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Poetry – what does it mean?
These lessons have been adapted from Sound and Sense, Eighth Edition by Laurence Perrine and Thomas R. Arp.
Lesson One - Connotation:
Denotation is the dictionary meaning of a word. Connotation is what the word suggests beyond it literal meaning: its overtone of meaning. It acquires these connotations from its past history and associations, from the way and the circumstances in which it has been used. The word home, for instance by denotation means only a place where one lives, but by connotation it suggests security, love, love, comfort and family. The words childlike and childish both mean “characteristic of a child,” but childlike suggests meekness, innocence, and wild-eyed wonder, while childish suggests pettiness, willfulness, and temper tantrums. Examine the following:
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take 5
Without oppress of toll.
How frugal is the chariot
That bears the human soul!
Underline the words in the poem that seem to have suggestive connotation. Did you choose words such as: frigate, lands, coursers, prancing, oppress, frugal, chariot, and soul? Looking closer at the words chosen, how would the poem change if we substituted the more traditional words for the words Dickinson used? What about steamship for frigate? Or miles for lands? Or horses for coursers? What about car for chariot? Or cheap for frugal? Finally, how is the word prancing particularly appropriate for both poetry and coursers?
By William Shakespeare
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young, 5
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue;
On both side this is simple truth supprest.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust *
And wherefore say not I that I am old? 10
Oh, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.
Read Shakespeare’s sonnet through a couple of times, then answer the following questions:
1. How old is the speaker of the poem? How old is his beloved? What is the nature of their relationship?
2. How is the contradiction in line 2 to be resolved? How is the one in lines 5-6 to be resolved? Who is lying to whom?
3. How do “simply”(7) and “simple” (8) differ in meaning? The words “vainly” (5), “habit” (11), “told” (12) and “lie” all have double denotative meanings. What are they?
4. What is the tone of the poem? Should line 11 be taken as an expression of (a) wisdom, (b) conscious rationalization, or (c) self-deception? In answering these questions consider both the situation and the connotations of all the important words from “swears” (1) and ending with “flattered” (14).
1. Which word in each group has the most “romantic” connotation?
a. horse, steed, nag
b. king, ruler, tyrant, autocrat
c. Chicago, Pittsburgh, Samarkind, Birmingham
2. Which word in each group is the most emotionally connotative?
a. female, parent, mother, dam
b. offspring, children, progeny
c. brother, sibling
3. Arrange the words in each group from most positive to most negative in connotation:
a. skinny, thin, gaunt, slender
b. prosperous, loaded, moneyed, opulent
c. brainy, intelligent, eggheaded, smart
4. Which of the following should you be less offended at being accused of?
a. having acted foolishly
b. having acted like a fool
5. In any competent piece of writing, the possibly multiple denotations and connotations of the words used are controlled by context. The context screens out irrelevant meanings while allowing the relevant meanings to pass through. What denotation has the word fast in the following contexts?
Fast runner, fast color, fast living, fast day?
6. In the following examples the denotation for the word white remains the same, but the connotations differ. Explain.
a. The young princess had blue eyes, golden hair, and a breast as white as snow.
b. Confronted with the evidence, the young princess turned as white as a sheet.
Practice with Imagery: (If you do not know what imagery is, or any other term is in this booklet – look it up!!!!)
Read the following poems. Look specifically for examples of imagery. Then answer the questions that follow the poems.
The gray see and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow, 5
And quench its speed i’ the slushy sand.
Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And a blue spurt of a lighted match. 10
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!
Round the cape of a sudden came the sea,
And the sun looked over the mountain’s rim;
And straight was a path of gold for him,
And the need of a world of men for me.
1. What is the situation in the first poem? What senses are evoked in the poem? What lines evoke those senses?
2. Who is the speaker of the poem? What is the tone? How does the tone shift from the first poem to the second poem?
3. In line three of the second poem the word “him” refers to the sun. Does the last line mean that the lover needs the world of men or that the world of men needs the man? Or both?
4. In the second poem, does the sea actually come suddenly around the cape or appear to? Why does Browning mention the effect before its cause (the sun looking over the mountain’s rim)?
5. Do these poems, taken together, suggest any larger truths about love? Browning, in answer to a question, said that the second part is the man’s confession of “how fleeting is the belief (implied in the first part) that such raptures are self-sufficient and enduring- as for the time they appear.
Remember imagery is a great way to evoke vivid experiences, and since it may be used to convey emotion and suggest ideas as well as to cause a mental reproduction of sensations it is a valuable tool to a poet.
Practice: Read the following poem and analyze its use of imagery.
A narrow fellow in the grass
Occasionally rides –
You may have met him? Did you not,
His notice instant is:
The grass divides as with a comb, 5
A spotted shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your feet
And opens further on.
He likes a boggy acre,
A floor too cool for corn, 10
But when a boy, and barefoot,
I more than once at noon
Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash
Unbraiding in the son,
When, stopping to secure it, 15
It wrinkled, and was gone.
Several of nature’s people
I know, and they know me;
I feel for them a transport
Of cordiality; 20
But never met this fellow,
Attended or alone,
Without a tighter breathing
And zero at the bone.
1. The subject of this poem is never named. What is it? How does the imagery identify it?
2. The last two lines might be paraphrased as “without being frightened.” Why is Dickinson’s wording more effective?
3. Who is the speaker? What is the tone?
4. The word “transport” (19) has two meanings: convey and joy. Which denotation does Dickinson mean to use here? The word “rides” (2) has three meanings: travels, trips, and annoys. Which meanings can we infer from the context of the poem?
5. Find three other figures of speech in the poem. Identify them and explain the author’s purpose for their use.
Practice with similes: Read the following poems. Look specifically for examples of simile. Then answer the questions that follow the poems.
With what attentive courtesy he bent
Over his instrument;
Not as a lordly conquerer who could
Command both wire and wood,
But as a man with a loved woman might, 5
Inquiring with delight
What slight essential things she had to say
Before they started, he and she, to play.
1. What two things are being compared in the poem? What word brings the figurative and literal terms together? Explore the comparison. That is, how does the use of the simile illuminate the comparison?
2. Look at the last line. What is the author implying with the word “play”?
3. Examine the phrase “slight essential.” (7) What figure of speech do you see? What is the author’s purpose here?
4. What is the relationship between the guitarist and his guitar? What is the purpose of the poem (note the poem does not have a theme)?
Practice with metaphors: Metaphors may take one of four forms, depending on whether the literal and figurative terms are respectively named or implied.
Read the following poems. Look specifically for examples of implied and named metaphors. Then answer the questions that follow the poems.
Life the hound
Comes at a bound
Either to rend me
Or to befriend me. 5
I cannot tell
The hound’s intent
Till he has sprung
At my bare hound
With teeth or tongue. 10
Meanwhile I stand
And wait the event.
1. What is the named metaphor?
2. What does equivocal (2) mean? Explain how this is the key word in the poem? What is the effect of placing it on a line by itself?
It sifts from leaden sieves
It powders all the wood.
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.
It makes an even face 5
Of mountains and of plain –
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.
It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it rail by rail 10
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It deals celestial veil
To stump and stack and stem –
A summer’s empty room –
Acres of joints where harvests were, 15
Recordless, but for them.
It ruffles wrists of posts
As ankles of a queen,
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been. 20
1. The poem consists essentially of a series of metaphors having the same literal term identified only as “It.” What is “It”?
2. In several of these metaphors the figurative term is named. – “alabaster wool” (3), “fleeces” (11), and “celestial veil” (12) Create a sentence for each of these lines, paraphrasing so that the comparisons are obvious.
3. In lines 1-2 and 17-18 both the figurative and the literal metaphors are implied. To what is “It” compared to in these lines?
4. Explain the following metaphors from the poem. “Leaden sieves” (1), “even face” (5), “unbroken forehead” (7), “summers empty room” (14), and “artisans” (19).
Practice with personification and apostrophe (addressing someone absent or dead or something nonhuman as if that person or thing were present and alive and could reply to what is being said.)
Read the following poems. Look specifically for examples of personification and apostrophe. Then answer the questions that follow the poems.
Joy and Temperance and Repose
Slam the door on the doctor’s nose.
1. Of what old adage does this short poem remind you?
2. What is being personified?
Western wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ! If my love were in my arms.
And I in my bed again!
1. Paraphrase the first two lines. What do you think the speaker’s situation is?
2. What is the connection between the first two lines and the second two lines?
3. What literary term is being used here?
Practice with synecdoches and metonymies (the use of something closely related for the thing actually meant) are alike in that both substitute some significant detail or aspect of an experience for the experience itself. When Shakespeare says that the cuckoo’s song is unpleasing to a “married ear” he is using synecdoche. However, when Terrence advises “fellows whom it hurts to think” to “Look into the pewter pot/To see the world as the world is not,” he is using metonymy because he says pewter pot he actually means ale in the pot.
Read the following lines and identify each as a synecdoche or a metonymy.
1. “yellow cuckoo birds paint the meadows with delight.”
2. “a catalogue of domes” – meaning enough domes to fill a catalogue.
3. “hippocratic eye”
4. “malt does more than Milton can/To justify God’s ways to man”
5. describing a young boy holding up his cut hand, “as if to keep/The life from spilling out.”
Identify the following quotations as either figurative or literal. If figurative, explain what is being compared to what and explain the appropriateness of the comparison. Example: “Talent is a cistern; genius is a fountain.’ Answer: metaphor. Talent=cistern; genius = fountain. Talent exists in finite supply; it can be used up. Genius is inexhaustible, ever renewing.
1. O tenderly the haughty day/ Fills his blue urn with fire. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
2. It is with words as with sunbeams – the more they are condensed the deeper they burn. – Robert Southey
3. The pen is mightier than the sword. – Edward Bulwer-Lytton
4. The strongest oaths are straw/To the fire i’ the blood. – William Shakespeare
5. The Cambridge ladies…live in furnished souls. – e.e. cummings
6. Dorothy’s eyes, with their long brown lashes, looked very much like her mothers. – Laetitia Johnson
7. The tawny-hided desert crouches watching her. – Francis Thompson
8. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die. – Isaiah 22:13
Practice: Read the following poem, looking for imagery, similes, metaphors, personifications, apostrophe, synecdoche and metonymy. Answer the questions at the end of each poem.
Small and emptied woman you lie here a thousand years dead
your hands on your diminished loins flat in this final bed
teeth jutting from your unwound head your spiced bones black and dried,
who knew you and kissed you and kept you and wept when you died;
died you young had you grace? Risus sardonicus1 replied. 5
Then quick I seized my husband’s hand while he stared at his bride.
1 a coined Latin phrase such as might appear on the identification label for a specimen in a natural history museum: it means “sardonic laughter.”
1. Identify and of the above mentioned figures of speech.
2. What different denotations has “quick” (6)?
3. What, specifically, is “the small and emptied woman”?
4. What is the purpose of the poem? (In this case, the point of the poem.)
5. What are the possible sardonic replies to the speaker’s questions?
6. What feelings are expressed in the last line? What meaning has the last line? Who is the “bride”?
7. Why did the poet use a stream of consciousness style of structure?
On Reading Poems to a Senior Class at South High
I opened my mouth
I noticed them sitting there
as orderly as frozen fish
in a package. 5
Slowly water began to fill the room
though I did not notice it
till it reached
and then I heard the sounds 10
of fish in an aquarium
and I knew that though I had
tried to drown them
with my words
that they had only opened up 15
like gills for them
and let me in.
Together we swam around the room
like thirty tails whacking words
till the bell rang 20
a hole in the door
where we all leaked out
They went to another class
I suppose and I home 25
where Queen Elizabeth
my cat met me
and licked my fins
till they were hands again.
1. Identify the figures of speech in the poem. State the purpose of the figures of speech in the poem.
2. The word “puncturing” in the fourth stanza occupies an entire line by itself. Why?
3. How is the allusion particularly effective for this poem?
4. Identify the speaker and the tone of the poem.
5. What is the occasion of the poem? The purpose?
Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjur'd, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight; 5
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had,
Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme; 10
A bliss in proof, and prov'd, a very woe;
Before, a joy propos'd; behind, a dream.
All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.
1. Identify the figures of speech in the poem. State the purpose of the figures of speech in the poem.
2. Identify the structure of the poem? What is the topic of the poem? If your answer is a single word, expand it into a phrase.
3. The poem changes tense from future to present to past. Comment on the author’s purpose for this changing tense.
4. Shakespeare uses an anaphora in lines 6 and 7. Why?
5. What is the purpose of the poem? Is the problem Shakespeare is commenting on still valid in our time? Why or why not?
Figurative language (3)
Practice with symbols: image, metaphor and symbol can shade into each other and can sometimes be difficult to distinguish. In general, an image means only what it is, the figure in a metaphor means something other than what it is, and a symbol means more than what it is. A symbol, that is, functions on both the literal and the figurative level. For example, if I say, “The dirty brown dog is scratching his back on the fence,” I am using imagery. If, instead I say, “The dirty dog stole my wallet,” I am using a metaphor, because the dog really isn’t a dog. However, if I say, “You can’t teach an old dog a new trick,” since the dog is a dog, but also represents more than the dog, I am using a symbol.
Read the following poems. Look specifically for examples of symbols. Then answer the questions that follow the poems.
A noiseless patient spider,
I marked where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Marked how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launched forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. 5
And you, O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be formed, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul. 10
1. Identify the personification in line 1, the hyperbole (overstatement) in line 3, the apostrophe, and the paradox in line 6. Comment on the author’s purpose for these figures of speech.
2. Comment on the symbol. In what way does it add to the poem? Can the human soul connect the celestial spheres?
3. In what way are the spider and the soul contrasted? What does the contrast contribute to the meaning of the symbol?
4. Can the questing soul represent human actions other than the search of spiritual certainties?
The Sick Rose
O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed 5
Of crimson joy,
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
1. What figures of speech do you find in this poem in addition to symbol? How do they contribute to the force or meaning of the poem?
2. Identify and interpret the following symbols: the rose, the worm, the night, the storm, the bed, crimson joy.
3. Blake was well versed in Milton’s Paradise Lost in which the worm is linked not only with death, but with the “undying worm” (Satan/snake in Eden). Could that throw an additional aspect onto the symbolism?
4. What is the purpose of the poem?
Our journey had advanced.
Our feet were almost come
To that odd fork in Being’s road
“Eternity” by term.
Our pace took sudden awe. 5
Our feet reluctant led.
Before were cities, but between
The forest of the dead.
Retreat was out of hope,
Behind, a sealed route, 10
“Eternity’s” white flag before,
and god at every gate.
1. Identify the “journey” (1), the “road” (3), “the forest” (8), and the speaker’s destination in this allegory. What literal human experience is the subject of the poem?
2. Explain the implications of the plural forms: “our” (1-2, 3-4), “cities” (7), and “every gate” (12)
3. What is the underlying metaphor implied in the last stanza by “retreat” (9). “flag” (11), and “gate” (12). Does the “white flag” signify surrender? If so, to what or whom is the surrender?
Practice with paradox and irony: Verbal irony, possible the most difficult form of irony to gasp, is one the simplest level, saying the opposite of what is meant. Because of this it is often confused with satire and sarcasm. Keep in mind that satire and sarcasm both imply ridicule, sarcasm on the colloquial level, and satire on the literary level. Sarcasm is bitter and cutting. It is intended to wound the feelings (it comes from the Greek word that means to tear flesh). Satire, though bitter, implies a higher motive: to ridicule the human condition, its folly or vice, with the hope of bringing about reform or keeping other people from falling into the folly or vice. Irony is often used as sarcasm and satire’s tool, but irony does not have to use satire or sarcasm. For example, if a student says, “I don’t understand,” and the teacher replies with a heavy tone of disgust, “Well, I wouldn’t expect you to,” the teacher is being sarcastic, but not ironic. However, if the class had done well on a test, and the teacher said, “Here’s some bad news for you: you all got A’s and B’s!” he is being ironic, but not sarcastic. Remember, sarcasm is cruel, purposefully; it intends to wound. Satire is both cruel and kind, as a surgeon is both cruel and kind; it gives hurt in the interest of the patient or of society. Irony is neither cruel nor kind; it is simply a device, like a surgeon’s scalpel, for performing an operation more skillfully.
Read the following poems. Look specifically for examples of paradox and irony (situational, verbal, and dramatic). Then answer the questions that follow the poems.
Much madness in divinest sense
To a discerning eye,
Much sense, the starkest madness.
‘Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevail: 5
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur, you’re straitaway dangerous
And handled with a chain.
1. This poem presents the two sides of a paradoxical proposition. What is that proposition? How do the concepts implied by “discerning” (2) and “majority” (4) provide the resolution of this paradox?
2. How do we know that the speaker does not believe that the majority is correct? How do the last five lines extend the subject beyond sanity and insanity?
A mother’s hardest to forgive.
Life is the fruit she longs to hand you,
Ripe on a plate. And while you live,
Relentlessly she understands you.
1. What happens when you paraphrase this poem? That is, does it work? Where does the problem lie? How can you fix the problem?
2. What word in the poem is nearest to the title in its connotation?
3. What is the tone of the poem?
4. What type of irony is being used in the poem? How do you know?
The Chimney Sweeper
When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry “’weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!”
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.
There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head, 5
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved; so I said,
“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for, when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”
And so he was quiet, and that very night,
As Tom was asleeping, he had such a sight! 10
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.
And by came an Angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run, 15
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.
Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the Angel told tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have god for his father, and never want joy. 20
And so Tom awoke, and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work,
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm.
1. In the 18th century small boys, sometimes as young as four or five years old, were employed to climb up the narrow chimney flues and clean them, collecting the soot in bags. Such boys, sometimes sold to the master sweepers by their parents, were miserably treated by their masters and often suffered diseases and physical deformities. Characterize the boy who speaks in this poem. How do his and the poet’s attitudes toward his lot in life differ? How, especially, are the meanings of the poet and the speaker different in lines 3, 7-8, and 24?
2. The dream in lines 11-20, besides being a happy dream, can be interpreted allegorically. Point out possible significances of the sweepers’ being “locked up in coffins black.” (12) and the Angel’s releasing them with a bright key to play upon green plains.
3. What type of irony is Blake using in this poem? Explain your reasoning.
4. Look at the figure of speech in line 6. What is a possible significance to the comparison. What is Black saying about Tom?
5. What figure of speech is “the coffins of Black” (12) and “the bright key” (13)? What point is Blake making with them?
6. What two denotations has the word “bags” in line 17?
7. What figures of speech is Blake utilizing in lines 15-16? Specifically, to what is he referring when he writes, “And wash in a river, and shine in the sun”?
8. Identify the speaker in the poem. Identify the tone of the poem. Explain your reasoning for the tone.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 5
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: 10
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
1. “Survive” (7) is a transitive verb with “hand” and “heart” as direct objects. Whose hand? Whose heart? What figure of speech is exemplified in “hand” and “heart”?
2. Characterize Ozymandias.
3. Ozymandias was an ancient Egyptian tyrant. Of what is Ozymandias a symbol?
4. What type of irony is apparent in this poem?
5. What is the theme of this poem? Explain your reasoning.
Practice with overstatement and understatement: It is paradoxical that one can emphasize a truth by either overstating it or understating it.
Read the following poem. Look specifically for examples of overstatement and understatement: Then answer the questions that follow the poems.
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus
Through windows and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide 5
Late schoolboys and sour ‘prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. 10
Thy beams so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine, 15
Look, and tomorrow late tell me
Whether both th’ Indies of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear, “all here in one bed lay.” 20
She’s all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honor’s mimic, all wealth alchemy,
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we, 25
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere. 30
1. As precisely as possible identify the time of day and the locale. What three “persons” does the poem involve?
2. What is the speaker’s attitude toward the sun in the first two stanzas? How and why does it change in stanza three?
3. Does the speaker overstate or understate the actual qualities of the sun? Point out specific examples. Identify the overstatements in lines 9-10, 13, 15, 16-20, 21-24, 20-30. What do these overstatements achieve?
4. Line 17 introduces a geographical image referring to the East and West Indies, sources respectively of spices and gold. What relationship between the lovers and the rest of the world is expressed in lines 15-22?
5. In the poem Donne uses a prominent figure of speech, beyond the obvious overstatements and understatements. What is that figure of speech?
6. Who is the actual intended listener for this poem? What is the speaker’s purpose? What is the poem’s purpose?
Identify the figure in the following quotations as paradox, overstatement, understatement, or irony. Explain the use to which the figure is put (emotional emphasis, humor, satire, etc.)
1. Poetry is a language that tells us, through a more or less emotional reaction, something that cannot be said. – Edwin Arlington Robinson
2. Christians have burnt each other, quite persuaded/ That all the Apostles would have done as they did. – Lord Byron.
3. A man who could make so vile a pun would not scruple to pick a pocket. – John Dennis
4. Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse. – Jonathan Swift.
5. …Where ignorance is bliss, / ‘Tis folly to be wise. Thomas Gray
6. All night I made my bed to swim; with my tears I dissolved my coach. – Psalms 6:6
7. Believe him, he has known the world too long, and seen the death of much immortal song. – Alexander Pope
8. Cowards all die many times before their deaths; / The valiant never die but once. William Shakespeare
9. …all men would be cowards if they durst. – John Wilmot, earl of Rochester
Figurative Language (4):
Practice with allusion: allusions are a means of reinforcing the emotion or ideas of one’s one work with the emotion or ideas of another work or occasion. Because they may compact so much meaning in so small a space, they are extremely useful to the poet.
Read the following poem. Look specifically for examples of allusion: Then answer the questions that follow the poems.
“Out, Out –“
The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other 5
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said 10
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside him in her apron
To tell them “Supper.” At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant, 15
Leaped out at the boy’s hand, or seemed to leap –
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meaning. But the hand!
The boy’s first outcry was a rueful laugh
As he swung toward them holding up the hand 20
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all –
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man’s work, though a child at heart –
He saw all spoiled. “Don’t let him cut my hand off – 25
The doctor, when he comes, Don’t let him, sister!”
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then – the watcher at his pulse took fright. 30
No one believed. They listened at his heart.
Little – less – nothing! and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
1. How does the poem differ from a newspaper account that might have dealt with the same incident?
2. To whom does ‘they” (33) refer? The boy’s family? The doctor and medical attendants? Casual onlookers? Need we assume that all these people – whoever they are – turned immediately ‘to their affairs”? Does the ending of this poem seem to you callous or merely realistic? Would a more tearful and sentimental ending have made the poem better or worse?
3. What figure of speech is used in lines 21-22?
4. The poem is written, primarily, in iambic pentameter. Why?
5. How does the imagery in lines 1-3 effect the poem?
6. Frost uses the word “sunset” in line 6. What figure of speech is this?
7. This is an example of a narrative poem, sometimes referred to as a ballad. A distinguishing element of a narrative poem is that it tells, often in an abbreviated form, a story, including the traditional parts of a plot. Looking both at the words “sunset” (6) and “lifted eyes” (4) what traditional plot oriented literary device is Frost using?
8. To what does the title allude? Why is particularly effective in this poem?
9. What is the theme of the poem?
From Macbeth 5.5
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time; 5
All our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more. It is a tale 10
told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
1. This is the passage from Macbeth to which Frost is alluding in the previous poem. Do you know of a novel that alludes to the same passage? Considering this passage, even if you haven’t read the novel, could you make some guesses as to what the novel might be about?
2. The part of the poem to which frost is alluding is a particular figure of speech in its own context. What is that figure of speech? To what is it referring?
3. What figure of speech is being used (three times) in lines 8-10? What is the point of their usage?
4. If you didn’t have the answer for question #8 above, do you now that you’ve read this selection from Macbeth?
In the Garden
In the garden there strayed
A beautiful maid
As fair as the flowers of the morn;
The first hour of her life
She was made a man’s wife 5
And was buried before she was born.
1. Resolve the paradox by identifying the allusion.
2. What is the purpose of the poem.
Practice with tone: Hint, to determine tone, look to the other elements of poetry, such as, connotation, imagery, metaphor, irony, overstatement, understatement, rhythm, and formal pattern. Differences in tone, and their importance, can perhaps be studied best in poems with similar content. Consider, for instance, the following pair of poems:
For a Lamb
I saw on the slant hill a putrid lamb,
Propped with daisies. The sleep looked deep.
The face nudged in the green pillow
But the guts were out for crows to eat.
Where’s the lamb? whose tender plaint 5
Said all for the mute breezes.
Say he’s in the wind somewhere,
Say, there’s a lamb in the daisies.
1. What connotative force do the following words posses; “putrid” (1), “guts” (4), “mute” (6), “lamb” ((1). “daisies” (2), “pillow” (3), “tender” (5)?
2. Give two relevant denotations of “a lamb in the daisies” (8).
Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower,
The frost beheads it at its play
In accidental power.
The blond assassin passes on, 5
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.
1. What is the “blond assassin”?
2. What ironies are involved in this poem?
3. What is the subject matter for both poems?
4. Both poems use contrast as an organizing principle. Explain the use of contrast in the poems.
5. What is the tone in the first poem? What words help the reader recognize the tone? Why?
6. What is the tone of the second poem? How do you know? Explain your reasoning.
7. What is the purpose of each poem?
Lesson Three: Sound Devices
Practice with alliteration, assonance, consonance, and rhyme
The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex
I think it clever of the turtle
In such a fix to be so fertile.
1. Explain the use of alliteration in this poem.
2. Explain the use of rhyme scheme in the poem.
3. Three words stick out in the poem: “sex” (2), “fix” (4) and “fertile” (4). Why do they stick out? What is their purpose?
4. What is the tone of the poem? What does the author use to create the tone?
That night when joy began
That night when joy began
Our narrowest veins to flush
We waited for the flash
Of morning’s leveled gun.
` But morning let us pass, 5
And day by day relief
Outgrows his nervous laugh,
Grown credulous of peace,
As mile by mile is seen
No trespassers reproach, 10
And love’s best glasses reach
No fields but are his own.
1. What has been the past experience with love of the two people in the poem? What is their present experience? What precisely is the tone of the poem?
2. What basic metaphor underlies the poem? What metaphorically is “the flash of morning’s gun” (3-4)? Does line 10 mean that no trespasser reproaches the lovers or that no one reproaches the lovers for being trespassers? Does “glasses” (11) refer to spectacles, tumblers, mirrors, or field glasses? Metaphorically, what does the phrase “mile by mile” (9) represent?
3. The rhyme pattern in the poem is intricate and exact. Work it out, considering alliteration, assonance, and consonance.
We Real Cool
Seven At The Golden Shovel
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We 5
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
1. In the addition to end rhyme, what other musical devices does this poem employ?
2. Try reading this poem with the pronouns at the beginning of the lines instead of at the end. What is lost?
3. English teachers at a certain urban school were once criticized for having their students read this poem: it was said to be immoral. Was the criticism justified? Why or why not?
4. What is the tone of the poem? What is the purpose of the poem?
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch and yellow
Twig of willow.
Stripe of green in moosewood maple,
Color seen in leaf of apple, 5
Bark of popple.
Wood of popple pale as moonbeam
Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam
Wood of hornbeam.
Silver bark of beech, and hollow 10
Stem of elder, tall and yellow
Twig of willow.
1. List all instances of alliteration, assonance, consonance, internal rhyme, and word repetition.
2. How serious is the purpose of the poem? What is the purpose of the poem?
3. What is a “counting-out rhyme”? Can you remember any from your childhood? What is being counted here?
As impossible as grief
As impossible as grief
The summer lapsed away,
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like perfidy.
A quietness distilled 5
As twilight long begun,
Or nature spending with herself
The dusk drew earlier in,
The morning foreign shone – 10
A courteous, yet harrowing grace,
As guest who would be gone.
And thus, without a wing
Or service of a keel,
Our summer made her light escape 15
Into the beautiful.
1. What are the subject and tone of the poem? Explain its opening simile?
2. Symbolically, what does “summer” (2) represent in this poem?
3. Discuss the ways in which approximate rhymes, alliteration, and the consonant sounds in the last stanza contribute to the meaning and tone of the poem.
4. What possible meanings have the last two lines?
Practice with rhythm and meter: rhythm, in poetry is the natural rise and fall of language. Meter is rhythm that we can tap our foot to. Metrical language is called verse. Non-metrical language is called prose.
if everything happens that can’t be done
(and anything’s righter
the stupidest teacher will almost guess 5
(with a run
around we go yes)
there’s nothing as something as one
one hasn’t a why or because or although 10
(and buds know better
one’s anything old being everything new
(with a what 15
around we come who)
one’s everyanything so
so world is a leaf so tree is a bough
(and birds sing sweeter 20
so here is away and so your is a my
(with a down
around again fly)
forever was never till now
now i love you and you love me
(and books are shutter
than books 30
and deep in the high that does nothing but fall
(with a shout
around we go all) 35
there’s somebody calling who’s we
we’re anything brighter than even the sun
(we’re everything greater
might mean) 40
we’re everyanything more than believe
(with a spin
alive we’re alive)
we’re wonderful one times one 45
1. Explain the last line. Of what very familiar idea is this poem’s fresh treatment?
2. The poem is based on a contrast between heart and mind (or love and learning). What does the speaker prefer? What symbols express the dichotomy?
3. What is the tone of the poem?
4. Which lines of each stanza regularly rhyme with each other (either perfect or approximate rhyme) How does the poet link the stanzas?
5. what is the basic metrical scheme of the poem? What does the meter contribute to the tone? What line (in the fourth stanza) most clearly states the subject and occasion of the poem/ How does meter underline its significance?
6. Can you suggest any reason why the poet did not write lines 2-4 and 6-8 of each stanza as one line each? What metrical variations does the poet use in lines 6-8 of each stanza and with what effect?
7. The word every can be pronounced as having two syllables (ev’ry) or three (ev-er-y). How should it be pronounced in lines 14 and 38? In lines 18 and 41?
Practice with Sonnets and Limericks: Basically, poets discovered that certain patterns help support or enhance the meaning of their poems. The sonnet tends to present serious, more formal subject, while the limerick presents more frivolous subjects.
Read the following poems. Then decide, if the poem is a sonnet, whether it is primarily Italian or English. Then answer the questions at the end of each poem.
Much have I traveled in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one white expanse had I been told 5
That deep-browed Homer ruled at his desmense;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken; 10
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific – and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent upon a peak in Darien*
* Darien (14) is an ancient name for the Isthmus of Panama
1. John keats, at twenty-one, could not read Greek and was probably acquainted with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey only through the translation of Alexander Pope, which to him very likely seemed prosy and stilted. Then one day he and a friend found a vigorous poetic translation by Elizabethan poet George Chapman. Keats and his friend, enthralled, sat up late at night excitedly reading aloud to each other from Chapman’s book. Toward morning Keats walked home and, before going to bed, wrote the above sonnet and sent it to his friend. What common ideas underlie the three major figures of speech in the poem?
2. What is the rhyme scheme? What division of thought corresponds to the division between octave and sestet?
3. Balboa, not Cortez, discovered the Pacific. How seriously does this mistake detract from the value of the poem?
That time of year
That time of year that mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day 5
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all the rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie 10
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
1. What are the tree major images introduced by the three quatrains? What do they have in common? Can you see any reason for presenting them in this particular order, or might they be rearranged without lost?
2. Each of the images is to some degree complicated rather than simple. For instance, what additional image is introduced by “Bare ruined choirs” (4)? Explain its appropriateness.
3. What additional comparisons are introduced in the second and third quatrains? Explain line 12.
4. Whom does the speaker address? What assertion does he make in the concluding couplet, and with what degree of confidence? Paraphrase these lines so as to state their meaning as clearly as possible.
A Handful of Limericks
There was a young lady from Niger
Who smiled as she rode of a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger. 5
There was a young lady of Lynn
Who was so uncommonly thin
That when she essayed
To drink lemonade
She slipped through the straw and fell in. 5
There was a young lady named bright
Whose speed was much faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night. 5
1. These three limericks suggest three different subjects. What is the subject of each limerick? What figure of speech does the first limerick employ?
2. What is the tone of the first poem? The Purpose?
3. What is the tone and purpose of the second limerick?
4. In the third limerick what figure of speech is used in line 4? In what way does it support the meaning of the poem?
5. What is the tone and purpose of the third limerick?
Death, be not proud
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but the pictures be, 5
Much pleasure- then, from thee much more must flow;
And soonest are best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell; 10
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke. Why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep passed, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death thou shalt die.
1. What two figures of speech dominate the poem?
2. Why should death not be proud?
3. What is the tone of the poem? Is the speaker (a) a man of assured faith with a firm conviction that death is not to be feared or (b) a man desperately trying to convince himself that there is nothing to fear in death?
4. In form this sonnet blends the English and Italian models. Explain. Is this organization of thought closer to the English or Italian sonnet.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat 5
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over the houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-by; 10
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock in the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been acquainted with the night.
1. How does the speaker reveal the strength of his purpose in night-walking? Can you specify what that purpose is? What symbolic meaning does the night hold?
2. How is the poem structured into sentences? What is the effect of repeating the phrase “I have”? Of repeating line 1 at the conclusion? How do these repetitions affect the tone of the poem?
3. Some critics have interpreted the “luminary clock” (12) literally – as the illuminated dial of a tower clock; others have interpreted it figuratively as the full moon. Of what, in either case, is it a symbol? Does the clock tell accurate chronometric time? What kind of “time” is it proclaiming in line 13? Is knowing that kind of time the speaker’s quest?
4. The poem contains 14 lines- like a sonnet. But its rhyme scheme is terza rima, an interlocking scheme with the pattern aba bcb cdc, etc. , a formal arrangement that implies continual progression. Why might he have used this rhyme scheme? How does Frost bring the poem to an end? What does that suggest?
5. Terza rima was the form memorably employed by Dante in his Divine Comedy, of which the Inferno is the best-known section. In what ways does Frost’s poem allude to the subject of that poem?