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A Brief History of British Poetry

A Brief History of British Poetry

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A Brief History of British Poetry

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  1. A Brief History of British Poetry

  2. Overview • A summary of key movements in British poetry: • Shakespeare • The Metaphysical Poets • The Romantics • The Victorian Poets • The War Poets • The Movement • Contemporary Poets


  4. Elizabethan Poetry • At the time, the writing of poetry was part of the education of a gentleman. Sonnets were very popular among the upper classes, and collections of sonnets and lyrics were often published. Aristocrats who did not write poetry themselves were usually patrons to other poets, giving them financial support.

  5. Shakespeare’s Sonnets • The Fair Youth • The Dark Lady • The Rival Poet

  6. Broad Themes • Pure love • Tainted love • Love betrayed

  7. Structure of Shakespearean Sonnets • 3 Quatrains • Final Couplet composed in iambic pentameter • The rhyme scheme is ababcdcdefefgg

  8. The Metaphysical Movement Metaphysics is a traditional branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world that encompasses it. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms: 1.What is ultimately there? 2.What is it like?

  9. The Metaphysical Poets • Samuel Cowley • John Donne • George Herbert • Andrew Marvell • Abraham Cowley • Henry Vaughan • George Chapman • Edward Herbert

  10. John Donne (1572 – 1631) • His personal relationship with spirituality is at the centre of much of his work • Psychological analysis • Sexual realism

  11. Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678) • Politically charged poems • Wrote with humour • Carpe diem (‘seize the day’) • Did not live to see a collection of his poems published

  12. To His Coy Mistress Had we but world enough, and time,This coyness, Lady, were no crime, An hundred years should go to praise Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze; Two hundred to adore each breast; But thirty thousand to the rest; An age at least to every part,

  13. To His Coy Mistress But at my back I always hear Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near; And yonder all before us lie Deserts of vast eternity. then worms shall try That long preserved virginity, And your quaint honour turn to dust, And into ashes all my lust. The grave’s a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace.

  14. The Romantic Period • The Romantic period, or Romanticism, is regarded as one of the greatest and most illustrious movements in literary history • Primarily consisted of just seven poets • Lasted approximately 25 years – from William Blake’s rise in the late 1790s to Lord Byron’s death in 1824.

  15. Blake Shelley Keats Coleridge Wordsworth Poets of the Romantic Era • William Blake • William Wordsworth • Samuel Taylor Coleridge • George Gordon, Lord Byron • John Keats • Percy Bysshe Shelley Byron

  16. Characteristics of Romanticism • Nature is central to much of their work • They sought a freer, more personal expression of passion • Challenged their readers to open their minds and imaginations

  17. What Is Romanticism? • Use creative imagination • Focus on nature • Focus on feelings and intuition • Freedom and spontaneity • Simple language • Personal experience, democracy and liberty

  18. Revolt Against Neoclassicism • Neoclassic Trends • Stressed reason and judgment • Valued society • Followed authority • Maintained the aristocracy • Interested in science and technology • Romantic Trends • Stressed imagination and emotion • Valued individuals • Strove for freedom • Represented common people

  19. Historical Background • Writing during the French and American Revolutions • Response to changing political and social conditions • Shelley’s Masque of Anarchy frequently quoted by Ghandi

  20. The Victorian Poets • Literally describes the events in the age of Queen Victoria’s reign of 1837-1901 • Increased use of the Sonnet as a poetic form • To some extent influenced by the Romantic poets

  21. Female Victorian Poets • The Victorian period saw the emergence of many important female poets • Significant female poets include Elizabeth Browning and Christina Rossetti. • Christina Rossetti in some ways could be viewed as a more typical Victorian poet. Her poetry reflected her deep Anglican faith and frequently pursued themes such as love and faith.

  22. Christina Rossetti (1830–1894) • Fatheran Italian, a poet and translator, living in exile • MotherItalian-English woman, very keen Christian and a shining example to her children (they all loved her and looked up to her) • Grandfather – a translator • Older sister Maria Francesca Rossetti – wrote a commentary on the Italian poet Dante and later became a nun • Two older brothers who were writers and painters. The themes of love and death are dominant in her writing, and her poetry often has a religious aspect to it. Rossetti’s relationships never ended in marriage – she was engaged twice. Both times the engagement broke down because she didn’t want to compromise on her faith, both men fell short of her standards.

  23. Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806 – 1861) She suffered with illness throughout her life. In 1835 she moved, with her family, to London. There she began gaining fame as an anonymously published poet. She attracted the attention of the prominent poet Robert Browning. Between 1844 and 1846 Elizabeth and Robert wrote 574 letters to each other, and in 1846 they eloped to Italy.

  24. Sonnet 43 How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! – I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of everyday’s Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight – I love thee freely, as men strive for Right, – I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise; I love thee with the passion, put to use In my old griefs, … and with my childhood’s faith: I love thee with the love I seemed to lose With my lost Saints, – I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.

  25. The War Poets • For the first time, a substantial number of important English poets were soldiers • Many died however, those who survived were frequently scarred by their experiences and this is reflected in their poetry • The tone of this poetry can be seen to change as the war progressed

  26. Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918) • He was a committed Christian • From 1913 to 1915 he worked as a language tutor in France • He felt pressured by the propaganda to become a soldier and volunteered on 21st October 1915 • In 1918 he won the Military Cross • On 4th November he was shot and killed

  27. The Movement (1950s) • Philip Larkin • Kingsley Amis • Donald Davie • D.J. Enright • John Wain • Elizabeth Jennings • Thom Gunn • Robert Conquest

  28. The Movement • Essentially English in character • Worldview took into account Britain’s reduced dominance in world politics • The group's objective was to prove the importance of English poetry over the new modernist poetry • Nostalgic for the earlier Britain and filled with pastoral images of the decaying way of life as Britain moved farther from the rural and more towards the urban

  29. Philip Larkin (1922-1985) • Philip Larkin was a 20th century poet whose work is characterised by his observations of everyday life and relationships. • His poetry is often described as being melancholic.

  30. Born Yesterday for Sally Amis Tightly-folded bud, I have wished you something None of the others would: Not the usual stuff About being beautiful, Or running off a spring Of innocence and love – They will all wish you that, And should it prove possible, Well, you’re a lucky girl. But if it shouldn’t, then May you be ordinary; Have, like other women, An average of talents: Not ugly, not good-looking, Nothing uncustomary To pull you off your balance, That, unworkable itself, Stops all the rest from working. In fact, may you be dull – If that is what a skilled, Vigilant, flexible, Unemphasised, enthralled Catching of happiness is called.

  31. Contemporary Poets • Simon Armitage • Carol Ann Duffy • Benjamin Zephaniah • John Agard

  32. Half Caste by John Agard well in dat case england weather nearly always half-caste in fact some o dem cloud half-caste till dem overcast so spiteful demdont want de sun pass ah rass/ explain yuself whayu mean when yu say half-caste yu mean tchaikovsky sit down at dah piano an mix a black key wid a white key is a half-caste symphony/ Excuse me standing on one leg I'm half-caste Explain yuself whayu mean when yu say half-caste yu mean when picasso mix red an green is a half-caste canvas/ explain yuself wha u mean when yu say half-caste yu mean when light an shadow mix in de sky is a half-caste weather/

  33. Half Caste by John Agard Explain yuself whayu mean Ah listening to yuwid de keen half of mih ear Ah looking at u wid de keen half of mih eye and when I'm introduced to yu I'm sure you'll understand why I offer yu half-a-hand an when I sleep at night I close half-a-eye consequently when I dream I dream half-a-dream an when moon begin to glow I half-caste human being cast half-a-shadow but yu come back tomorrow wid de whole of yu eye an de whole of yu ear and de whole of yu mind an I will tell yu de other half of my story

  34. Thank you for listening!