Revised Introduction and Thesis

When we picture the poets whose work we so often find ourselves pouring over, we tend to picture these great men and women brooding and musing for hours, possibly taking refuge from ran or shine under the low sweeping branches of a large oak tree. We imagine them pondering the meaning of life, the cosmos, birth and death. The reality is far less romantic than we perceive it to be: poets were simply people writing of the world around them. Their world, like ours, was constantly undergoing social and political change that effected their everyday lives in monumental ways. We can therefore expect these influences to permeate the words of numerous great poems. One such work is Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. Although perusing the poem may give the audience the idea that the speaker is simply celebrating his individuality, the formal techniques employed by Whitman in Song of Myself point to a connection between individual liberation, sexual emancipation, and national identity. We can map this argument in many areas of the poem, but most specifically in section 24. His juxtaposition of objects found in nature and the sensual, animal features of the human body, creation of images of man’s plight in the face of adversity, and use of the same repeated exclamation argue the deep connection Whitman found in the shifting world around him between individual liberation and the birth of a great democratic state.

When we picture the poets whose work we so often find ourselves poring over, we tend to picture great men and women brooding and musing for hours, perhaps taking refuge under the low sweeping branches of a large oak tree. They lay there pondering the meaning of life, the cosmos, birth and death. The reality is far less romantic than our imaginations would lead us to believe: poets were simply people writing of the world around them. Their world, like ours, was constantly undergoing social and political change that affected everyday life monumentally. We can expect to see these changes dealt with in the subject matter of many great poems, one such poem being Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself. At first read, the poem may give the audience the idea that the speaker is celebrating the importance his personal independence, however, Song of Myself extols the bond between individual liberation and the unity of humanity. Whitman most strongly emphasizes this relationship in section 24.  The speaker creates images of his own body, blood, milky streams, eggs, ponds, the sun, sweat, genitals, oak, and fields one after the other, connecting them by literally placing natural terms directly next to features of the human body. This connection between the individual body and the great outdoors develops further because Whitman includes one complete idea in each line; each sentence could stand alone but is understood better in the context of the great, expansive poem. Anaphora draws our attention to the speaker’s urge to break free into the world, giving in to his lustful urges, not only by ripping doors of their hinges and giving his body over to the natural world, but also by listening to a collection of past and present voices. Strong images of slavery, sex, diversity and daybreak call our attention to the dawn of a new era. The overall juxtaposition of sensuality and the natural world, complete sentences, anaphora, and strong imagery present in Whitman’s manifesto Song of Myself describe an unbreakable connection between individualism, sexual freedom, and a united national identity he discovered in the tumultuous early years of our young nation.

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Essay Intro and Body Paragraph

The differences between the cells that make up our organs may appear minute, but these variations are what make our hearts beat. Their similarities and ability to work as one also allow our hearts to keep us alive. In the case of poetry, the infinitesimal deviations in the characteristics of the poem’s form are what carry out its meaning. William Wordsworths’ Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, insists that the city of London is not an industrialized, man-made place imposed on earth’s surface. The use of personification throughout the poem connects the city with nature, allowing the reader to view them as coexisting elements of the earth. Enjambment emphasizes these connections, while also connecting ideas that we perceive as opposites: nudity and dressed, awake and asleep, moving and stillness, exclamation and calm, dead and alive. Furthermore, the idea that stillness, sleeping, and inaction are elements of the natural world, equally as important as motion, develops with personification, rhyme and two turns in the sestet of this Petrarchan sonnet. The prevailing idea the speaker imparts through the sonnet’s rhyme, enjambment, personification, and turns is that humans, nature, and the city connect to make one force of nature, still in the sense that it is at peace, poised to move and continue living.

Body paragraph:

The speaker teases out this idea when they describe the city as “bright and glittering,” evoking an image comparable to the sun (8). The air is “smokeless,” letting the city do so, which reconnects us to the idea of the city as a human who can wear garments, like the beauty of the morning (8). Perhaps the smoke keeps the City in its street clothes, in which it is busy and unremarkable. Once again, the speaker portrays the City and its contents as an organic part of the environment and as one cohesive human form. Line 8 is also the final line before the first turn. The rhyme of the words “bare” and “air” links the idea of nudity to crisp clean air (5,8). We also can connect this to the word “wear” in line 4. This reiterates that the city wears its most beautiful, bright, glittering adornments when it is silent, naked, and still. This contradicts the idea of the city being alive in the sense of it being human, but strengthens the idea that it is an organic product of the earth itself. For example, plants are silent, naked, and still, yet are very much alive. Perhaps the speaker creates a dialogue here concerning what it really means to be alive; are plants as alive as we humans are? Can the cities we inhabit be alive as well? Can all the other inanimate manifestations of nature we create and own be animate?

 

 

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Satan’s Enjambment in Book 4, ‘Paradise Lost’

In Book 4 of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan, the speaker in lines 33-113, begins a lengthy soliloquy in which he is poised to continue his battle against God by waging war against his children, Adam and Eve. Satan’s message in his soliloquy exudes confidence and infamy. In fact, it is apparent that Satan argues that his fall from grace and revery in heaven, intended as punishment, led to both misery and power. He argues that he cannot have power without misery, and furthermore, that in the face of an opportunity to gain the rule of heaven he so craved, he would forgoe grace and go back to Hell in an instant. The use of enjambment in Paradise Lost enforces Satan’s testimony to justify his fall from grace while insisting that even if it were granted to him again, he would lose it all simply because of the thought that he could achieve the glorious power reign.

In lines 81-99, Satan essentially states his case as to why he could never be a part of the kingdom of heaven again, and therefore resigns himself to hell. Line 83 begins with the word “Disdain,” a concept emphasized by enjambment since it is broken from the previous line where Satan states that the only room for repentance left would be submission. The idea of repentance is unworthy to Satan, such to the level of extreme disdain. In lines 85-86, he details how he enchanted the “Spirits” that revere him in Hell, by “boasting I could subdue / Th’ Omnipotent.” This strengthens the image of Satan as a powerful seducer and braggart in line 85, and of God as the all knowing one. Enjambment serves to literally seperate his conceit of power and of of God’s power, making the two mutually exclusive, furthering the argument that the two could never co-exist. Satan goes on to say that he is “only supreme / In misery;” the lower that he falls (91-92). Here, enjambment creates a double meaning: Satan is the only supreme ruler in Hell, but only supreme to the others by his level of misery. Although he poses this conflict of power and misery being intertwined, he still argues that even if by a favor from God he were allowed back into heaven, it would not be long until “What feigned submission swore: ease would recant / Vows made in pain, as violent and void” (96-97). If he were to be put in his old position, so close to the power that is so far out of reach, he would quickly  turn to vows hate and ambition to achieve that power which he thirsts for. Satan emphasizes the word “Vows” to make clear that although they are supposed to be sacred, he would change his quickly if faced with the idea of power.

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Donne’s ‘The Sun Rising’

 

The central conceit in ‘The Sun Rising’ by John Donne is that of relating the power of the sun to the power of the relationship between him and his lover. Donne begins this conceit by naming the sun as an “old fool” (1) and therefore personifying the sun as a foolish man, maybe even a boy, who dares wake the lovers. In this way, Donne is downgrading the sun by simply making it into a person whom he would speak in such a base manner towards. The sun is not a force of nature or a gentleman, but instead an intruder. He continues by telling the sun, a “Saucy pedantic wretch,” to “go chide / Late school-boys and sour prentices,” (6), furthering the idea that the sun is an annoyance who can go bother others instead of he and his lover.

Although the conceit continues throughout the entire poem, I would like to discuss stanza two in depth because it powerfully personifies the sun while making his human lover seem larger and more titanic in their influence on his world than their own body or that of the sun’s. In his first two lines of this stanza, Donne questions why the sun should think its beams so powerful. Not only does this question the power of the sun itself, but it encourages the reader to believe that the sun is some pretentious individual who thinks himself more powerful than he really is. We begin to view the sun as a person who bothers us with their lame boasts of power instead of as a separate entity in our natural world. Donne relates us to the sun in this way, making it human and allowing us the opportunity to observe the dialogue he engages it in. He adds “If her eyes have not blinded thine, / Look, and to-morrow late tell me,” insisting that his lovers eyes shine even brighter than the sun itself. This makes the natural power of his lover greater than that of the sun, furthering the conceit that the sun is mortal. This is surprising because the sun is the singlemost powerful natural force on earth, yet Donne would have us believe that his lover’s eyes are greater than all of that. Furthermore, he insists the sun has eyes that risk being blinded by those of his lover. In the next four lines, he concludes that if the sun were to engage in conversation with the kings of the world, he would find that they too believe that all the power of the world lies in this very bed, here, in his lover. This, to me, is the strongest form of conceit in the poem in that it makes his lover the center of not only his universe, but all of ours, and that if any of us were to see her (or him, if the affair were homosexual) that we would believe so to, making the sun an obselete intruder on our lives.

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Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116

At first I could not find two categories of imagery in this sonnet to plot out. I was looking for two obviously opposite themes, or two blatantly different kinds of metaphor that I assumed would permeate the work. Once I gave up on searching for these specific features and began to  mull over what meaning Shakespeare was trying to expouse with this sonnet, the imagery naturally occured to me as if it was diguised by the sonnet’s greater meaning all along. The sonnet appears to me to be Shakespeare’s way of discussing what about love is tangible, that which we can measure and judge based on measurements, and what about it is intangible, or that which we cannot begin to measure. These two themes become his central forms of imagery throughout the work.

He began by writing “Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments” (1-2), meaning that he did not aim to write to convince others why two sane people should not marry. Instead, he continues on to discuss what love is not and what love is. Shakespeare makes it clear in these first two lines that love is its own entity, making it tangible to us. This stands in stark contrast to how most people view love: an intangible abstract idea only made semi-real by two individuals claiming to be in love. He follows this first declaration that love is a tangible thing with two and a half lines of imagery identifying intangible qualities of love: “Love is not love / Which alters when it alterations finds / Or bends with the remover to remove” (2-4). Here, Shakespeare states that love does not change when circumstances do, or when one lover makes a mistake and hurts the other. Both of these occurences are intangible because we cannot quantify or qualify how our feelings towards another person change- they simply do. However, Shakespeare juxtaposes these intangible qualities with things that are tangible in our lives: alterations to clothing when necessary and bending when a support is removed. He then likens love to “an ever fixed mark / That looks on tempests but is never shaken” (5-6), portraying love as a lighthouse that braves the storm, which is a very tangible image to us. His use of imagery to illustrate the intangible goes on in lines 8, 11 and 12. In line 8, Shakespeare follows the tangible metaphor of people as lost ships with the intangible idea of their own worth, for how can we measure the worth of an individual? In  lines 11 and 12, love is said to not change over time, but last until “the edge of doom” (12). Although we can measure time, making it tangible, the end of time, or forever, is an intangible thing. In the lines preceding 11-12, Shakespeare deems the tangible qualities of appearance to be ruled by “Time” instead of “Love,” identifying love this time as something intangible and time as what we can measure. Finally, in the last two lines, Shakespeare claims that if he is proved wrong “I never writ / nor no man ever loved” (13-14). I find this to be the result of a turning point in line 9 where love becomes intangible, as opposed to the beginning of the poem where he aims to analyze it as its own entity. This is made clear by the illustration that if he is wrong then he never wrote, which is a tangible product, followed by the declaration that from the same result, then no man ever loved, which is immeasurable and therefore intangible. This sonnet makes me ask the question: can we truly measure love, and if not, then how will we know if we ever really have?

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