Aemilia Lanyer

Lanyer appears to be one of the newer Norton inserts that they mentioned in the preface, added to help bolster the number of writers who were women. Lanyer gets a short bio, which touches on her marriage and pregnancy, and how she was actually quite popular as a published feminist poet in her time. She wrote poems that defended famous women (like Eve and Mary Magdalene) and women in general, from their reputation as faithless sinners.

From “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” ‘Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women’

Line that jumped out at me from the beginning:
“Let not us women glory in men’s fall,
Who had power given to overrule us all.”

This poem is well constructed, and I doubt this makes much sense, but is a very poem-y poem. It points out a lot of basic facts, that many key male figures make some huge mistakes in the Bible, but that doesn’t damn them as a sex, whereas all women got painted with Eve’s brush as a sex, and seem to be irredeemable.

‘The Description of Cooke-ham’

This is a lovely goodbye to a place, pretty, and as the notes at the bottom point out, part of the classical goodbye to a place tradition of poems. Pathetic faaaaallacy.

Lanyer seems to have been a talented, competent poet, with an excellent vocabulary and romantic/creative mind. Poetry like this isn’t really my thing, but it was lovely.


John Donne Poems pt2

WordPress sent me one of those year end review emails with all my stats, and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are a lot of people trying to cheat on their Chaucer assignments. 😉 I’m happy that my slapdash summary of “The Miller’s Tale” is useful.

“Satire 3”
Norton gives us a brief introduction to this piece, comparing it to the classical satires, and giving us the subject matter. It’s about finding the one true church, and was written while Donne was converting from Catholic to C of E.

The first line of the satire sent me on a mental tangent. I work for a college residence hall, and we had a kid last year request an ambulance because he said that his spleen really hurt. I feel like most people could not identify that it was their spleen that was hurting, in fact, I’m not sure it’s possible. Could be wrong, but always stuck with me as strange.

The satire is beautifully written, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought for analysis. Religion is personified, and Donne uses female archetypes and imagery to describe her (goddess, drudge, wife, wench). He wraps it up by commenting that souls are lost when trust is placed in man rather than God.

“Holy Sonnet 1”
I’m not afraid of death, because God sustains.

“Holy Sonnet 5”
This one started out nice, being a little world made cunningly and all, but ended in fire and brimstone and being eaten.

“Holy Sonnet 7”
I don’t know why but this one reminded me of Hellsing Ultimate, when Alucard releases to level zero and you see everyone he’s got living inside of him as a mindless horde.

“Holy Sonnet 9”
Really bummed at how much I sin, and it doesn’t entirely seem fair that I was born to sin and then am punished for it.

“Holy Sonnet 10”
Death isn’t so bad, really it’s only a restful nap before heaven.

“Holy Sonnet 13”
He needs to remember that nothing is as beautiful as seeing Jesus at the final coming, and that the beauty of women is nothing to that.

“Holy Sonnet 14”
God is too gentle in his fight over Donne’s soul, Donne wants him to do whatever it takes to save him from himself and the devil.

“Holy Sonnet 18”
Working on the church as bride of Christ image, describing church.

“Holy Sonnet 19”
Personal holiness comes and goes. The only thing consistent about human nature is inconsistency.

“Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness”
Preparation for death, with trust in the resurrection.

“A Hymn to God the Father”
A last plea for forgiveness, repenting.

From “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions” Meditation 17
The opening line is the now familiar ‘for whom this bell tolls… it tolls for him” and contains “no man is an island.” He discusses the interconnectedness of all humanity through their relationship with God, every birth and death resonating through the race.

And so ends John Donne. I wish I’d had more mental energy to spend on him, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I’ve still got my volume of his works, maybe I’ll work through them separately. I don’t remember his poems being so misogynistic, but I guess he’s also a product of his times. That sort of crap would be inexcusable now, but we can’t force modern morals on historical literature. All we can do is look for signs of progressive thought in those works, and acknowledge that for the time it was revolutionary.

Next post: Aemilia Lanyer

John Donne Poems pt1

I can’t promise any sort of proper analysis of these lovely poems. All I can is recommend that you read them for yourself and admire them on your own. I’ve got a wiggly 8.5 month old baby simultaneously breastfeeding, reaching for the iPad and watching my partner play his video game, making thoughtful interpretation pretty much impossible. I’ll give you a highlight for each poem.

“The Good Morrow”
I can strongly relate to the breastfeeding imagery (‘Were we not weaned till then, but sucked on country pleasures, childishly?’), but my time with 17th century lit has made me wary around the words sucked and country as sexualized. I’m convinced some of these poets were secretly 14 years old.

The modern imagery of sea explorers, maps, sciencey applied terms like hemispheres gives this romantic little poem it’s place in time, a time of discovery and enlightenment. I think a lot of couples, especially new lovers, have asked themselves questions like what did we even do before we met and fell and love and awakened? Are we even two people anymore? It’s the discovery, the enlightenment of a whole new world.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeugh. We’ll stuff this in the folio of bitter misogynistic lit about how all women, everywhere, are false.

“The Undertaking”

“The Sun Rising”
I remember this poem from school, and it’s very sweet. It’s when you’re snuggled up cosy in bed snoozing with your partner, and you realize that it’s morning, and you just want it to go away. There’s a nice contrast, comparing the grand kings and exotic countries with the simple pleasure of being tucked up warm with your partner and finding it more valuable.

“The Indifferent”
Apparently he can love any sort of woman listed provided she’s not interested in being a faithful partner, which he said is lucky, because women aren’t faithful partners anymore. He said there are a few women who are faithful, which is unfortunate, because their partners aren’t.

“The Canonization”
No matter what anyone says or does, he and his partner are in love, so just leave them the hell alone. There’s a nice stanza comparing their love to a phoenix, dying and rising and all that.

“Air and Angels”
Men’s love is heavy.

“Break of Day”
The poem begins sweetly, another picture of lovers in bed in the morning, and it’s time to get up. He says nothing spoils love like being busy. I’m unclear whether this is a husband or wife, or a cheating husband, based on the last line.

“A Valediction: Of Weeping”
Lovers are sad and crying. Maybe they have to stop seeing each other because the guy is already married. See poem above.

“Love’ Alchemy”
He doesn’t understand how people can love someone their entire lives, because women are zombies.

“The Apparition”

“A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”
There’s speculation in the footnotes that Donne wrote this for his wife on leaving on a long journey, and while away that he dreamed of his wife losing a baby while it was happening back home.

“The Ecstasy”
Best footnote yet “3. Reflections of each in the other’s eyes, often called ‘making babies'”. We also have the word sex for the first time so far, appropriate for a poem called ecstasy. The overall message seems to be that love is so elevated, such a thing of souls and not bodies, that the death of bodies cannot really change the relationship. It’s eternal and definitely shows that Donne changes his mind about the nature of love from poem to poem.

“The Funeral”
Either he has something strange going on with his arm hair, or he has some sort of bracelet on made of his lover’s hair. He doesn’t want it removed when he dies so he can some of his lover to the grave with him.

“The Relic”
On about the hair bracelet again.

“Elegy 16. On His Mistress”
Reminds me of Rochester’s persuasive speech to Jane Eyre when she finds out he’s already married.

“Elegy 19. To His Mistress Going to Bed”
Donne gets ready for sex with his partner, poetically. Nice shout out to midwives.

Well, my daughter is composing “A Valediction: Forbidding Tummy Time”. Part two to follow.

John Donne

I first read John Donne is high school English class, and even then, I found something appealing about him. I’ve only purchased five books of poetry in my life that haven’t been for school: a 19th Century assorted volume (random high school pick), Petrarch (we understood each other in the middle of my university career), the love poems of Pablo Neruda (because wow), Shakespeare’s sonnets (of course), and the works of John Donne. Maybe it’s his combination of faith and humour, of appreciation for both the divine and the mundane that I find relatable.

According to Donne’s bio in Norton, he was raised Catholic in a time when being Catholic in England was limiting, isolating and dangerous. His family suffered for their faith, sometimes even to a very painful death. As an adult and scholar of theology, Donne converted to Church of England. His poetry follows the periods of his life, taking in everything from society at large to small personal matters. His works often used sexual imagery to explore larger topics, maybe because it was easy to understand, maybe because it was fun to write. He had the beginnings of an excellent career, but an imprudent love match later, and he would spend the much of his life in constant worry. By sucking up to the powerful people of the day he worked his way into favour, and the king himself insisted the Donne enter ministry. At the end of his life he became obsessed with death. Over the course of his life he wrote a uniquely huge variety of poetry.

The Flea

We covered this poem pretty thoroughly in class, but I can’t remember much of the analysis. My impression now is just about the same: a little amused, a little grossed out, and some frustration on behalf of the recipient of this poem. I’ve dated multiple guys who have assumed “no, never” meant “ask again tomorrow”, and if they had been gifted with words I wouldn’t have put it past them to write something similar. My hope is that he wrote this to amuse his partner and not to attempt to persuade.

Next post: more Donne

The Early Seventeenth Century

By the end of the first (of twenty!) page I had Monty Python’s song “Oliver Cromwell” stuck in my head, and Cromwell hadn’t even been mentioned yet.

In terms of the literary history, you’ve got James I publishing his own treatises on government, religion and witchcraft (look for the strange third nipple), and the king, queen and heir all showing royal patronage to different people.

Something interesting that I hadn’t heard before was that apparently James’ court was abundantly homoerotic. They’re not sure (because there’s no way to prove it) if it was referencing a sort of classical homoeroticism or if was actually an expression of homosexuality, but letters, diaries, and other writings showed that both were likely.

What we’ve got here is a charming blend of medieval knowledge (eg humours, heavenly spheres and the like) mixed with the new science (eg blood circulation, astronomy, etc). Literature held a place in people’s lives that makes me think of “The Eyre Affair” world, used to celebrate, elegize, commemorate, explore, or for simple enjoyment. Patronage was noble, private and often religious, and London was a creative hotbed. This section also spends a lot of time on individual authors, which is a little odd, because each of these authors are featured with individual bios. Context, maybe?

The forms literature took changed, with new styles and formats joining the old. I remember reading essays in high school, rolling my eyes at reading someone’s 400 year old essay, before realizing how interesting they were.

There’s a review of the rebellion, Long Parliament and all that business. All I can think of is Time Team (“Hopefully these earthworks are Anglo-Saxon! Awwww, they’re only Roundhead”). I spent a lot of time on this era in school, so I skimmed through it all pretty fast, but here are some important sentences that amused me:

“Every day Charles wore his hat in defiance of the court’s authority.”

“As the revolution wore on, other sects sprang up, also seeking toleration: Seekers, Finders, Antinomians, the Family of Love, Fifth Monarchists, Quakers, Muggletonians, Ranters and more.”

“This so-called ‘Barebones’ Parliament, nicknamed for a prominent member, Praisegod Barebone, self-destructed in less than six months.”

Suddenly there were no plays allowed, and culture was shunted aside for a bit. Religion and conflict was a major player in what was left, building the scene for Milton.

Next post: John Donne!

Thomas Nashe “A Litany in Time of Plague”

Mr Nashe seems like a real peach. From his short bio in Norton, it sounds like he was part of a popular crowd of young writers (like Marlowe) who all died young and that he wrote sexist, racist and antisemetic plays. This poem is included in Norton because while it is a literary product of its time, it is also characteristic of how Nashe could sound like he was writing now, in a very modern style.

Now, the poem is a litany, so I can’t fault it for the repetitive nature, it’s just doing what it’s supposed to be doing. Maybe it’s the late hour, though, or the less than inviting description of Nashe, but I didn’t find anything remarkable about the poem. Seemed the usual blend of rhymes, classical imagery, all that. Maybe that’s what this poem’s got, it hits the checklist and makes it good to for students to analyse.

Death comes for us all, Mr Nashe is right, though in Canada it’s not likely to be the plague. Heart disease and car crashes, maybe. Stretch your legs, leave the car at home. I think I would need to read more Nashe to appreciate his “modern” experimental tone, this poem isn’t doing it.

Henry IV Part One

It’s been awhile, and I can only place so much of the blame for my Norton neglect on having a new baby. In lieu of a proper post, here is a list of confessions:

1. As much as I love Shakespeare, I’ve never really enjoyed this play. I’ve read it before, and it always leaves me with a feeling of meh.

2. I find the character of Falstaff depressing.

3. I find the scenes with Bardolph, Peto, Doll, etc somewhat tedious.

4. I didn’t feel like rereading the play, so I cheated and watched a faithful film version.

5. Confession #4 is a lie. I borrowed “The Hollow Crown” series from the library, and it only occurred to me after to count it as rereading the play.

6. I borrowed “The Hollow Crown” series because of Tom Hiddleston.

Here’s the quick summary:

Richard II (the only person involved in this series not named Henry) is deposed by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who becomes Henry IV. Henry’s oldest son, Hal, has chosen to become a glorious king in future by creating contrast for how he spent his time as heir. The prince hangs out with thieves, drunks and prostitutes and ignores his courtly life and duties, much to the condemnation of his father, the king. The king idolizes the son of his longtime friend and ally, Northumberland, because Hotspur is everything a young prince should be. Except loyal. Hotspur leads a rebellion of northerners against the king, and Prince Hal leads the king’s army to defeat it. Hal kills Hotspur, and it looks like things are mended for now.

I really recommend “The Hollow Crown” films. Great cast, great production. The only flaw was the chain mail. As a girl who is interested in chain mail, costume design, and knitting: I see what you did there. 95% of the chain mail is just wool, knitted in a garter stitch, sprayed metallic. I understand why they did it, and it’s an old trick (they did the same thing in Monty Python and the Holy Grail), but I found it distracting. Otherwise, fantastic series!