Notes towards a commentary on Tennyson’s allegory
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92) wrote two versions of ‘The Lady of Shalott’. Tennyson’s poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’ exists as both a 20-stanza poem published in 1832, and the revised version of 19 stanzas – which is the one readers are most familiar with – which was published in 1842. The poem, partly inspired by Arthurian legend (hence the presence of the knight, Lancelot) and partly by the epic sixteenth-century poem The Faerie Queene written by Edmund Spenser, remains popular, although the precise meaning of the poem remains elusive. So, a few words of analysis about this enchanting poem may help to clarify things.
The Lady of Shalott
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.
Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot. Read the rest of this entry
A commentary on one of the most famous war poems
‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ or, to give the phrase in full: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, Latin for ‘it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country’ (patria is where we get our word ‘patriotic’ from). The phrase originated in the Roman poet Horace, but in ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) famously rejects this idea. For Owen, who had experienced the horrors of trench warfare and a gas attack, there was nothing sweet, and nothing fitting, about giving one’s life for one’s country. Focusing in particular on one moment in the First World War, when Owen and his platoon are attacked with poison gas, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is a studied analysis of suffering and perhaps the most famous anti-war poem ever written.
Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, Read the rest of this entry
A commentary on Shakespeare’s 106th sonnet
‘When in the chronicle of wasted time’ is one of the more famous poems in Shakespeare’s cycle of 154 sonnets. Before we proceed to an analysis of the poem’s features, here’s a reminder of Sonnet 106.
When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have expressed
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing: Read the rest of this entry