Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Spenser as The Poets’ Poet


It was Charles Lamb who called Spenser ‘The Poets’ Poet’. At least there are two reasons why Spenser is regarded as the poets’ poet and the second father of English Poetry. Firstly, Spenser rendered incalculable service to English poetry in a variety of ways and left behind him models of poetic excellence to be imitated and followed by a host of poets who came in his wake. He is also called the “Prince of Poets of his time”. He coached more poets and more eminent ones than any other poets. Besides, he is the poets’ poet because he is not the poet of the common man, but only of the scholars and poets with well-versed in classical tradition and humanistic studies. During the Renaissance, Spenser’s poetry could really be appreciated by those who were familiar with classical writers and authors of the Renaissance. Since only scholars and poets had that necessary equipment to understand Spenser, and the common man had not that facility to understand him, Spenser is called the poet of poets and not the poet of the ordinary man. Throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, a host of poets followed him, called him their master, and exalted him as their guide and mentor. Dryden acknowledged him as his master and added that, “No man was ever born with a greater genius or more knowledge to support it”. Pope is all praises for him, and James Thomson referred to him as “my master Spenser”, Shelley, Byron and Keats wrote their best poems in the Spenserian stanza (a long stanza of nine lines with the rhyme a-b-a-b-b-a-b-a-a). He is the poets’ poet in the true sense for he is the fountain-head of al those excellencies and beauties which are scattered in the works of subsequent poets, and for which they expressed their indebtedness to him and called him their master.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Age of Renaissance (1550-1600)

The Age of Renaissance or The Age of Shakespeare or The Elizabethan Period is considered as "The Golden Age", especially in the history of English Literature, because of some reasons, such as:

During the Elizabethan age, England was a nest of singing birds. The song was everywhere, in the street, in the court, and on the stage. Everybody wrote lyrics, down from the flowery courtier to the man in the street. It was the age in which the writers were free to write so that there were abundant productions in every branch of literature; literary works reached their prosperity.

There was a Renaissance (revival or rebirth or reawakening) of ancient Greek and Roman literature, mythology and culture, and this served as a source of inspiration to the countless writers of the period. The Renaissance came to full flowering.

There was also an awakening of the human mind to the vastness, beauty and wonder of the world. It was the age of great discovery; the discovery of America and the voyages of adventure undertaken by the sailors of England or other countries of Europe.

Full religious freedom was granted to the people.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Chief Characteristics of Romantic Poetry (2)


d. Melancholy
A romantic is a dissatisfied individual. The poet may be dissatisfied with the circumstances of his own life, with his age, with literary conventions and traditions of the day, or with the general fate humanity. Romantic poetry is, therefore, often pessimistic in tone. A romantic may revolt against the existing conditions and may seek to reform them, or he may try to escape into an imaginative world of his own creation. Often the poet escapes into the past. The middle ages have a special fascination for him for they not only provide him with an escape from the sordid realities of the preset but also delight his heart by their colour pageantry and magic.

b. Love of Nature
Zest for the beauties of the external world characterizes all romantic poetry. Romantic poetry carries as away from the suffocating atmosphere of cities into the fresh invigorating company of the out-of door world. It not only sings s of the sensuous beauty of nature, but also sees into the ”heart of things” and reveals the soul that lies behind.

c. The Democratic Note: Emphasis on the inherent dignity and nobility of man
‘The romantics have an instinct for the elemental simplicities of life’. Their hearts overflow with sympathy for the poor and the down-trodden. They glorify the innocence and simplicity of the common man. They try to see the divine in Man, plead for this emancipation from all bondage, and claim equal rights and liberties for the humblest ‘The romantic poetry is democratic’.

d. A revolt Against All Artificiality: It stands for simplicity in theme and treatment
Not only do the romantics treat of the common man, they also use his language for their purposes. Thus, Wordsworth raised his voice against the inane and artificial diction of the 18th century classics, and advocated the use of the language of the common man for purposes of poetry. Wordsworth went to extend of remarking that there is no essential difference between the language of poetry and that of prose.

e. Their Interest in the Past Leads the Romantics to Experiment with Old Metres and Poetic Forms
The 18th century had confined itself to the use only of one metre, i.e. the Heroic Couplet. With the coming of the romantics there is a revival of a number of ancient metres, such as: the Spenserian stanza, the ballad metre, the blank verse, the lyric, the ode, and the sonnet. The revival of ancient metres is accompanied with a renewed interest in ancient English masters, Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, etc. who had suffered an eclipse during 18th century

English romanticism is thus both a revolt and a revival; it is a revolt against 18th century tradition and convention; it is a revival of old English literary models of the poets.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Chief Characteristics of Romantic Poetry (1)


The term ‘Romanticism’ has been variously defined by various writers. Peter, for example, calls it the “addition of strangeness to beauty”. And Watts Dunton defines it as, “the renaissance of wonder.” Herfood calls it extraordinary development of imaginative sensibility. Legouis and Cazamian emphasize both the emotional and imaginative aspects of romanticism and call it, “an accentuated predominance of emotional life, provoked and directed by the exercise of imaginative vision”. All such definitions are, however, unsatisfactory and partial, for they emphasize one or the other element of this type of literature instead of giving a composite view. It would therefore, be more profitable to consider the salient features of English Romantic poetry instead of wasting time in defining Romanticism.

The chief characteristics of romantic poetry are:

a. Subjectivity
All Romantic literature is subjective in nature. It is an expression of the inner urges of the soul of the artist. The poet does not care for the rules and regulations, but gives free expression to his emotions. Emphasis is laid on inspiration and intuition rather than on the observance of set rules. The poet writes according to his own fancy, and is often guilty of wild excesses. Romantic poetry is fanciful, introspective and is often marked by extravagance. Hence it has been criticized as irregular and wild. As the poet is free to write any theme, and in any for he likes, we have the immense variety of Romantic poetry

b. Spontaneity
Romantic poetry is spontaneous overflow of powerful passions. The romantic poet is gifted with strong organic sensibility, he feels more than there is to feel and sees more than there is to see. Even ordinary objects and incidents excite his imagination and set up in his powerful passion. When the mood is no him, he signs in strains of unpremeditated art. Poetry for him is not craft but inspiration. Carried away by his powerful passions and excited imagination, the poet does not care for the perfection of form or clarity of perfection of form or clarity of expression. The result is much vagueness and obscurity. Substance is more important for him than the form.

c. Love of the Supernatural
The romantic is extraordinarily alive to wonder, mystery and beauty of the universe. He feels the presence of unseen powers in nature. The unseen, transcendental world is more real for the poet than the world of the senses. The supernatural has a special charm for him; he is attracted by the stories of fairies, ghosts and witchcraft. His poetry of the universe. Supernaturalism is an important element in Romantic inspiration. This often makes romantic poetry mystical and removed from the everyday experiences of life.
(To be continued...)

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Marxist Criticism (5)

Marxist criticism in Britain has not flourished to the extent it has elsewhere. The first English Marxist critic of note was Christopher Caudwell (1907-37). In “Illusion and Reality” (1937) and “Studies in a Dying Culture” (1938), he attempted definitions of Marxist theories of art. It is more important since Raymoond Williams (1921-88) attempted an historical assessment of culture and literature in Marxist terms. His relevant works are, notably, “Culture and Society 1780-1950” (1958), “The Long Revolution” (1961), “The Country and the City” (1973), and “Marxism and Literature” (1977). The principal theorist of Marxist criticism in Britain is Terry Eagleton, who has developed various views of Althusser and Macherey and suggests that a basic problem is to make clear the relationship between an ideology (e.g. Marxism) and literature. In his view, texts do not reflect reality but influence an ideology to produce the effect or impression of reality. By ideology, he does not necessarily mean political or Marxist ideology but all systems and theories of representation which help to make up a picture of a person’s experience. He examines ideologies ‘outside’ the text and also the ideology of the text. In developing his ideas he has displayed flexibility and tactical open-mindedness and revises his position. Apart from “Literary Theory” (1983), a witty and challenging exposition of and commentary on many modern ideas and “-isms”, some of his main books have been “Marxism and Literary Criticism” (1976), “Criticism and Ideology” (1976), and “Aesthetics and Ideology” (1990).

The leading exponent of Marxist criticism in America is Fredric Jameson, who makes eclectic use of a range of theories (Including structuralism, deconstruction, archetypal criticism, qq.v., allegorical interpretation and Jacques Lacan’s interpretations [or reinterpretations] of Freud), any of all of which he may find useful in the critical interpretation of a literary text, and which he does use in “The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act” (1981). It is his contention that Marxism ‘subsumes’ other interpretative modes when it comes to a political interpretation which exposes the ‘political unconscious’ of a text. Like Macherey, he is concerned with the ‘sub-text’ but more specifically with that sub-text which historically and ideologically constitutes the ‘unspoken’, the concealed and suppressed. Thus a Marxist interpretation looks for levels of meaning in the mode of allegory (q.v.).

Marxist Criticism (4)

The French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser (1918-1990) developed a theory of different ‘levels’ within the social formation and argued that these ‘levels’ possess no overall unity. They have a ‘relative autonomy’.

‘Relative autonomy’ is a recent attempt by Marxists to get round the problem posed by Marx’s view that Greek art was eternally beautiful. This ‘idealist embarrassment’ can be overcome if we recognize that art is relatively autonomous.

Althusser argues that at any point one ‘level’ may be dominant and that level is determined (in the last instance) by the economic level; or’ it may be free of it as well – hence it is relative. Althusser’s views on literature differ from those of any traditional Marxist. In his opinion great works of literature do not express an ideology nor do they provide a ‘conceptual understanding of reality’. He sees literature as an ideological form/state apparatus. In “Letter on Art to Andre Daspre” and “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” (in his book “Lenin and Philosophy, 1971), he attempts to who (with the help of Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytic theory) how ideology works in society. Althusser, Pierre Macherey (see below) and Etienne Balibar all emphasize that literature is part of an ideological imposition (cf. P.Macherey and E. Balibar in “On Literature as an Ideological Form” in “Untying the Text, 1981”).

Macherey, a follower of Althusser, in “A Theory of Literary Production” (1966) advances the idea that a literary text, by virtue of its form and its fiction, distances itself from its ideology and also, by the ‘silences’ or ‘gaps’ in the text, by what is not said. These silences/gaps, he contends, not only conceal but also expose ideological contradictions. Such absences are suppressions, so to speak, within the text of its own ‘unconscious’. As he puts it: ‘There is a conflict within the text between the text and its ideological content.’ In Macherey’s view, the task of the Marxist critic is to make vocal those silences and expose the text’s unconscious content. Thus, he is concerned with a kind of ‘sub-text’ (q.v.).
(To be continued...)