Sound and Sense in Mariana

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In our last seminar we looked at:

(1) the relationship of Hallam’s essay on Tennyson in relation to “Mariana”, and whether the poem meets Hallam’s definition of a “sensation” poem. I thought the discussion groups worked really well with this task, and the points were sharp and specific about “sensation” in the poem, in particular seeing “Mariana” as a kind of “mood poem”, and also seeing a tension between the emotions in the poem and Hallam’s attempt to graft an intellectualism onto Tennyson’s poetics. I’m wondering whether, after the class on poetess poetry, some of you will see Tennyson’s early writing as part of poetess poetics!

(2) the representation of the character in the poem compared to the painting by Millais.

Millais’ Mariana (1851), wikimedia commons

We talked about the picture’s depiction of Mariana’s overt sexuality, her pose and dress, and those autumnal leaves scattered around her (and their relationship to kinds of “fallenness”). We also talked about Hallam’s description of Tennyson’s poetry as pictorial. How do you think the visual qualities in the poem relate to the poem’s sound?

(3) I challenged two groups to come up with a strategy for reciting the first stanza of “Mariana”, bearing in mind how much Hallam’s essay privileges the luxuriant sounds of the poem. We’ll hear the results at the next seminar, but for now I though you would enjoy the following links to different types of Tennysonian sounds:

The Victorianator iPhone app, which combines gesture with voice.

And here’s Tennyson himself reciting “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.

 

De-scrambling Poems

In our first seminar, we spent time working on a poetry puzzle: a poem’s lines had been scrambled up and I challenged your teams to put it back together again.

Eventually this:

 

Came a deep silence, and I knew he wept

He did not love me living; but once dead


He did not touch the shroud, or raise the fold

The curtains were half drawn, the floor was swept


He pitied me; and very sweet it is


Where through the lattice ivy-shadows crept.


That hid my face, or take my hand in his,

Or ruffle the smooth pillows for my head:


To know he still is warm though I am cold.

Lay thick upon the bed on which I lay,


And could not hear him; but I heard him say:


He leaned above me, thinking that I slept


And strewn with rushes, rosemary and may


“Poor child, poor child”: and as he turned away

…became this:

The curtains were half drawn, the floor was swept


And strewn with rushes, rosemary and may


Lay thick upon the bed on which I lay,


Where through the lattice ivy-shadows crept.


He leaned above me, thinking that I slept


And could not hear him; but I heard him say:


“Poor child, poor child”: and as he turned away

Came a deep silence, and I knew he wept.

He did not touch the shroud, or raise the fold

That hid my face, or take my hand in his,

Or ruffle the smooth pillows for my head:


He did not love me living; but once dead


He pitied me; and very sweet it is


To know he still is warm though I am cold.

The exercise was meant to help you think in terms of form, and we worked on the poem by figuring out the genre (sonnet) and its expectations, looking at rhyming words and putting them together, and keeping an eye too for punctuation (which helped with determining the volta and the final line). We talked a lot, after the poem had been put back together, about what the expectations of the sonnet genre are, and in particular the Petrarchan form, and why this particular example allows a dead woman a voice. What does the rhyme scheme of the sestet signify? (cdeedc). It’s not necessarily what we would expect after the very conventional octave (abbaabba). In particular, what does that couple in ll. 11-12 do?

We finished our seminar with my challenge to you all: when reading a poem for the first time, begin with thinking through the form before anything else. Let the form signify for you first, and then work out the content, and the relationship between form and content, and between them both and context.

Welcome!

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Welcome to the course blog for English 386, Victorian Poetry!

On this site over the semester you will find news and updates about the course, essential documents such as the syllabus, links to other resources, and other important information. Please check the website frequently!

Happy Labour Day, and I look forward to our first class next week.

Mirrors and Mirror Poems

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For the front page of the course blog, I’ve taken the image from a segment of Edward Burne-Jones’s painting The Mirror of Venus (1875). Here’s a link the the full picture here, and more information about the painter can be found here. Can you tell from the segment that the women are looking at their own reflection in water?

We’ll learn more about the Pre-Raphaelite school, of which this painter was a prominent member, later in the semester. For now, though, I’d like you to think about the importance of looking in poetry, and especially in any Victorian poems you might already have read before the course. Why do so many Victorian poems concern the gaze, mirrors, windows, vistas, voyeurism, staring, stalking…and obsessions?!