A reading of a classic horror story
‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is a Gothic novel in miniature. All of the elements of the Gothic novel are here: the subterranean secret, the Gothic space (scaled down from a full-blown castle to a single room), the gruesome crime – even the hovering between the supernatural and the psychological. In just five pages, it’s as if Edgar Allan Poe has scaled down the eighteenth-century Gothic novel into a story of just a few thousand words. But what makes this story so unsettling? Closer analysis reveals that ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ centres on that most troubling of things: the motiveless murder. You can read the story here.
First, a brief summary of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. An unnamed narrator confesses that he has murdered an old man, apparently because of the old man’s ‘Evil Eye’ which drove the narrator to kill him. He then describes how he crept into the old man’s bedroom while he slept and stabbed him, dragging the corpse away and dismembering it, so as to conceal his crime. He goes to some lengths to cover up all trace of the murder – he even caught his victim’s blood in a tub, so that none was spilt anywhere – and then he takes up three of the floorboards of the chamber, and conceals his victim’s body underneath. But no sooner has he concealed the body than there’s a knock at the door: it’s the police, having been called out by a neighbour who heard a shriek during the night. Read the rest of this entry
A summary of a classic poem
‘Tithonus’ is not as famous as some of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s other dramatic monologues – ‘Ulysses’ enjoys considerably more popularity – but it is worth analysing because it offers something different from much other poetry. As the poet-critic William Empson put it, ‘Tithonus’ is ‘a poem in favour of the human practice of dying’, because the poem exposes the horrific reality of what it would be like to live forever.
The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan.
Me only cruel immortality
Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
A white-hair’d shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn.
Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man—
So glorious in his beauty and thy choice,
Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem’d
To his great heart none other than a God!
I ask’d thee, ‘Give me immortality.’
Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile,
Like wealthy men, who care not how they give.
But thy strong Hours indignant work’d their wills,
And beat me down and marr’d and wasted me, Read the rest of this entry
A reading of Blake’s classic poem
‘Jerusalem’ is one of the most famous hymns around, a sort of alternative national anthem for England. Yet the poem on which Hubert Parry based his hymn, although commonly referred to as ‘William Blake’s “Jerusalem”’, is actually from a much larger poetic work titled Milton a Poem and was largely ignored when it was published in 1804. It became well-known when it was set to music by Parry during the First World War (curiously, it was Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate and the one who got Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems into print, who suggested the idea to Parry). In this post, we’re going to delve deeper into the poem we know as ‘Jerusalem’, focusing on William Blake’s use of language.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills? Read the rest of this entry