William Blake’s “The Tyger” examines and challenges the biblical account of creation. Throughout the poem, Blake uses powerful fire and blacksmith imagery to evoke the idea formation. Furthermore the partially trochaic meter, formatted in rhyming couplets, mirrors the sing-song quality of a folktale or myth, again implicating genesis as a main theme in the poem. This focus on origins, however, is no more evident than in stanzas two and five, which allude to both the biblical and Miltonian account of creation and the fall of Satan (Blake was a great admirer of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”). These two stanzas, chalk full of satanic innuendo, and the overall ominous tone of the poem insist a darker more complicated view of creation. Blake evolves this idea by introducing the theme of duality. First of all, “The Tyger” is a dark and ominous companion piece to the much more lighthearted “The Lamb,” strengthening the image of two contradictory parts making up a whole. Duality can also be found in the poem’s meter, which blends trochaic and iambic feet in such away that it becomes difficult to discern the cadence of each line. Furthermore the accompanying illustration shows a tree, often a sign of life and perhaps an allusion to the tree of life, leafless and barren. Additionally, the tiger, described as having “fearful symmetry,” is wide-eyed and uncertain looking. These two paradoxical images help solidify Blake’s argument on creation. Traditionally, God is seen as our beneficent creator and Satan is portrayed as an irredeemable demon that introduced mankind to sin. But God created Satan, fully aware that Satan would betray him, just as God created the tiger, knowing the tiger would bring violence to the world. With “The Tyger” Blake suggests that God, because he created everything, good and evil, contains both good and evil.
William Blake’s “The Tyger” speaks to a truth about the duality of life. The poem, published in Blake’s “Songs of Experience,” is, itself, a dark and ominous companion piece to “The Lamb,” a much more lighthearted poem in Blake’s “Songs of Innocence.” Accompanying the theme of duel natures is the idea of intelligent design. Blake uses powerful fire and blacksmith imagery to invoke the idea of creation, but the ominous tone of the poem gives the image of creation a dark twist. Furthermore the trochaic meter mirrors the sing-song quality of a folktale or myth, further implicating genesis as a main theme in the poem. Nowhere is this focus on origins more evident than in stanzas two and five, which allude to both the Biblical and Miltonian account of creation and the fall of Satan (Blake was a great admirer of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”). In these stanza’s Blake questions whether God could have created the tiger, an animal of violence, and also the lamb, an animal of innocence, and further questions Satan’s role in creation. These arguments are further supported by Blake’s accompanying illustration for “The Tyger.” The tree, often a sign of life and perhaps an allusion to the tree of life or knowledge, is leafless and barren. Furthermore, the tiger, described as having “fearful symmetry” is wide-eyed and uncertain looking. These two paradoxical images further the idea of duality addressed throughout the poem and suggest that God, because he created all things good and evil, he himself contains both good and evil.
Again, we could chalk this up to hyperbole on the part of the speaker, but as we delve deeper into the sonnet, the irony seems to settle on a thematic point; the beauty of the city lies in its absence of man. On lines four and five the city is described as wearing the morning. But later in line five, the speaker calls the morning and the city “silent, bare” (5). In wearing the morning, the city becomes bare or naked. While initially contradictory, the observation begins to make sense. A city, especially one as populated as London, exists because of man. Men built it and men live in it. The city is an extension of mankind, so in a sense when it is filled with people, noise, and traffic, it is naked. It is what it was when it was created. But when the city is without man, it is no longer what it was born as. Instead it is masked in silence. Nature, personified in this poem through the earth and the sun, is the one that clothes it in silence. In a way, nature reclaims the city as its own every late night and early morning, masking it as a “valley, rock, or hill” (10). In just a few short hours while everyone is asleep, the city becomes part of the earth, reclaimed by nature. It becomes indistinguishable from the mountains or the forests or the oceans. It is just another landscape to behold. And it is beautiful. More beautiful than anything the speaker has seen.
William Wordsworth’s sonnet, “Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802,” is a deceptive piece. Taken at surface level, the sonnet reads merely as a beautiful description of London and the River Thames as seen from the Westminster Bridge. Wordsworth’s use of simple language, enjambment, metrical variation, and a dated title all lend themselves well to the interpretation that the poem is much like a journal entry; a spontaneous act of writing, spurned on by the speaker’s awe in discovering such a majestic sight. This analysis certainly holds water, but it is dangerous in that it fosters the simplistic view that the poem is only a sentimental description and nothing more. However, through the use of subtle ironies and paradoxes a secondary voice is created in the poem—one that questions the beauty of the city. For example, the use of romantic poetry to describe an urban setting is most unusual in that romantic poetry was used to celebrate natural settings, not manmade ones. Furthermore, the fact that the beauty of the urban setting is seen only in the absence of people is problematic. The ubiquitous presence of man is what defines an urban area, and finding beauty in a city where everyone is asleep, and therefore absent, seems counterintuitive. By giving earth and nature the credit for the beautiful and seemingly vacant city, Wordsworth suggests something radical. If the greatest beauty the earth has to offer is a city without men, then would not earth’s greatest beauty only be realized in the absence of mankind?
As in Milton’s style, Paradise Lost is riddled with enjambment, and in Book Four, while Satan is giving his soliloquy, Milton’s use of enjambment nicely complements Satan’s fleeting moment of regret by making Satan a more sympathetic character. Satan confronted by the glorious sun, is reminded, “from what state/[he] fell” (38 – 39). He begins to doubt his defiance of God when he says “What could be less than to afford him praise” (45) and on lines 55 to 57 goes on to conclude how his anger at being asked to continually show his gratefulness was not a burden because if he was truly grateful he would be “at once/Indebted and discharged” (56-57). This idea that Satan showed some hesitation on his path toward evil might be hard for some to accept, especially in Milton’s day. Satan is often portrayed as pure and irredeemably evil. By painting Satan in a more ambiguous, and grayer, light Milton completely flips the traditional characterization of Satan. To successfully do this Milton had to make Satan a more sympathetic character. By utilizing enjambment along with blank verse, Milton is able to create a tone for Satan’s soliloquy that almost resembles stream of consciousness. Satan speaking to himself, relives and reevaluates his actions. The tone of his speech, aided by enjambment, becomes very sincere, honest, and candid. By doing this, Milton takes a character that had been pegged as a flat, two-dimensional character, and creates a new dynamic personality that ultimately makes the devil’s origins more tragic and human, and therefore more relatable.
John Keats’ sonnet “When I Have Fears,” deals with the speaker coming to terms with mortality. The sonnet is written in Shakespearean form, with each quatrain discussing an anxiety the speaker has in regards to the fleetingness of time.
The first quatrain discusses the speaker’s fear that he may die, or “cease to be / Before [his] pen has gleaned [his] teeming brain” (1-2). Here the speaker introduces the idea of untapped potential when he initiates a network of imagery concerning abundance. The use of words like “teeming,” “high-piled,” “rich,” and “full-ripened” in the first stanza further this network of wealth. The speaker furthers this image by using the idea of a harvest as a metaphor for reaching one’s potential, in this case the speaker’s potential as a poet. Ultimately the speaker is attempting to convey the great wealth of poetry he feels he has yet untapped, and fears may never be fully exercised.
The second quatrain holds true to the overarching theme of futility in the face of time. The speaker introduces a new metaphor for writing poetry by comparing it to tracing clouds in the night sky. Again the speaker fears not being able to fully realize his potential as a poet, but the speaker also hints at a complimentary fear that complicates the speaker’s argument. The introduction of night sky and star imagery in line 5 and 6—“the night’s starred face” (5)— hints at the speakers desire for notoriety. While the speaker describes the figures in the night sky as “cloudy symbols of a high romance,” thus acknowledging the ambiguity and falseness of fame, the desire of the speaker for fame is still felt especially when the first quatrain is revisited and the ideas of abundance and untapped potential take on new meaning (6).
The third quatrain introduces the speaker’s beloved, and again the speaker laments over the transience of time, specifically with his beloved. The third quatrain actually ends early, as the turn comes half way through the fourth line to pave way for the ending couplet. The ending couplet introduces a huge turn in attitude of the speaker. The speaker has to this point spent the poem lamenting that time may make it impossible for him to reach his potential and gain fame or to love his beloved. The ending couplet looks at these fears in a new perspective: “I stand alone, and think / Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink” (13-14). The speaker decides that time and mortality will not only make his fears become realized, but time will also render love and fame meaningless. In coming to this conclusion the speaker has decided that his fears have no basis because the thing that was to cause his fears to come true—time—will also make the things he fears not acquiring—love and fame—pointless.
In the first stanza of The Sun Rising by John Donne, the speaker compares the sun to a human. The first line begins this personification with, “Busy old fool, unruly sun.” The speaker calls the sun a fool and unruly, two very human traits. And while the sun is obviously not human or conscience in anyway, unruly is a fitting descriptor in that it conveys the speaker’s frustration at his inability to control the sun. In the next two lines, the speaker poses a question to the sun, again furthering the conceit that the sun is a conscious person. When the speaker asks why the sun is calling on him and his lover to rise, the sun is further characterized as a nuisance. The use of the word “call” is particularly important because it makes the reader imagine that the sun is actually a person that has come to wake up the speaker and his lover. In line 5 the speaker continues in this vain, calling the sun a “Saucy pedantic wretch.” At this point the speaker has painted an image of the sun as hired help or a nurse. The use of verbs like call and chide and adjectives like unruly, saucy, and pedantic, cause the reader to imagine that the sun is like a maid rushing the speaker and his lover out of bed so that they may attend to their day. The speaker goes on to mock the sun as help, telling her to bother the “late school boys,” “sour” apprentices, and “huntsmen,” and to leave love(particularly the love between he and his lover) alone. The speaker ends the stanza by chastising the sun for trying to interrupt his love, much in the same way a master may chide his help for disturbing him. The speaker says that love doesn’t know any season, climate, or passage of time, and therefore cannot be dictated by the sun. In other words the sun, which is being compared to hired help, has no jurisdiction to tell the master what to do.
This conceit is very surprising given how the sun is usually discussed in poems. The sun is often held in high regards and given heavenly or celestial qualities. But Donne, compares the sun to a irritating person that has no true power of the speaker and his love. This is particularly effective, because as the conceit is developed the speaker is able to paint the sun as someone trying to wake the speaker up, which becomes a powerful image that later conveys the speakers assertion that love cannot be dictated by time, in this case the sun.
In Shakespeare Sonnet 116, two prominent networks of imagery are used to further the speaker’s argument that true love is a powerful and steadfast emotion that does not bend to the whims of men or time. One of these networks consists of strong sailor imagery. This network begins at line 5 where the running metaphor that love is “an ever-fixed mark” (5) like a “star to every wandering bark” (7) is created. This is a direct reference to Polaris, the North Star, often used by seamen in navigation. The seaman imagery continues with the mention of “tempests” and death’s “compass” on lines 6 and 10 respectively. The second network of imagery is one that evokes the passage of time within our human lives. This network begins modestly with the simple use of language like marriage and love. Line 3 and 4 also hint at this idea as they describe how someone or something tries to manipulate love. The network, however, begins in earnest on line 9 with the introduction of “Time” which is personified as Death. This network is further by the mention of time’s “sickle” on line 10 and the phrase “edge of doom” on line 12.
The two networks collide when the speaker admits that those who love will “within [Time’s] bending sickle’s compass come” (10). Here the sailor imagery returns with the use of the word compass. By using these two networks of imagery the speaker is able to articulate that, although we who love will at some point pass away, our love will live on in others’ memories and actions. Our love will act as a guide, like stars to a sailor. And similarly, long after a star dies but its light is still seen on earth, our love will shine past our death for years to come. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of these two networks of imagery reaches beyond describing the boundlessness of love, but also the inability to alter love. The speaker sees true love as unchanging and impregnable, even to death, like a star.
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