The first stanza of ‘‘Ye Goatherd Gods’’ is spoken by Strephon. He and Klaius are shepherds in Sidney’s larger work Arcadia, in which this poem originally appeared. In this stanza, Strephon appeals to the gods, nymphs, and satyrs, all of whom are common figures in pastoral poetry. These figures and the landscape—valleys, grass, and woods—establish the setting. Strephon then advises the gods, nymphs, and satyrs to grant the favor of listening to his complaining music. He says that his woes come in the morning and stay with him through the evening.
In the second stanza, Klaius appeals to the heavens in his woe. He addresses first Mercury (which can be seen in the evening), then Diana the huntress (which is the moon), and finally the morning star (or Venus). As in the first stanza, this stanza marks out time by the passing of the day. Klaius also uses Strephon’s approach of . . . Read More
‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ begins and ends with reflections on oddity. The first stanza presents an example of something characterized as odd; the last, of something characterized as not at all odd. Thus the poem comes full circle from beginning to end. It is not a closed circle, however, but an open spiral. The difference between a circle and a spiral is the difference between repetition and evolution, but in the instance of ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ evolution does not indicate progress but only variation. Progress suggests a linear development, movement, most likely an improvement or, at least, intensification. In ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter,’’ something happens that makes a difference in the poem—the story of the oysters’ fate at the hands of the title characters unfolds— yet no progress is made. Rather there is transformation or variation on a theme. The context is changed. The type of phenomenon that the poem shows as odd in the . . . Read More
Child Labor and Exploitation
The oysters are, in effect, children, seduced from their beds and marched through the treacherous sands of the world by two wicked grown-ups who finally devour them. The exploitation of children in England during the nineteenth century was one of the most formidable issues of that century. Whereas London had always had an underclass and posed many challenges to young people, as is highlighted in many eighteenth-century novels, the advent of the industrial revolution and the growth of a factory system of manufacture required a massive number of bodies to serve as levers and connective elements for the running of machinery. Children worked long hours in factories, and often were mangled, maimed, or even killed on the job by the machinery they ran.
Political Conflict in Europe
‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter,’’ like the book in which it appears, Through the . . . Read More
Characteristically ‘‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’’ rushes forward with a propulsive energy as it is read. In large part this is because of alliteration, the repetition of consonant sounds, especially in the initial letters of neighboring words. The poem is especially rich in sibilants—s’s and sh’s. These slippery consonants not only help the poem slide along but evoke the sea and the very feeling of swallowing oysters.
At several points in the poem, Carroll narrates the action by the sort of repetition that comes from drawing up a catalog. In the first stanzas, sun, moon, billows, sea, sand, clouds, and birds are mentioned, and their roles in establishing the action and the landscape of the poem are presented. In the sixth stanza, walking and talking are catalogued activities, as are the grooming activities of the oysters in stanza 8. Stanza 11 presents the . . . Read More
Violation of territory is a continuing motif in ‘‘TheWalrus and the Carpenter.’’ In the first stanza, the sun encroaches on the moon’s domain. Later, the walrus and the carpenter draw the oysters out of the sea onto the sand. In each case, a dominant force invades the territory of a weaker entity and the weaker ones, whether the moon or the oysters, are powerless and can only sulk or beg, but to no avail, being displaced and overwhelmed. In the first instance, the moon was not complicit in her defeat. Suddenly the natural order of the universe was violated. In the second, the oysters were complicit, having been foolish enough to stir out of the safety of their natural environment.
When the walrus summons them to walk, the oysters follow without hesitation, eagerly. They leave their beds in the sea without a thought. The eldest oyster, although he seems to be on to . . . Read More
The poem begins with a paradox, presented by the peculiar image of the sun shining upon the sea in the middle of the night. The mention of the sea establishes the landscape of the action of the poem. The jaunty rhythm of the poem carries the reader and suggests the easiness of light verse, belying the grim subjects of the poem— seduction, betrayal, and death.
A wry sort of conflict is introduced since the moon is sulking because of the sun’s presence in a realm in which he does not belong. He is robbing the moon of the pleasure of presiding over her domain. The theme of conflicting interests is thus introduced.
The third stanza is devoted entirely to description. Sea and sand are described by their predominant characteristics of wetness and dryness. The sky is presented as cloudless. Birds are not flying in it for the simple reason that . . . Read More
William Cullen Bryant is one of those venerable poets from the distant past who have an established and honored place in literary history but are little read in the twenty-first century. As Bryant’s solemn face gazes out from formal nineteenth-century photographs, the textbooks inform us that in those long-gone days he helped to usher in the dawn of an authentic American literature. A giant in his own age, he looms not so large in ours. In his day he was thought to be superior to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and other poets of the mid-century, but almost no one would maintain such a view in the twenty-first century. His poem ‘‘Thanatopsis,’’ however, is one of the few exceptions to the obscurity into which his work has fallen. Regarded as his greatest poem, and written in what Albert F. McLean (in his biography William Cullen Bryant) calls Bryant’s ‘‘voice of eloquent reverie,’’ it still has its admirers, and it has even supplied the name for . . . Read More
An elegy is a formal and somber poem that either laments the death of a particular person or is a more general meditation on death. Thomas Gray’s ‘‘Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,’’ a poem that Bryant was familiar with, is an example of the form. ‘‘Thanatopsis’’ fulfills the requirements of the elegy since it is a serious poem that meditates on the inevitability of death for every human being and attempts to seek some kind of consolation in the face of certain extinction.
The poem is written in blank verse, which is unrhymed verse usually written in iambic pentameter, a line of five iambic feet. A foot consists of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Line 19, ‘‘the all-beholding sun shall see no more,’’ and line 24, ‘‘Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,’’ are examples of regular iambic pentameter. However, the . . . Read More
Overcoming Fear of Death
For a poem written in the early nineteenth century, in which Christian belief was the norm in the United States, this is an unusual elegy in the sense that it offers none of the traditional consolations to humans faced with their own certain mortality. In ‘‘Thanatopsis’’ there is no Christian afterlife in which the believer can expect to go to heaven and live forever with God. Nor is there any divine judgment in which the good are rewarded and the evil punished. The poet makes no mention of the human soul, and therefore offers no distinction between body and soul in the sense that the mortal body dies but the soul is eternal. In this poem, nothing that lives is eternal except the forms of nature. Everything goes to death after its brief time under the sun; the material world is all there is. Consolation, the strength and wisdom to overcome fear, exists in the knowledge that the prospect of utter extinction is not . . . Read More
‘‘Thanatopsis’’ begins by painting a verbal picture of the many different aspects of nature, which anyone who loves nature is able to discern. When a person is in a good mood, nature has a ‘‘voice of gladness,’’ and appears in great beauty. When a person is feeling sad, nature can quickly alleviate that feeling. The poet then ventures some advice to his reader. He says that whenever people are disturbed by thoughts of their inevitable death, they should go out into nature and listen to nature’s message, which it offers through earth, air, and water. In this ‘‘still voice,’’ nature reminds humans that in a short while, they will no longer see the sun on its daily course. Their physical form will no longer exist, either in the ground where it is laid, or in the ocean. The earth that nourishes them will reclaim them. No trace of individuality will remain; all that is distinctive to the person will be mixed . . . Read More