A reading of a classic poem
‘The Scrutiny’ is a poem by Richard Lovelace (1617-57), one of the leading Cavalier poets of the seventeenth century. The poem is essentially a defence of ‘playing the field’ and a renunciation of the poet’s former declaration of faithfulness to his lover. Below is ‘The Scrutiny’ and a few words by way of analysis.
Why should you swear I am forsworn,
Since thine I vowed to be?
Lady, it is already morn,
And ’twas last night I swore to thee
That fond impossibility.
Have I not loved thee much and long,
A tedious twelve hours’ space?
I must all other beauties wrong,
And rob thee of a new embrace,
Could I still dote upon thy face. Read the rest of this entry
Ten of Chaucer’s greatest tales
Geoffrey Chaucer left his masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales, unfinished when he died in 1400, having completed only one-fifth of the projected undertaking. Nevertheless, he left 20-odd tales finished, some of which are somewhat longer than others. What are the ten best Canterbury Tales? Below are what we consider the greatest of the tales told by Chaucer’s pilgrims. If you want to read Chaucer’s vast classic but don’t know the best place to start, these are our recommendations. We’ve been unsure as to whether to link to handy online translations of the Canterbury Tales into modern English, or to link to original Middle English versions. So, we’ve compromised. The interlinear translations offered by Harvard contain a line-by-line translation below the original Middle English.
The Miller’s Tale. Perhaps the most famous – and best-loved – of all of the tales in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, ‘The Miller’s Tale’ is told as a comic corrective following the sonorous seriousness of the Knight’s tale. The tale is an example of the fabliau or comic skit, and concerns a lecherous young student at the University of Oxford, Nicholas, and his adulterous relationship with Alison, the young wife of an old carpenter. Flood warnings, farting, and frantic ark-building all ensue, in one of the great jewels in the comic crown of medieval literature. Read the rest of this entry
A summary of a classic Sidney poem
Astrophil and Stella is one of Elizabethan poetry’s finest achievements. In 108 sonnets and a handful of songs, Sir Philip Sidney produced the first sustained sonnet sequence in English (though not, contrary to popular belief, the very first). Sonnet 71, beginning ‘Who will in fairest book of nature know / How virtue may best lodged in beauty be’, is one of the best-known poems from the latter half of the sequence (many of the ‘greatest hits’ in Astrophil and Stella are found in the first forty or so sonnets). Here is Sonnet 71, along with some notes towards an analysis of this intriguing and deftly crafted poem.
Who will in fairest book of Nature know
How virtue may best lodged in beauty be,
Let him but learn of love to read in thee,
Stella, those fair lines which true goodness show.
There shall he find all vices’ overthrow,
Not by rude force, but sweetest sovereignty
Of reason, from whose light those night-birds fly;
That inward sun in thine eyes shineth so.
And not content to be perfection’s heir
Thyself, dost strive all minds that way to move,
Who mark in thee what is in thee most fair;
So while thy beauty draws the heart to love,
As fast thy virtue bends that love to good.
But, ah, Desire still cries: ‘Give me some food.’ Read the rest of this entry