“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 One in Paradise” – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context: The poemTo One in Paradise” (1833) is among Poe’s most well-known lines of lyric! It was first published without a title as part of the short story “The Visionary” (later renamed “The Assignation”). It evolved into “To Ianthe in Heaven” and then into “To One Beloved” before being named “To One in Paradise” in the February 25, 1843.

Themes: Take notice how the narrator in this poem presents the events in time and place. He has lost his love, she died. In the first lines he lingers on how beautiful everything was when she was alive. She was everything to him and he uses nature as a metaphor to describe her. Throughout the lines she is only known as ‘love’. But how well is she really described? She remains pretty anonymous to the reader. Is she really a person? Why does Poe bother to hide her personality? In the seventh line our narrator tells us “the dream was too bright to last” and that he clings to the past “mute” and “motionless”. Our narrator is mourning deeply – “The light of Life is over”. Just as in his most famous poem “The Raven” the famous words no more echoes three times. Only in the final lines we learn some of her characteristics, she had grey eyes and she keeps on dancing on eternal streams as the narrator continuous to dream in trances about her.

 Key words: Lost love, death, mourning, loss

To One in Paradise

Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine—
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! on!”—but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!

For, alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o’er!
No more—no more—no more—
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!

And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams—
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.

“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.

“The most beautiful Revelation” – A poem by Friedrich von Schiller

Context: This is a very short poem or Epigramm by the German poet Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805). It was written in 1796 and printed a year later. Schiller is one of the most well-known German poets and most of us are familiar with the lines of “Ode an die Freude” which made it into Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Schiller was not only a great writer who later in life developed a friendship with Goethe, he was also a philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright. Together with Goethe they created a new literary and cultural movement, the Weimar Classicism. It was established as a new form of humanism, with influences  from Romanticism, Classicism, and the Age of Enlightenment. Some of the ideas are to be found in this short poem “Die schönste Erscheinung” which focus on beauty and feelings. Once again, my own humble translation into English.

Themes: Beauty, suffering and joy.

The most beautiful revelation

Did you never see beauty at the moment of suffering,
You have never seen beauty.
Did you never see joy in a beautiful face,
Never have you seen the joy!

Die schönste Erscheinung

Sahest du nie die Schönheit im Augenblick des Leidens,
Niemals hast du die Schönheit gesehn.
Sahst du die Freude nie in einem schönen Gesichte,
Niemals hast du die Freude gesehn!

Sources

Friedrich Schiller Archiv

wikipedia.org [various entries]

von Schiller.

“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]

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. 

Notes on “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron

Context: A romantic poem by George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) in honour of his cousin Mrs. Wilmot. “She Walks in Beauty” is a short lyrical poem in iambic tetrameter written in 1813 by Byron and is one of his most famous works.

Notes
: Here are some notes on the use of Old English words in the poem:

climes
– regions

aspect – look

mellow’d – made soft

gaudy – bright in colours

had impair’d – would have damaged

waves – verb here. Moves to and fro.

raven – meaning black as a raven

tress – a lock of hair

serenely – peaceful

brow – forehead

eloquent – to communicate easily

tint – shade

all below – everyone on earth


She walks in beauty, like the night

Of cloudless climes and starry skies;

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

Thus mellow’d to that tender light

Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,

Had half impaired the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,

Or softly lightens o’er her face;

Where thoughts serenely sweet express

How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love is innocent!