“The Moon” – A poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Context: In this short poem Percy B. Shelley (1792-1822) reflects upon the moon as a celestial body in the Sky which sometimes appears in a “gauzy veil”. First, he likens the moon to a dying Lady on her death bed. Pay some attention to this image. Is the moon always a woman when you think about various myths and legends describing the moon? In Germany and Scandinavia the moon is sometimes an old man, not a woman. Second, he describes some of the moon’s phases and wonders if the moon ever gets tired as it keeps on wandering the night sky. The line: “Out of her chambers” possibly means the moon is about to rise. It’s not a very positive view of the moon which is presented in this poem. The moon gazes on the earth, is pale, weary and wanders without a companion (unlike other celestial bodies). It contains both personification and fine allegory.

 

Themes: The moon; the phases

The Moon

 

And, like a dying lady lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapp’d in a gauzy veil,
Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The moon arose up in the murky east
A white and shapeless mass.

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

“To Sleep” – A poem by William Wordsworth

Context: William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is considered to be one of the most influential among the Romantic poets of British literature. Wikipedia states that “Wordsworth was Britain’s Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death from pleurisy on 23 April 1850.” In the 1790’s his career as a famous poet started and he wrote a lot of poetry. He also wrote autobiographical parts of poetry. Wikipedia once again: “The year 1793 saw the first publication of poems by Wordsworth, in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. In 1795 he received a legacy of 900 pounds from Raisley Calvert and became able to pursue a career as a poet.” 

Themes: The major theme of this short poem (it’s considered short since Wordsworth usually wrote lenghty poems) is beyond any doubt sleeplessness or insomina. Follow the protagonist as he tries to count the sheep! We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that! This goes on in the first five lines. As he struggles to fall asleep he thinks of other sleepless nights and sadly there is no sleep this night either. Take notice once again on how Nature is present in the lines. Nature corresponds to the protagonist’s feeling throughout the poem.

To Sleep

 

A FLOCK of sheep that leisurely pass by 

One after one; the sound of rain, and bees 

Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas, 

Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky;— 

I’ve thought of all by turns, and still I lie

Sleepless; and soon the small birds’ melodies 

Must hear, first utter’d from my orchard trees, 

And the first cuckoo’s melancholy cry. 

Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay, 

And could not win thee, Sleep! by any stealth: 

So do not let me wear to-night away: 

Without Thee what is all the morning’s wealth? 

Come, blesséd barrier between day and day, 

Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health! 

Sources

wikipedia.org (various entries)

Internet Archive (Wordsworth)

Early painting of Wordsworth at the start of his career as a poet in the 1790’s.

On Sleep – A monologue from Henry IV by William Shakespeare

King Henry IV on Sleep in the 3rd Act

In this quite lenghty monologue from Shakespeare’s Henry IV and the third act of the play; we encounter some thoughts on human sleep. This is portrayed through the voice and charachter of The king himself. This isn’t the only expressed thoughts on sleep that we encounter from the pen of Shakespeare. Sleep is a very human and common activity, but compared to Shakespeare’s own time and place – how often does modern plays and movies linger on this important theme today? Some questions we need to ask this monologue are:

  • What are the circumstances for this monologue? What has happened in the play?
  • Why is king Henry offering his thoughts on Sleep and how can we trace them?
  • Can we sense Henry’s own moods here? Is he happy, sad; or just being thoughtful about himself or any situation in particular?

Answering some of the questions above we see while reading that theking is very worried. Pay attention to the final line: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Just as in many other plays by Shakespeare, sleep is also associated with death. Compare the section with some of the lines from the play, The Tempest: “We are such stuff As dreams are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.” (IV Act, Scene 1) The play Henry IV is not about the king himself, but about his son, prince Hal who is the main protagonist. It’s one of Shakespeare’s historical plays and was finished before 1597.

Text

 

How many thousands of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee,
That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down,
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfum’d chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds, and leav’st the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ‘larum-bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the ship-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge,
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads, and hanging them
With deafing clamour in the slippery clouds,
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude;
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down!
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Sources

Open Source Shakespeare.org >> Shakespeare’s Pathos by J. F. Pyre. In Shakespeare Studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin.

 

Henry IV, first Folio 1623.

“To the Distant One” – A poem by Johann W. Goethe

Context: The German title of the poem is “An die Entfernte”, translated here as “The Distant One”. Written in 1788 and published one year later in Goethes Schriften. Achter Band, G. J. Göschen. 1789; it’s also known as one of Goethes famous Songes (Lieder) and Schubert made some nice music of it. This is my own very humble translation into English.

Themes: Love, obsession, lost love, unanswered love

 

To the Distant One

 

So, have I really lost you?

Are you, o Beautiful, flown away from me?

Still, it rings familiar in the ears

Every word, every tune.

 

Just as the walker’s eye in the morning

In vain pierces into the air

When hidden in the blue space

high above him the lark sings:

 

So pierces anxiously here and there,

Through field and bush and forest, my view:

For you all my songs sings,

O come, my beloved, back to me!


Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

The poem in German to be found here [wikisource]

Sonnet 130 – A poem by William Shakespeare

Context: William Shakespeare (1564-1616) needs no further introduction. This sonnet makes fun of the ideals of love. In the final sentence the narrator describes his love for the woman or “mistress” as something that is rare and wish not to compare her to other things associated with love. He’s also ironical. In the previous lines we read:  “I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound”. Deeply influenced by the Petrarchan way of writing the perfect poem and the ideal Petrarchan woman in a poem is a goddess. Notice how Shakespeare play with this ideal. His woman, his mistress doesn’t fulfill the ideal. Pay attention to this line: “I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:”.

Themes: satire of conventional love, female beauty, irony

Words: dun = dull brownish gray; belied = misrepresented

SONNET 130

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

IMG_1039

Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

“The Haunted Palace” – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context: This poem by  Edgar A. Poe (1809-1849) was incorporated in the story  “The Fall of the House of Usher”, published in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine (Sept. 1839). It’s presented as a song written by the main protagonist Roderick Usher. The poem is an Allegory about a king, his palace and the kingdom. The palace is the main object in focus and is described through a romantic scenery of pittoresque nature sorrounding it. People living in the valley are happy and the king has wit and wisdom. There are also beauty and music. But bad times comes and the king is nolonger happy. Unamed sorrows struck the king and the poem takes on a darker theme. The valley is no longer beautiful, but scary.

Themes: Happiness, sadness, memory, past, present, ghosts, Music and Madness. Notice that Music and Madness is also a main theme of the novel The Fall of the House of Usher.

The Haunted Palace

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion,
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A wingèd odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law,
Round about a throne where, sitting,
Porphyrogene!
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn!—for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

Kuvahaun tulos haulle edgar allan poe usher house rackham
Arthur Rackham’s illustration to the House of Usher.

Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

Rome or the countryside? – A letter from the World of late Antiquity

LIVING THE BUSY city life or moving to the quiet life on the countryside? That’s the question.  Even during the late Antiquity people pondered over this. Let’s take a look on a letter from the well-known Jerome (347-420) who lived in Rome while busy spreading Christianity through teaching and writings on Christian morality. He also liked to befriend Roman ladies from the Aristocracy who had promised to remain virgins for the rest of their lives. He eventuelly became a Saint and is regared as a Father of the Church.

I. Context

This letter is adressed to Marcella (325-410), a Christian widow. As wikipedia comments on her life: “After her husband’s early death, Marcella decided to devote the rest of her life to charity, prayer, and mortification of the flesh and was convinced that God was directing her to a life of poverty and service. She left behind her fashionable dresses for a coarse brown garment and abandoned her usual extravagant hair styling and makeup. Along with other women, Marcella formed a community known as the brown dress society, spending their time praying, singing, reading the Bible, and serving the needy. Her palatial home was now a refuge for weary pilgrims and for the poor.” I will not quote the entire letter, but simply point out a few sentences. 

From: Jerome

To: Marcella

Date: Rome, 385 A.D.

II. The Letter

“Wherefore, seeing that we have journeyed for much of our life through a troubled sea, and that our vessel has been in turn shaken by raging blasts and shattered upon treacherous reefs, let us, as soon as may be, make for the haven of rural quietude. There such country dainties as milk and household bread, and greens watered by our own hands, will supply us with coarse but harmless fare. So living, sleep will not call us away from prayer, nor satiety from reading. In summer the shade of a tree will afford us privacy. In autumn the quality of the air and the leaves strewn under foot will invite us to stop and rest. In springtime the fields will be bright with flowers, and our psalms will sound the sweeter for the twittering of the birds. When winter comes with its frost and snow, I shall not have to buy fuel, and, whether I sleep or keep vigil, shall be warmer than in town. At least, so far as I know, I shall keep off the cold at less expense. Let Rome keep to itself its noise and bustle, let the cruel shows of the arena go on, let the crowd rave at the circus, let the playgoers revel in the theatres and— for I must not altogether pass over our Christian friends— let the House of Ladies hold its daily sittings.”

Sources

Butler, Alban. Butler’s Lives of the Saints. 12 vols. Ed. David Hugh Farmer and Paul Burns. New full ed., Tunbridge Wells, UK: Burns & Oates and Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1995–2000.

Select Letters of St. Jerome. Jerome, Saint. F.A. Wright. William Heinemann Ltd.; Harvard University Press. London; Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1933.

Translated by W.H. Fremantle, G. Lewis and W.G. Martley. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 6. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1893.)

wikipedia.org (various entries)

Jerome making notes.