William Blake’s “Nurse’s Songs”

In order to grasp their meanings, the two versions of the “Nurse’s Song” in both William Blake’s the Songs of Innocence and the Songs of Experience are to be read not through what they show literally, nor even what they appear to mean (the obvious “red herring” interpretation), but rather what they hide. At theirContinue reading “William Blake’s “Nurse’s Songs””

Blake’s “Visions of the Daughters of Albion”

The main character Oothoon in The Visions of the Daughters of Albion is a liberation figure challenging not only male chauvinism and marriage but the institution of slavery and imperialism in general. The female protagonist Oothoon, a sex slave who is raped by the slave driver Bromion, is clearly made to represent both the fertile,Continue reading “Blake’s “Visions of the Daughters of Albion””

William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” & “Songs of Experience”

William Blake’s Songs of Innocence is often thought of as the lighter, happier of the two collections of poems known as the Songs, the other of course being its polar opposite—the Songs of Experience. Upon the first reading of the text this proves to be superficially true, in that the Innocence songs are more uplifting.Continue reading “William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” & “Songs of Experience””

Eliot’s Alienation

A modernist exercise in capitalist angst, T.S. Eliot’s famous masterpiece “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” at once exposes the crumbling of bourgeois society and the utter disintegration of its culture as a meaningful epoch. Considered by many to be the first modernist poem, its verses certainly carve out a splendid picture of the isolation and contempt for the status quo that marks modernist and postmodernist literature. More than that, it illustrates the emptiness and superficiality of class society through the middle-class male persona of the narrator, who is kept nameless but is presumably Eliot himself speaking through a fictional character.

The sense of being lost begins with the quotation at the beginning of the poem. Translated, it reads: “If I thought my answer were to one who could ever return to the world, this flame would move no more; but since no one has ever returned alive from this depth, if what I hear be true, without fear of infamy I answer you.” The quote, which comes from Dante’s Divine Comedy, is originally spoken by a lost soul in hell. This gives quite a first impression of the emotions to come from the main body of the poem.

In the first stanza, when the narrator asks a person, presumably a woman, to accompany him on a stroll through the streets of downtown, already the man’s thoughts have drifted to the decay of class society. He describes “half-deserted streets,” “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels,” and “streets that follow like a tedious argument/ of insidious intent.”

John Webster’s “A Dirge”

John Webster’s’ “A Dirge” is a delightfully gloomy poem contrasting the power and the all-encompassing inevitability of death with the beauty and balance of life. It seems to ponder on this deep subject, using images of nature to communicate its message. Webster makes his purpose immediately clear by the title-a “dirge” itself is a dismal funeral song. The verses clearly speak of death and the eternal nothingness that may reside afterwards-never in the poem does Webster mention anything about the eternal soul or afterlife. Clearly he is not concerned with life or metaphysics, but with death and the natural world.

Indeed, animals and nature are a reoccurring theme throughout the concise poem. “Call for the robin-redbreast,” it begins, “since o’er shady groves they hover, and with leaves and flowers do cover, the friendless bodies of unburied men.” His description of trees, birds and animals is undeniably beautiful even as his account of the bodies of forgotten men being covered in leaves is emotionally draining to the reader. Webster addresses wrens and robins, two kinds of small birds which fed on insects-perhaps those same insects currently feeding on the corpse’s flesh? At once, he speaks to loneliness and beauty, death and life in one package.