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.

Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

“Lindisfarne” – A poem by Sir Walter Scott with photos from my journey there

Lindisfarne ruins seen from the graveyard

Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832) was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright and poet. Many of his works remain classics of both English-language literature and of Scottish literature. Famous titles include Ivanhoe, Rob Roy, Old Mortality, The Lady of the Lake, Waverley, The Heart of Midlothian and The Bride of Lammermoor.

Walter Scott’s poem Lindisfarne is very much like a travel description of the Northumberland area starting a few miles from Lindisfarne in Tynemouth outside Newcastle upon Tyne, believe it or not. The 6th line mentions Tynemouth’s priory and bay. From here the poem travels further along the coast up to Bamburgh. And from Bamburgh to Lindisfarne. In fact, one can see Lindisfarne from the Bamburgh Castle which is also mentioned in the poem as king Ida’s Castle.

Holy Island has a recorded history from the 6th century AD. It was an important centre of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan of Lindisfarne, Cuthbert, Eadfrith of Lindisfarne and Eadberht of Lindisfarne. After the Viking invasions and the Norman conquest of England, a priory was reestablished. A small castle was built on the island in 1550.

I travelled through Newcastle, Tynemouth, Bamburgh and Holy Island in 2011. All photos by me in this post.

Scott’s poem – First lines

(From Marmion)

AND now the vessel skirts the strand
Of mountainous Northumberland;
Towns, towers, and halls successive rise,
And catch the nuns’ delighted eyes.
Monk-Wearmouth soon behind them lay, [5]
And Tynemouth’s priory and bay;
They marked, amid her trees, the hall
Of lofty Seaton-Delaval;
They saw the Blythe and Wansbeck floods
Rush to the sea through sounding woods; [10]
They passed the tower of Widdrington,
Mother of many a valiant son;
At Coquet Isle their beads they tell
To the good saint who owned the cell;
Then did the Alne attention claim, [15]
And Warkworth, proud of Percy’s name;
And next they crossed themselves to hear
The whitening breakers sound so near,
Where, boiling through the rocks, they roar
On Dunstanborough’s caverned shore; [20]
Thy tower, proud Bamborough, marked they there,
King Ida’s castle, huge and square,
From its tall rock look grimly down,
And on the swelling ocean frown;
Then from the coast they bore away, [25]
And reached the Holy Island’s bay.

Tynemouth priory


Bamburgh Castle
IN THE second section of the poem Scott describes the sorrounding nature of Lindisfarne and mentions the tide as well.

Second section of Scott’s poem

The tide did now its flood-mark gain,
And girdled in the saint’s domain:
For, with the flow and ebb, its style
Varies from continent to isle; [30]
Dry-shod, o’er sands, twice every day,
The pilgrims to the shrine find way;
Twice every day, the waves efface
Of staves and sandalled feet the trace.
As to the port the galley flew, [35]
Higher and higher rose to view
The castle with its battled walls,
The ancient monastery’s halls,
A solemn, huge, and dark red pile,
Placed on the margin of the isle. [40]

The Holy Island is a tidal island

 
Ruins of Lindisfarne Priory
Much of the place was under renovation when I visited the place in 2011.

The Lindisfarne castle is located in what was once the very volatile border area between England and Scotland. Not only did the English and Scots fight, but the area was frequently attacked by Vikings. The castle was built in 1550, around the time that Lindisfarne Priory went out of use. The raids of the Vikings is mentioned in the third and final section of Scott’s poem.

Third section of Scott’s poem


In Saxon strength that abbey frowned,
With massive arches broad and round,
That rose alternate, row and row,
On ponderous columns, short and low,
Built ere the art was known, [45]
By pointed aisle and shafted stalk,
The arcades of an alleyed walk
To emulate in stone.
On the deep walls the heathen Dane
Had poured his impious rage in vain; [50]
And needful was such strength to these,
Exposed to the tempestuous seas,
Scourged by the winds’ eternal sway,
Open to rovers fierce as they,
Which could twelve hundred years withstand [55]
Winds, waves, and Northern pirates’ hand.
Not but that portions of the pile,
Rebuilded in a later style,
Showed where the spoiler’s hand had been;
Not but the wasting sea-breeze keen [60]
Had worn the pillar’s carving quaint,
And mouldered in his niche the saint,
And rounded, with consuming power,
The pointed angles of each tower;
Yet still entire the abbey stood, [65]
Like veteran, worn, but unsubdued.

The Lindisfarne Castle seen from the Churchyard

“I loved you first” – A poem by Christina Rosetti

Context:  Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children’s poems. Her brother was the famous pre-rapahel painter Dante Rosetti. Rossetti was educated at home by her mother and father, who had her study religious works, classics, fairy tales and novels. Rossetti delighted in the works of Keats, Scott, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis. The influence of the work of Dante Alighieri, Petrarch and other Italian writers filled the home and would have a deep impact on Rossetti’s later writing.

Themes: Love and becoming one with the one you love despite any other problem. The narrator isn’t foolish. Pay attention to the lines: “I loved and guessed at you, you construed me And loved me for what might or might not be – Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong. For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’” Take time to notice the words “free love” in the poem. What do you think it means? Pay attention to Rosetti’s own time and society. Her literary circle are the pre-Raphaelites. Who were they? And how did they define love? 

I loved you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I  loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be –
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.

Bram Stokers’ use of Gottfried Bürger’s Ballad “Lenore” in Dracula (1897)

Bürger’s “Lenore”- A ballad about the undead

“Lenore” was a ballad written in 1774 by Gottfried August Bürger (1747-1794) a German poet from the Sturm und Drang period. It’s one of the earliest pieces of texts containing references to the undead in European literature. It became quite famous in its days and was translated into English and French1. We know it became a part of the literary text books for many Gothic authors as well. Not only Stoker but also Edgar Allan Poe knew about the ballad. The text is about a young woman named Lenore2 and the story goes that she was recently married, but her husband Wilhelm died suddenly. Lenore then curses Heaven because of her loss of the husband (who died in the Seven Years’ War3). As a result of the curse the soldier returns. Wilhelm writes a letter to her with a greeting from far away Bohemia. He writes he left long after midnight and wants to take her with him. One line goes: “Sieh hin, sieh her! Der Mond scheint hell. Wir und die Toten reiten schnell!”//Look here, look there! The moon shines bright. We and the dead rides fast! The term “die Toten reiten schnell” was used by Bram Stoker in Dracula (1897) as a short reference.

Lenore and Wilhelm rides to their marriage bed.
At midnight, a mysterious stranger who looks like Wilhelm knocks on the door searching for Lenore and asks her to accompany him on horseback to their marriage bed. Lenore happily gets on the stranger’s black steed and the two ride at a frenetic pace, under the moonlight, along a path filled with eerie landscapes. Terrorised, Lenore demands to know why they are riding so fast, to which he responds that they are doing so because “the dead travel fast” (“die Todten reiten schnell”). Lenore asks Wilhelm to “leave the dead alone” (“Laß sie ruhn, die Todten”).

At sunrise, their journey ends and they arrive at the cemetery’s doors. As the horse goes through the tombstones, the knight begins to lose its human appearance, and is revealed as Death, a skeleton with a scythe and an hourglass. The marriage bed is shown to be the grave where, together with his shattered armour, Wilhelm’s skeleton lies. The ground beneath Lenore’s feet begins to crumble and the spirits, dancing in the moonlight, surround dying Lenore, declaring that “no one is to quarrel with God in Heaven” (“mit Gott im Himmel hadre nicht”). However, Lenore, punished with death, still has hope for forgiveness (“des Leibes bist du ledig/Gott sei der Seele gnädig”).

The Ballad contains some common themes associated with the period; such as the dead rider, the night, the return of the dead. There are also some critique towards established Religion of the time visible in Lenore’s loose faith in God. Take notice on how the dialogue between Lenore and her mother is presented. The mother is more conservative and stricter with religious matters. Some research has been done concerning the ballad. In the work Sensus communis: contemporary trends in comparative literature (1986) Peter Boerner address some issues in the text “Bürger’s Ballad Lenore in Germany, France and England”. Boerner stresses the folk-lore connections visible and the fact that the story has various endings though mostly fatal. In one version Lenore is saved by the crowing of a cock, but in most of the stories she perishes.

 Lenore in Stoker’s Dracula (1897)

Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) was an Irish author, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as the personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned. The story of Dracula is told in epistolary format, as a series of letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, and ships’ log entries, whose narrators are the novel’s protagonists, and occasionally supplemented with newspaper clippings relating events not directly witnessed. The events portrayed in the novel take place chronologically and largely in England and Transylvania during the 1890s and all transpire within the same year between the 3rd of May and the 6th of November. A short note is located at the end of the final chapter written 7 years after the events outlined in the novel.

The main charachters in Dracula

Most people know the contents of the novel but may want to repeat the main charachters and their functions:

  • Jonathan Harker: A solicitor sent to do business with Count Dracula; Mina’s fiancé and prisoner in Dracula’s castle.
  • Count Dracula: A Transylvanian noble who has purchased a house in London.
  • Wilhelmina “Mina” Harker (née Murray): A schoolteacher and Jonathan Harker’s fiancée (later his wife).
  • Lucy Westenra: A 19-year-old aristocrat; Mina’s best friend; Arthur’s fiancée and Dracula’s first victim.
  • Arthur Holmwood: Lucy’s suitor and later fiancé. He inherits the title of Lord Godalming upon his father’s death.
  • John Seward: A doctor; one of Lucy’s suitors and a former student of Van Helsing.
  • Abraham Van Helsing: A Dutch doctor, lawyer and professor; John Seward’s teacher.
  • Quincey Morris: An American cowboy and explorer; and one of Lucy’s suitors.
  • Renfield: A patient at Seward’s insane asylum who has come under the influence of Dracula.
  • “Weird Sisters”: Three siren-like vampire women who serve Dracula. In some of the plays, films etc. that came after the novel they are referred to as the Brides of Dracula.

Jonathan Harker encounters Dracula for the first time

I copy-paste from wikisource’s edition of Dracula, taken from the first chapter where the reference to Bürger’s ballad can be found. In this section of the chapter Jonathan Harker travels with some Romanians to be taken to a remote place in the forest where he’ll be waiting for another carriage; and to be taken to Dracula’s Castle. Notice the official language spoken between the charachters is German. His new driver is most likely Dracula himself:

There is no carriage here. The Herr is not expected after all. He will now come on to Bukovina, and return tomorrow or the next day; better the next day.” Whilst he was speaking the horses began to neigh and snort and plunge wildly, so that the driver had to hold them up. Then, amongst a chorus of screams from the peasants and a universal crossing of themselves, a calèche, with four horses, drove up behind us, overtook us, and drew up beside the coach. I could see from the flash of our lamps, as the rays fell on them, that the horses were coal-black and splendid animals. They were driven by a tall man, with a long brown beard and a great black hat, which seemed to hide his face from us. I could only see the gleam of a pair of very bright eyes, which seemed red in the lamplight, as he turned to us. He said to the driver:—

“You are early to-night, my friend.” The man stammered in reply:—

“The English Herr was in a hurry,” to which the stranger replied:—

“That is why, I suppose, you wished him to go on to Bukovina. You cannot deceive me, my friend; I know too much, and my horses are swift.” As he spoke he smiled, and the lamplight fell on a hard-looking mouth, with very red lips and sharp-looking teeth, as white as ivory. One of my companions whispered to another the line from Burger’s “Lenore”:—

“Denn die Todten reiten schnell”—
(“For the dead travel fast.”)

The strange driver evidently heard the words, for he looked up with a gleaming smile. The passenger turned his face away, at the same time putting out his two fingers and crossing himself. “Give me the Herr’s luggage,” said the driver; and with exceeding alacrity my bags were handed out and put in the calèche. Then I descended from the side of the coach, as the calèche was close alongside, the driver helping me with a hand which caught my arm in a grip of steel; his strength must have been prodigious. Without a word he shook his reins, the horses turned, and we swept into the darkness of the Pass. As I looked back I saw the steam from the horses of the coach by the light of the lamps, and projected against it the figures of my late companions crossing themselves. Then the driver cracked his whip and called to his horses, and off they swept on their way to Bukovina. As they sank into the darkness I felt a strange chill, and a lonely feeling came over me; but a cloak was thrown over my shoulders, and a rug across my knees, and the driver said in excellent German:—

“The night is chill, mein Herr, and my master the Count bade me take all care of you. There is a flask of slivovitz (the plum brandy of the country) underneath the seat, if you should require it.” I did not take any, but it was a comfort to know it was there all the same. I felt a little strangely, and not a little frightened. I think had there been any alternative I should have taken it, instead of prosecuting that unknown night journey. The carriage went at a hard pace straight along, then we made a complete turn and went along another straight road. It seemed to me that we were simply going over and over the same ground again; and so I took note of some salient point, and found that this was so. I would have liked to have asked the driver what this all meant, but I really feared to do so, for I thought that, placed as I was, any protest would have had no effect in case there had been an intention to delay. By-and-by, however, as I was curious to know how time was passing, I struck a match, and by its flame looked at my watch; it was within a few minutes of midnight. This gave me a sort of shock, for I suppose the general superstition about midnight was increased by my recent experiences. I waited with a sick feeling of suspense.

Resources

Dracula – Full text of Bram Stoker’s novel available through wikisource.

Lenore – From litteraturatlas.de

Rosetti’s translation of “Lenore” – English

Scholz, Bernhard, János Riesz, Peter Boerner, and Henry Remak. 1986. Sensus communis: contemporary trends in comparative literature. Tübingen: Narr.

wikipedia.org [various entries]


  1. “During the last quarter of the eighteenth century and up to the nineteenth, Lenore was widely read in all those nations of Europe where the Romantic movement reigned. Comparable in popularity only to Werther, Childe Harold or Réne.” (Boerner 1986, p. 305) 
  2. Sometimes spelled Leonore, Leonora, Elenora depending on translation. 
  3. The Seven Years’ War was a war fought between 1754 and 1763, the main conflict occurring in the seven-year period from 1756 to 1763. It involved every European great power of the time except the Ottoman Empire and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions, led by the Kingdom of Great Britain (inc. Prussia, Portugal, Hanover, and other small German states) on one side and the Kingdom of France (inc. Austria-led Holy Roman Empire, Russia, Spain, and Sweden) on the other. Meanwhile, in India, the Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal. 

“Rosemounde” : A poem by Geoffrey Chaucer

Context: GEOFFREY CHAUCER (ca. 1340—1400) is the undisputed father of English poetry. Chaucer wrote in continental accentual-syllabic meter, a style which had developed since around the 12th century as an alternative to the alliterative Anglo-Saxon metre. A man of affairs as well as literature, he served as a diplomat and customs officer; when he died, his burial in Westminster Abbey inaugurated Poets’ Corner. This poem is a love ballad dedicated to a lady named Rosamunde.

Themes: Love, maiden, beauty, courtship. Pay attention to the line “Never was pike so imbued in galantine”; it is an allusion to the 15th-century habit of drenching the fish in sauce.😀 There are also references to the epic Tristan and Isolde. The narrator identifies himself as Tristan. Notice how he signs the Ballad with his own name, sweet.


Madame, you are a shrine of all beauty,
As far encircling as the map of the world.
For you shine as the glorious crystal,
And your round cheeks are like Ruby.

Therewith you are so merry and so jocund,
That at a revel when that I see you dance;
It is an ointment unto my wound,
Though you, to me, do no dalliance.

For though I weep a basin of tears,
Yet may that woe not confound my heart.
Your seemly voice that you so delicately bring forth,
Make my thoughts, in joy and bliss, abound.

So courteously I go, with love bound
That, to myself, I say in my penance,
“Suffer me to love you Rosemounde;
Though you, to me, do no dalliance”.

Never was pike so imbued in galantine
As I in love, am imbued and wounded.
For which I very oft, of myself, deign
That I am true Tristam the Second.

My love may not be cooled nor sunk,
I burn in an amourous pleasance.
Do what you like, I bid you find your thrall
Though you, to me, do no dalliance.

very gently,————//————Chaucer

 

Chaucher – The father of English Literature

Sonnet 43 – A poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Context: E.B Browning (1806-1861) was a poet within the Romantic tradition. She was born in England, but her poetry became famous in both England and the US. This poem was published in Sonnets from the Portuguese, written ca. 1845–1846 and published first during 1850, is a collection of 44 love sonnets. This poem was written in 1845 and is one of her most wellknown poems. As a person she was very shy and needed her husband to convince her publish them. She also thought her verse was too private. Elizabeth’s work had a major influence on prominent writers of the day, including the American poets Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson. 

Themes: Love is the major theme. Much of Barrett Browning’s work carries a religious theme. She had read and studied such works as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno.


How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for right.

I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death.


Sonnet 21 – A poem by William Shakespeare

Context: This sonnet mentions the Muse, in Classic mythology she was one of nine and here she represents her own element – poetry. This poem is about the narrator’s own attitude towards written verse and challenges any criticism his verse isn’t real or fake. Take notice on how he introduces himself here. He is not like any classic representation of the muse and his verse has not any ‘painted beauty’ which refers to make-up, cosmetics. When he adress his love through poetry he doesn’t use of superfluous words or add certain words to impress or boast. He chose to praise ‘truthfulness’ since he is in love for real. The structure of the poem follows the English sonnet with three quatrains followed by a couplet.

Themes: Love, virtue, truth, beauty all important keywords in Elizabethan culture and must be interpreted in its own context. What did these words represents in Shakespeare’s own time? Another theme is rivalry between poets.


Q1: So is it not with me as with that Muse

Stirr’d by a painted beauty to his verse,

Who heaven itself for ornament doth use

And every fair with his fair doth rehearse,

Q2: Making a couplement of proud compare,

With sun and moon, with earth and sea’s rich gems,

With April’s first-born flowers, and all things rare

That heaven’s air in this huge rondure hems.

Q3: O, let me, true in love, but truly write,

And then believe me, my love is as fair

As any mother’s child, though not so bright

As those gold candles fix’d in heaven’s air:

C: Let them say more that like of hearsay well;

I will not praise that purpose not to sell.