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A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Cousin Nancy’

A reading of a short Eliot poem

‘Cousin Nancy’ appeared in T. S. Eliot’s first volume of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917. It is one of a series of poems included in the volume which satirise and analyse the stuffiness of New England society – in this case, by contrasting the thoroughly ‘modern’ Cousin Nancy with the more traditional attitudes of those around her. You can read ‘Cousin Nancy’ here.

‘Cousin Nancy’ describes the young woman of the title. There we come to our first problem. What evidence is there that she is young? Well, she is ‘Miss Nancy Ellicott’, but middle-aged and elderly women can be unmarried, too. Or is it the fact that her aunts are mentioned, thus making her seem younger? Or the fact that she is described doing very active things – striding across the New England hills, riding a horse across the hills, dancing the ‘modern dances’? A combination of these things, it would seem. Read the rest of this entry


A Short Analysis of Philip Larkin’s ‘Self’s the Man’

A reading of a Larkin poem

‘Self’s the Man’ was completed in November 1958, and was published in Philip Larkin’s third major poetry collection, The Whitsun Weddings, in 1964. In some ways it might be regarded as the lighter precursor to a more elusive later poem, ‘Sympathy in White Major’, which we’ve analysed here. But the present post constitutes some notes towards an analysis of ‘Self’s the Man’, which you can read here.

In summary, ‘Self’s the Man’ contrasts Larkin’s bachelorhood with the life of a married colleague, named Arnold, who is widely viewed as less selfish than the unmarried Larkin. Larkin begins by agreeing with this unspecified group of people who view Arnold as the less selfish one. Through marrying, Arnold has committed himself to a life devoted to other people, namely his wife and children. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’

A summary of a classic poem

There was a time when every schoolchild could quote lines from Thomas Gray’s poem ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, since it was a popular poem to be taught, learnt by rote, and analysed in schools in Britain. Gray’s poem gave Thomas Hardy the phrase ‘far from the madding crowd’ for use as the title of his fourth published novel; the phrase ‘paths of glory’ was used as the title for Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 anti-war film; and the phrase ‘mute inglorious Milton’ has become well-known. But in recent decades its popularity has declined. Is it still worth reading, studying, and subjecting to close analysis? Yes, yes, and yes. First, here’s a reminder of the text of ‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard’, before we move on to explain 1) why it isn’t an elegy, 2) why Gray didn’t want it published, and 3) how an obscure poet who died young helped to sow the seeds of this great poem.

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimm’ring landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds; Read the rest of this entry