ae Fond Kiss, by Robert Burns


That Burns imbues this love song with a strong Scots flavour, therefore, is simultaneously seductive and hostile: it bears the Scots features which the upper-classes had fetishised, while at the same time making deliberately alien a poem which at first appeared to be entirely personal, written in a letter to Maclehose, and including her nickname, ‘Nancy’. For example, though Burns uses just six different Scots words in the song, he calls on the most distinctly Scots word, ‘ilka’, at the most significant moment: the moment when he is wishing her ‘joy and treasure’. The subtext here seems to be, ‘Not much chance you’ll be finding ilka joy in Jamaica, idiot’. The song, moreover, is written to fit a specific tune, ‘Rory Dall’s Port’, a traditional Scots song which was composed by a blind harpist and bard of the Highlands, and belonged much more to Burns’ Ayrshire than Agnes’ Edinburgh, and much less the Jamaica she was sailing for. And the unusual metre of the song, which is trochaic tetrameter, four metrical feet of stress / unstress per line, seems to be a knowing reversal of the iambic pattern which is often said to be the natural cadence of English. In the very foundations of the song, then, in the very arrangement of the most basics building-blocks of verse, Burns is turning his back on England, on Anglicised Edinburgh society, and on the upper-class woman whom he had loved and who now was leaving him behind.

 

July 1, 2016 at 8:26 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

An extract from The Art of Poetry vol. 4 on AQA's Love Poems Through the Ages, Pre-1900 poems


To His Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell


 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that in the most common of all stories [the boy meets girl story] it is the boy who must insist on getting it on. All the while the innocent, naïve and prudish girl must instigate a great strategy of joyless and moral defence. Or so Andrew Marvell [pictured] would have you believe. And who could argue with that face; with that thinly veiled sneer of contempt; with that beautifully manicured moustache? ‘His Coy mistress’ is the answer to that particular question. She is seemingly oblivious to his various arguments for indulging in sensual/sexual pleasures and has compelled him to vent his frustrations into poetic form instead. What an inconsiderate young wench!


‘I’m So Hot For Her and She’s So Cold’

The poem is dominated by the male speaker, whose strong subjective persuasion finds its focus on the significant other in the poem: his ‘coy mistress’. This crucial adjective tells us much about the relationship itself. The stereotypical active male is laying siege to the defenses of the passive female, who fends off his advances through coyness. It epitomizes the age old struggle of seduction, where the wily female must preserve her honour while not alienating the male completely. Commonly associated with coquettish women, this coyness, when viewed from one end of the gender telescope may represent sexual frustration of the most infuriating kind, while viewed from the opposing end it’s an essential weapon in ensuring social respectability.


What Marvell cleverly constructs is an oppositional pairing or binary opposite of man – woman; active – passive; subject – object; heat – cold; risk – caution; realistic – idealistic. It smacks of the classic persuasive battles that we would still recognize today but also tells us something about the gender norms of the 17th century. There is a distinct feeling of space and difference and even separation between the speaker and the mistress throughout the poem, especially in the gothic darkness of the second stanza. Conveniently, the logical endpoint of both the poem and the speaker’s argument sees the two lovers become one [to utilize an overused pop cliché]. There is no longer a distinct sense of ‘You and ‘I’; instead it becomes a case of ‘Us’ and ‘We’. The result of such clever transformation from twoness to oneness, from separation to togetherness, is unclear. We never know whether coy becomes joy. Like Marvell, the reader is made to wait as the sensual drama of the poem is never resolved.


July 18, 2016 at 3:59 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

 

Extracts from The Art of Poetry vol. 5 on AQA's Love Poems Through the Ages, Post-1900 poems.


Meeting Point, by Louis MacNeice


A photograph and a film

Key to the success of the whole poem, of course, is the description and evocation of the spell of suspended animation. The poem introduces a number of variations of essentially the same image, of stasis:


• The stopped escalator

• The lovers ‘neither up nor down’

• The bell ‘silent in the air’

• The waiter who does not come

• The clock that has ‘forgot them’


Some images, and lines, are recycled, most obviously at the end of each stanza, but also through the body of the poem as a whole - ‘time was away and somewhere else’ and ‘the bell was silent in the air’. Bells are used to signal starts and ends, and this bell is held in suspension both at the start and at the end of the poem. Hence we develop the sense that we keep coming back to where we started, as if time has stopped. Or we’re caught in a sort of time loop. Each stanza, in cinquain form, also follows the same pattern - five lines with the same rhyme scheme, adding to the sense of going around the same loop. Moreover Time operates rather oddly in the poem; within the freeze frame bubble some things are in motion, such as the stream, the camels, the distant radio and the woman’s fingers. Hence Time is simultaneously stopped and moving. The static couple are simultaneously in a photograph and a film.

August 1, 2016 at 11:07 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

A Quoi Bon Dire, by Charlotte Mew


Same difference

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name may smell as sweet’, so says Shakespeare’s Juliet. However, the title of a poem is often carefully chosen by the poet, and it can change the meaning of the rest of a work - see, for example, September 11th, 2001 by David Herd. The title of a poem is the first thing that the reader encounters, and it creates a sense of expectation, setting the scene for the words that follow. A quoi bon dire translates from French as ‘What’s the good of speaking’. This is a daring move - the poem has barely begun, and Mew already seems to question its own value as a means of communication.


By giving a French title to her poem written in English, Mew makes a statement regarding the way in which the same thing can be said in many different ways, by different people, and using different words. And it is the poem insists the same thing. The poem expresses an apparent paradox; viz. that though the feeling of being in love may feel private, special and unique to particular lovers it is at the same time a universal experience, experienced here both by the narrator as well as by the representative ‘boy and girl’. And no matter the means of delivery, these feelings remain the same. Does this weaken the value of individual human expression and experience, if each experience or expression of love is never truly unique?


A theme of separation runs through the poem - separation between the narrator and their beloved, as well as between the couple and the rest of society. But there is a deeper, special connection between the former, one that perhaps even goes beyond death and between these them and the ‘boy and girl’. This is a poem that appears ambivalent about love, and about the role played by language in expressing it. However, the poem could also be read as seeking to validate and, indeed, celebrate a form of illicit, transgressive love. But we’ll come on to that later.

August 18, 2016 at 5:05 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

An extract from The Art of Poetry vol. 4 on AQA's Love Poems Through the Ages, Pre-1900 poems


No Sum Qualia Eram, by Ernest Dowson


For sentimental reasons

If it’s possible to be more infamous than famous then Ernest Dowson is more infamous than famous. His infamy is due in part to people like the contemporary poet, Arthur Symons, saying things like, ‘Without a certain sordidness in his surroundings he was never quite comfortable, never quite himself,’ and going on about his terrible drinking / predilection for prostitutes / so forth. And it’s due in part to his paedophilic infatuation with a Polish girl called Adelaide ‘Missie’ Foltinowicz, owner of the world’s sassiest nickname and eleven-year-old child (when E.D. first met her), who was, understandably, very adverse to the idea and ended up marrying a tailor. But Dowson, the massive creep / old romantic, found it pretty hard to move on, and the sentimental ache which pervades lots of his poetry is often put down to the loss of this Adelaide.


Non sum qualis…, whose ‘Cynara!’ is often read as an Adelaide-cipher, is up there with his very most sentimental, one of the works which crowns him as the Victorians’ undisputed king of yearning. ‘Last night, ah, yesternight…,’ for starters, has to be top ten most wistful openings to anything ever: the speaker only gets two words in before he heaves this big, nostalgic sigh, ‘ah’, which you think for a moment might be, ‘aye’, as in, ‘yes’, as in, ‘Last night, yes, yesternight’, but which you realise is, yes, just a heavy, transcribed exhalation of longing. Plus poems or songs re. ‘Last night’ or ‘Last summer’ or ‘Yesterday’ have a tendency to be pretty wistful (see: Paul McCartney). Dowson’s opening is particularly so because a) it reiterates the ‘Last night’ sentiment within the first four words (‘Last night’ / ‘yesternight’;), and b) ‘yesternight’ was, by 1891, when this poem first appeared, already quite archaic. It’s as if Dowson is trying to talk his way back into the past, or haul the past into the present, or both.

August 28, 2016 at 9:16 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

The Ruined Maid, Thomas Hardy  


So appalled was he by the critical reception of his latest novel, Jude the Obscure in 1894 that the novelist Thomas Hardy resolved to quit the form and turn instead to poetry. The novel’s loss was poetry’s gain. Though Hardy is famous for a series of great novels that stand alongside the work of Charles Dickens and George Eliot as the cream of Victorian Literature, he has also been as influential as a poet. Indeed a line from his work runs back and forward through the heart of English poetry. As we shall see, The Runied Maid highlights both sides of Hardy’s literary skills, creating a vivid scene with dialogue, chararcter and costume and setting this within the frame of a regular poetic form.


Why were contemporary readers so horrified by Jude? You’ll have to read this great, angry book to find out the full answer, but, basically it was because Hardy’s novels confronted head-on some of the worst iniquities and most crippling hypocrises of Victorian society. His lowly protagonists struggle heroically under the crushing weight of a moralistic and judgemental, hypocritical and often immoral society. In particular Hardy’s novels excoriate Victorian society for its hypocritical ideas about class and gender. Perhaps his most famous novel, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, for instance, is the story of a supposedly ‘fallen’ woman, outcast from society because a man forced himself upon her before she was married. But the novel carries a crucial secondary part of the title which reveals Hardy’s own attitude: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. The poem before us follows a similar pattern, with the initial impression we might form developing into a reading more sympathetic to the plight of its emblematic female protagonist.

September 6, 2016 at 5:04 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

Wild Oats, Philip Larkin


The [lack of] passion of lovers

The most significant aspect of the relationship between Larkin and Bowman is the way that Larkin depicts it in terms of quantities and transactions, rather than emotions. Look how many references there are to numbers: ‘about twenty years’; ‘two girls’; ‘seven years after that’; ‘over four hundred letters’; ‘gave a ten-guinea ring’; ‘numerous cathedral cities’; ‘I met beautiful twice’; ‘about five attempts’; ‘two snaps’. It’s as if Larkin has kept a tally of what he has done and how much he has spent during the years he and Bowman were together. His focus is firmly on what he has done: he took her out, wrote her letters and gave her a ring. You can almost imagine him calculating what he must be owed in return. We imagine, perhaps, that he hope he’s earnt some wild oats. If this makes Larkin seem resentful and miserly, then this is clearly a deliberate ploy, because he’s not afraid to draw attention to his own inadequacy. There’s a clear example of this at the end of the second stanza, when we’re reminded that the ‘bosomy rose’ is not a fantasy figure glimpsed from afar, but a real presence who is therefore able to make Larkin perfectly aware of what she thinks of him. Larkin’s statement that ‘I believe / I met beautiful twice’ is both succinct and brilliantly expressive, its mock-casual ‘I believe’ balanced by the dryness of ‘beautiful’. Her mocking rejection of Larkin – ‘She was trying / Both times (so I thought) not to laugh’ – underlines his awareness that in her eyes, he is a faintly ridiculous figure. Poor Larkin: not only does he know that he isn’t good enough for ‘bosomy rose’, but she does as well, and he knows that she does. If Wild Oats is a self-portrait, it’s one that looks the poet’s failings right in the eye.

September 21, 2016 at 3:42 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

Like buses you wait for ages and suddenly three come at once. Last night BBC 2 rolled out an evening of poetry programmes. One of the AQA poets, Michael Symmons Roberts appears in 'Railway Nation: A Journey in Verse':

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07yc9mq/railway-nation-a-journey-in-verse

October 2, 2016 at 6:03 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

A v. short, but sweet review of our new 'Love Through the Ages' critical guide: 


"Great book, really useful." 5 *.


Thanks.

October 31, 2016 at 5:10 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

For my Lover, Anne Sexton


'Littleneck clams out of season’


The poem’s imagery develops an antithesis, contrasting the female narrator character with the other female, the wife. But it is a lopsided comparison; far more of the imagery concerns the wife than the narrator, who seems more concerned with her rival than she is with the virtually invisible male character. Initially the love rival is described in a way that suggests she is the perfect model wife, ‘melted carefully down’ for her husband and ‘cast up’; dehumanised, she is malleable marriage material. We are not told who has done this melting, but the care with which it is done, suggests the wife may has been hand-picked as a suitable match. She is also, improbably, ‘all harmony’ which suggests a sweet wifely nature. Other imagery signals, however, that this character is not merely a sort of living doll wife. The wife is also not entirely associated with domesticity; she ‘sees to oars’ of the marriage ‘dinghy’, a metaphor that suggest movement and potentially adventure. She can be exciting and dangerous, like ‘fireworks’ and though manufactured she is real, not synthetic, like a ‘cast-iron pot’. We talk about ‘cast-iron’ guarantees, things you can utterly rely upon and this image implies solidity. It’s not a flattering description, though, is it, particularly if we think in terms of physique. It’s hard to imagine any woman welcoming being compared to a pot. Ditto for being compared to a ‘monument’.


For much of the poem it seems, at least on the surface, that the narrator rather admires the wife. She describes her rival as ‘exquisite’, as romantic [setting ‘wild flowers at the window’], as having produced beautiful children [‘three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo’], as maternal and indefatigable. The description seem generous, rising above jealously, to acknowledge the other woman’s qualities, even how they surpass the narrator’s own: ‘She is all there’ and ‘she has always been there’ compares favourably to ‘I have been momentary’ and there is the direct comparison in the other woman’s favour of ‘she is more than that’.

November 1, 2016 at 12:59 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

The Scrutiny, Richard Lovelace 


Richard Lovelace has a surname ideal for his poem. Lovelace – pronounced Loveless – pronounces a rejection of one type of love for another and resents the stranglehold of romantic love itself. Like his rather interesting title of ‘Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary’ Richard seems obliged to perform a type of sexual servitude in this poem that is neither extraordinary or exciting. And truth be told, he’s not very happy about it! Unsurprisingly, for a man ‘much admired and adored by the female sex’, Lovelace has quite a common blokey solution to his problem: leave and come back later. The Scrutiny, unfortunately, does not take an enlightened approach to gender relations -hardly a surprise given its genesis in 1642. Love’s for girls This short poem has a pretty direct message for its reader: men need variety before settling down. It neglects to consider what women need at all, apart from a sly insinuation that women’s insistence on monogamy gets in the way of natural desires. The poem begins with a stinging rhetorical question that paints his ‘lady’ as a clinging constraint; her insistence that he ‘swear’ he is hers alone has drawn a petulant response. The speaker’s statement that ‘it is already morn’ suggests that time is going quite slow for our impatient and inconstant lover. His description of pledging monogamous loyalty is described as a ‘fond impossibility’ where the adjective ‘fond’ seems to carry more negativity than usual. Here it suggests a sentimental simplicity at odds with the male’s desire for a more fulfilling love life. Connecting this to the title, it’s a ‘scrutiny’ of his intentions that our speaker clearly detests. Lovelace has a surname ideal for his poem. Lovelace – pronounced Loveless – pronounces a rejection of one type of love for another and resents the stranglehold of romantic love itself. Like his rather interesting title of ‘Gentleman Wayter Extraordinary’ Richard seems obliged to perform a type of sexual servitude in this poem that is neither extraordinary or exciting. And truth be told, he’s not very happy about it! Unsurprisingly, for a man ‘much admired and adored by the female sex’, Lovelace has quite a common blokey solution to his problem: leave and come back later. The Scrutiny, unfortunately, does not take an enlightened approach to gender relations -hardly a surprise given its genesis in 1642.


Love’s for girls

This short poem has a pretty direct message for its reader: men need variety before settling down. It neglects to consider what women need at all, apart from a sly insinuation that women’s insistence on monogamy gets in the way of natural desires. The poem begins with a stinging rhetorical question that paints his ‘lady’ as a clinging constraint; her insistence that he ‘swear’ he is hers alone has drawn a petulant response. The speaker’s statement that ‘it is already morn’ suggests that time is going quite slow for our impatient and inconstant lover. His description of pledging monogamous loyalty is described as a ‘fond impossibility’ where the adjective ‘fond’ seems to carry more negativity than usual. Here it suggests a sentimental simplicity at odds with the male’s desire for a more fulfilling love life. Connecting this to the title, it’s a ‘scrutiny’ of his intentions that our speaker clearly detests.

November 2, 2016 at 12:52 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2016/nov/21/poem-of-the-week-meeting-point-by-louis-macneice

November 22, 2016 at 5:50 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
Administrator
Posts: 921

An extract from The Art of Poetry vol. 4 on AQA's Love Poems Through the Ages, Pre-1900 poems



Whoso List to Hunt, Sir Thomas Wyatt


Fear and loathing in the Tudor court


Main things Thomas Wyatt is known for now: very important contributions to English poetry, esp. introducing the sonnet form to England. Main things Thomas Wyatt was known for during his life: being an ambassador for Henry VIII / petitioning the Pope re. annulling Henry’s first marriage / getting imprisoned a minimum of twice / having a [rumoured] affair with Anne Boleyn and then watching her get her head cut off. The poetry too, but not so much. No one printed a word of his poems until fifteen years after he died, when Richard Tottel printed 97 of them in the runaway success, ‘Songes and Sonnettes’, a.k.a., ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’. So in the absence of any royalty cheques, with poems circulating exclusively around small networks of readers in letters or manuscripts, Wyatt made his living as a professional politician, a courtier, an attendant on the King whose demands he fulfilled, we can infer from the poems, with a mixture of loyalty and resentment.


For the court of Henry VIII was not a cheerful, open place, but a place of secrecy, betrayal, scheming and fear. Free expression was generally only encouraged in so far as it coincided with the opinions of the King, and the opinions of the King were liable to change quickly and without warning [see: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard]. Wyatt was twice sent to the Tower on dubious charges of treason, and saw several friends go the same way as Anne [viz. beheading], and this heavy atmosphere of suspicion and duplicity informed not only the way he conducted himself at court, but also his poetry. Wyatt’s verses, as such, are complex weavings of personal revelation and poetic concealment, unspeakable confessions masked in metrics, and none seem more dangerous than Whoso List to Hunt.


The poem is a reworking of Rime 190, Una candida cerva, by the Italian sonnet-master Petrarch, who was a Renaissance poet, one of the founders of Humanism, and who formed the basis for modern Italian literature, along with Boccaccio and Dante. The Petrarchan sonnet, which bears his name, is a strict poetic form of 14 lines, divided into an octave [eight lines] and a sestet [six]. In Petrarch’s Rime 190, a white and golden-horned doe appears to the speaker at the confluence of two rivers, inspiring him to ‘leave every task’ and follow it, just as the twelve apostles did with Jesus. It is one of many translations of Petrarch’s sonnets which Wyatt composed, but, as is the case with most of them, and especially with Whoso List to Hunt, ‘translation’ is less the word than ‘transformation’, since his poems differ so dramatically [in language and tone and even narrative] from Petrarch’s originals. The dominant feeling of Whoso List…, for example, is less the ecstatic wonder of Rime 190 than bitter defeat: Wyatt’s speaker has long pursued the ‘hind’ and, though ‘wearied’ of ‘mind’ and body, ‘Fainting’ as he follows, finds that he is still one ‘of them that farthest cometh behind’. It has been a waste of time and energy, a ‘vain travail’, and, resigning the chase, he solicits any who may ‘list to hunt’ to do so, for he has the strength ‘no more’.


The sonnet’s first eight lines, its octave, bear almost no resemblance to those of Una candida cerva, but the connection between the poems becomes more obvious in the sestet, the final six, where Wyatt adopts Petrarch’s unmistakable symbol of the collar, ‘graven with diamonds’, around the deer’s ‘fair neck’. But even here Wyatt conspires to deviate from his model: though the legend on both collars begins, ‘Do not touch me’ [with Wyatt’s in the Latin, ‘Noli me tangere’], T.W. scraps Petrarch’s ‘It has pleased my Caesar to make me free’ in favour of the far more sinister ‘for Caesar’s I am’. It’s the possessive and threatening tone of these words + the knowledge of Henry VIII’s sexual acquisitiveness and jealousy + the fact that hunting was such a common metaphor for courtly courtship + Wyatt’s rumoured romantic affection for Anne Boleyn that has led many to conclude that Whoso List to Hunt is a cloaked confession of the poet’s frustrated attempts to woo the object of the King’s affection [or, at least, lust]. For Henry was England’s ‘Caesar’. And any woman to whom he laid claim was no longer, to extend the hunting metaphor, fair game.

December 11, 2016 at 12:49 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

Dr Oliver Tearle's poetry seminar will take place here at 7pm on the 28th Feb. 


February 26, 2017 at 12:36 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Posts: 921

The Flea, John Donne


Imagine to your surprise/ delight/ horror you have been asked to write a new biography of the brilliant and revolutionary metaphysical poet John Donne. How might you start your first chaper? Perhaps it would handy to have a brief outline of Donne’s life with which to work.


Undone

Born into a Catholic family in the late sixteenth century, Donne was a prodigously bright boy sent to Oxford University aged just twelve. Being a Catholic he could not, however, graduate, but this did not stop him progressing to Lincoln’s Inn law school in London to train as a lawyer. During and after his time at studying Law, Donne seems to have led a rather rakish and profligate life. According to wikipedia, for instance, he ‘spent much of his considerable inheritance on women, literature, pastimes and travels’. After law school Donne travelled to Spain and probably fought alongside the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh in the battle of Cadiz. Things were, it appeared, going very well for the young, talented, ambitious John Donne. By 25 he had been appointed secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, the most senior lawyer in the land.


However, now things took a turn for the romantic. Donne fell in love with the aristocratic Anne More, Sir Thomas’s ward. Despite the fact that, socially, she was completely out of his league and despite the fact that Donne had written racily about his many relationships with women, Anne and he became lovers and, without the consent of her parents,a few years later the couple were married in secret. As John Stubbs writes in Donne the Reformed Soul, the marriage was an incredibly bold and daring act: ‘The lovers had defined themselves against every social and marital convention in the land’. Unsurprisingly, upon discovery of the marriage Donne was sacked from his job. Worse, he was arrested and incarcerated in the Fleet prison. As the poet succinctly commented at the time, ‘John Donne, Anne Donne, undone’.


It took years for Donne to haul his life and career back on track. But by 1615 he had renounced his Catholicism, converted and been ordained into the Church of England. And completing his ascent back up the slippery slope of English society, in 1621 he was made Dean of St. Pauls Cathedral, one of the most senior and distinguished posts in the Church of England.

March 4, 2017 at 12:50 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Dr Tearle's seminar will take place here at 7pm.

March 29, 2017 at 3:58 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Oliver Tearle
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Posts: 76

Hi, Dr Oliver Tearle of Loughborough University here. I'm a lecturer in English and run the literary blog Interesting Literature. I thought we'd discuss a couple of poems from 'Love Through the Ages' this evening: Ernest Dowson's 'Non sum qualis eram' (the 'Cynara poem') and Tony Harrison's 'Timer'.

March 29, 2017 at 2:00 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Neil Bowen
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Evening Oliver and everyone else...

March 29, 2017 at 2:02 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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