A summary of a classic poem
‘One need not be a Chamber – to be Haunted’. So begins one of Emily Dickinson’s most striking poems. This poem requires close analysis because it presents an interesting nineteenth-century example of the internalisation of ‘spirits’ and the notion of ‘haunting’.
One need not be a Chamber—to be Haunted—
One need not be a House—
The Brain has Corridors—surpassing
Far safer, of a Midnight Meeting
Than its interior Confronting—
That Cooler Host. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a modern sonnet
‘Prayer’ is one of Carol Ann Duffy’s most popular and widely-studied poems, and packs an impressive emotional punch in just fourteen lines. But how does Duffy create such a powerful poem out of some very ordinary things – practising piano scales, or the BBC Shipping Forecast? We’re going to offer some notes towards an analysis of ‘Prayer’, which can be read here.
In summary, ‘Prayer’ locates the mystical or numinous experiences and feelings to be found in our everyday lives, especially at times when we feel despair or emptiness: the musical sound of the wind through the trees, someone practising musical scales on a piano, or the name of a lost child. A man hearing the sound of a train chugging across the landscape is suddenly reminded, unexpectedly, of his childhood, and his Latin lessons (the repetition of Latin vocabulary lessons, such as learning how to conjugate the verb, often has its own rhythm: e.g. in the famous example of ‘love’, amo, amas, amat). Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a chilling short story
Saki, real name Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916), was a master of the very short story, and as well as penning dozens of witty Edwardian short stories consisting of just a few pages, he also left us several short horror fiction masterpieces, of which ‘Gabriel-Ernest’ (1909) is probably the most famous and widely studied. The story, about a teenage boy who transforms into a werewolf and preys on small children, manages to appal and unsettle in just five pages of masterly storytelling. You can read ‘Gabriel-Ernest’ here.
As we revealed in our analysis of Saki’s ‘The Lumber-Room’, much of Saki’s fiction reads like a direct challenge to the Victorian notion that children are paragons of innocence. ‘Gabriel-Ernest’ is worthy of closer analysis because it explores a similar idea, but using Gothic horror fiction as its vehicle. But the story is still shot through with Saki’s characteristic wit and irony. It’s as if Oscar Wilde had been crossed with M. R. James or Bram Stoker. Indeed, Van Cheele, the owner of the woods in which Gabriel-Ernest hunts for his prey, is like a protagonist of an M. R. James ghost story in his refusal to believe the youth when he openly admits he feeds on children’s flesh. More of the wittiness of the story later. Read the rest of this entry