Riding on an Emotional Roller Coaster with W.H. Auden

“In Memory of W.B. Yeats” is an eccentric piece that’s packed with emotions within three variations of elegies. Auden manages to use three different styles to profess his mourning for Yeats, which makes the poem both unusual and interesting to read. Additionally, the tone shifts from melancholy to mournful and finally to formal. This change in style makes me wonder if Auden was unsure of which style to use to commemorate Yeats and finally decided to incorporate all three. The first variation opens up with a scene from the gloomy winter when Yeats “disappeared.” This portrayal of Yeats supports his conclusion at the end of the poem, which is that Yeats is not completely gone, because his poems “are modified in the guts of the living.” The speaker sounds very distant, as there is no personal aspect incorporated. However, the emotions began to seep through in the second variation as Auden refers to Yeats in second person, but this form persists only for a few lines. Perhaps, the personal remembrance in the second variation was too much for Auden to handle, so he quickly transitioned to the third and final variation. The last variation bears a completely tone compared to the first two. It opens up on a happy note by declaring “Earth, receive an honoured guest.” I wonder why Auden decided to use three drastically different approaches to commemorate Yeats. Maybe he wanted to find a way to portray his frustration and sorrow for his death by conveying the chaotic thoughts swimming in his head through the use of varied styles?

Denial or Acceptance in Lycidas?

Lycidas is a rather lengthy elegy written by John Milton for his dear friend Edward King. Milton doe not refer to King directly and instead names him “Lycidas.” In the first 35 lines, the speaker established his friendship with his late friend. They “were nursed upon the selfsame hill” (23), which basically means that they were childhood friends. These two friends would wake up with the sun, tend to their sheep, and have a great time in the pasture. The speaker is filled with these memories and recalls some of them.

The speaker processes the death of his friend in an odd way. He quickly starts to place blame on others. He first goes to the nymphs and asks where they were at the time his friend died. The speaker brings other characters into his song. He calls on Triton, the river Cam, St. Peter, and Apollo. All of these characters talk or are personified by the speaker. Most of them join the speaker’s anger and wonder with him how this has happened. The speaker continually confronts each character asking what they have done and how his friend has died. To me, it seems he is in denial. He even says, “Weep on more/ For Lycidas [is not dead]” (165-66). The speaker is hanging on to all hope that his friend will come back from the ocean. He mentions how the sun rises and sets, each night setting underneath the ocean just as his friend has. The speaker compares his friend to the sun, saying that if the sun can set beneath the ocean horizon and continue to rise, it is quite possible his friend can do the same.

In the last couple lines of the poem, there is clearly a shift in tone from the melancholy sadness to hope. This could be the speaker finally starting to accept the death of his friend, and mourn properly.

Dealing with Death- Tennyson’s tips

One of the readings from this week that really captivated my interest was Alfred Tennyson’s “In Memoriam A.H.H.”. The themes of death found in this week’s readings were sort of fitting in my mind since we have entered October and Halloween is this month! There is a journey of death being discussed in this poem and there are details about how Tennyson deals with the grief of a death. The words were strong in both sounds and imagery. Death can be so difficult for everyone but each person deals with death differently. The stages of grief were something I have studied in psychology a little and it is fascinating to see how each person’s stages vary. The anger at first can be expressed in so many different ways. The feeling of loss and helplessness can be an all-consuming one that affects everyday activity for some people. Anger often turns into depression or loneliness, which eventually leads to acceptance. This poem had a progression of stanzas illustrating how Tennyson dealt with a death and his own personal stages. Losing a friend is a very difficult thing to go through and memories can help one cope with their loss. Friendship can be a very touching and impacting thing. friends are family we get to choose in a way and their impact is everlasting as the poem describes. The form and structure of this poem helped convey these messages and quite beautifully too through Tennyson’s words. Writing is a great way of coping with any feeling whether it is one of loss, fear, anger, or grief. Although we only had a section of this poem I still felt it to be longer than other poems we have come across and this can be used as a way to show how getting over a death can be a long process. Some of the lines within this poem had a sort of distance about them and reading it out loud didn’t have the same cheery flow other poems we have read encompass. This could show the feelings of disjointedness one may feel after going through an experience such as the death of a close friend. I wondered how Tenyson’s words can be applied to each of our own lives and is almost a framework of sorts outlining the way life plays itself out around tragic events, such as death. We could even use this framework to assess sad moments in life or suffering other than death itself. Losing a job or fighting through a terminal illness or physical condition can have these types of stages as well. This poem may be Tennyson’s way of sharing with the world his view on stages of grief over a death but could also be seen as a way to help someone in need. It is easy to feel all alone and isolated during times like this. Simply knowing you are not alone or that other people have gone through similar times and are able to get through it or even offer you help and advice can be a great support system.

 

Difficulty in Meter and Allusion in Lycidas

In John Milton’s pastoral elegy Lycidas, he discusses the death of a friend and whom the blame is on. The poem’s flow sounds a little tricky, but it uses iambic pentameter which makes reading it a little easier.. and then it doesn’t. Every so often, Milton drops in a line that breaks from the standard meter. It’s difficult to figure out at what pace the poem should be read and with what flow. There’s no obvious rhyme scheme. For the lines that don’t follow iambic pentameter, I’m not sure if he is doing this to place emphasis on those lines, or just because it sounds better when said aloud. I look at the lines where he breaks from iambic pentameter and don’t see any clear reason as to why he would choose these lines. For example: he says “so may some gentle muse”, “and all their echoes mourn” and “when first the white thorn blows”. This different meter doesn’t seem to mark a particular shifting point in the poem or a line that needs to be emphasized.

 

Another point that makes this poem a difficult read is the density of allusions. There seems to be a reference to some God or other literary work every few lines. In one stanza alone, he mentions Mona, Deva, Orpheus, and Hebrus. Not being familiar with these names/places, I had to look them up. Including all these allusions makes the poem directed towards a more educated audience, otherwise a lot of these references might fly past you, like they did me.

Allusions to Characters in Mythology in John Milton’s “Lycidas”

I think that the most difficult part of this week’s reading were the heavy allusions to mythology, specifically all the names in Lycidas by John Milton. I am not extremely familiar with the Gods, mythological creatures, or the stories, so I had a hard time understanding what was really happening and I felt like I was missing some of the references that were being made.

One particular example of a name that I came across was “Phoebus.” After googling “Phoebus,” I realized that Phoebus is the Roman name for Apollo, “god of music, truth and prophecy,” etc. (Wikipedia). I felt like knowing this information helped me understand why he was telling the speaker that fame on earth is not comparable to life in Heaven, where true fame is possible. If Phoebus is the God of prophecy, he would probably know a lot about everyone’s lives and what could potentially happen in the future.

Another example is found in lines 58-63, “What could the Muse herself that Orpheus bore…down the swift Hebrus to the Lesbian shore?” In these lines, the speaker is alluding to the story of Orpheus, which packs so much information into just a few lines. After looking up Orpheus, I learned that his mother was the Muse Calliope who wasn’t able to save him from the “rout that made the hideous roar”.

I think the best way to approach this passage is to try to gain context from the lines above and below, and use the internet to look up names to get a general sense of who the characters are. I think it’s still possible to understand what the poem is saying even if the reader doesn’t know all of the mythology behind it. For example, in lines 58-63 (as mentioned above), I was still able to understand that the Muse couldn’t even save her own son, so maybe he shouldn’t blame the Muses for not saving Lycidas. However, I do think it’s possible to understand the poem more deeply when the reader is familiar with the mythology behind it.

Tennyson: Overly Poetic or Overtly Emotional?

It is interesting to look at the fact that what we read of Tennyson’s “In Memoriam A.H.H” are simply selections of the longer elegy. The full memoriam contains 133 of these sections, of which we only read 12. This left me wondering how these selections were made; were these selections ones that caught the “gist” of what Tennyson was saying in his memoriam, were they the most elegantly written, the most famous? I wonder what we are missing by not reading the poem in its entirety.

What gave me trouble in reading this poem is the actual way that Tennyson speaks of his friend. I knew it was an elegy dedicated to his friend Arthur Henry Hallam because of the title—as well as the nature of this week’s study in class—but I often forgot that this was written about an actual person. This is due to the way in which he wrote. For example, the first section seems pretty vague. I get the sense that Tennyson is talking about a loss (“Behold the man that loved and lost, But all he was is overworn”); however, he does not directly come out and say that he is grieving the loss of his dear friend A.H.H. Instead, he chooses to use extremely image-rich and emotional language throughout the poem that occasionally hints at death. When first reading this poem, I thought it was strange that Tennyson, in a way, “danced” around the topic of his friend’s death. But after reading it a second time, I came up with a couple different reasons for this interpretation. First, for the time in which he was writing, this would be typical to present as a remembrance for a loved one. Unlike today, where I think we are more straightforward, Romantics strived to use language that utilized imagery to appeal to one’s emotions. So, instead of Tennyson simply saying something along the lines of “He was my good pal at Cambridge, and we did a lot great stuff together,” he takes us on an emotional journey using metaphorical and symbolic language common to the era. Secondly, I think Tennyson uses such a longwinded poetic appeal to signify the emotional turmoil he has been thrown in by the death of his dear friend. We truly get a glimpse into the mind of the poet, which seems to be constantly spinning and thinking about A.H.H. For example, “The Wye is hushed nor moved along,/ And hushed my deepest grief of all/” shows that Tennyson sees the Wye river, and it reminds him of his grief. From this, we get that no matter what the poet does or sees, he is constantly reminded of the death. So, while at first I thought the overtly poetic language in a way diluted the fact that this poem was dedicated to his past friend, I recognize that we are better able to understand the loss on an emotional level and sympathize with Tennyson’s grief. It is evident that he and A.H.H. were extremely close, and he does a fantastic (yet sometimes confusing) job of depicting this struggle.

brb, bawling

I first encountered Tennyson by way of Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits of him, entranced by the aura she is able to capture of her subjects. In Tennyson’s case it is that of a man too much with the grief of the world, burdened by his uniquely deft handling of it so as to console and stir the masses with his poetry. I found his writing illustrative of an understanding portrait of death as an entity larger than the people it touches, bound to touch all. “Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drowned/Let darkness keep her raven gloss” struck me with the capitalization of Love and Grief and not darkness. The same goes for Hours, but not love or boast in lines 13 and 14 in his first Memoriam. I am curious as to why he chose to do this elsewhere as well, to render sentiments as forcible beings perhaps? Why these words and not others?

Tennyson mentions that in death there is a potential aspect of triumph, that with it may come a “gain” that may not be realized in the time given to the living. This is stark compared to the desolation Tennyson weaves into the pieces, the most painful of this being the momentary belief, the hope, that death was just a dream, but yet one still wakes to the greeting that “on the bald street breaks the blank day.” Death is a disruption to the routine of life, yet life is as much a routine that seems brutally more mundane in the shadow of death. In his poetry I felt a longing for presence, not that of death, but of the person lost because he feels his love for the deceased as “vaster passion now” that is all around him, in Nature, mixed with God. I found Tennyson to be immensely compelling and that for the first time I really enjoyed rereading poems and was not frustrated by the language and syntax because I was so taken by the emotion packed into his lines.

Trying to understand the elegy aspect of “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”

When I read In Memory of W. B. Yeats, I did not necessarily stop in my tracks while reading it, but it did catch my attention. The poem, an elegy, was something I expected to be like an obituary since they are both written forms. I expected the elegy to discuss the accomplishments of the person who recently passed away, but I felt as if along with the accomplishments, In Memory of W. B. Yeats also discussed things that were not ideal about him such as including that his gift survived rich women, physical decay, and himself. Those words almost make it sound like he was self-destructive and that it was a surprise that his gift of poetry survived it. Now that I think about it, I can see why the elegy includes things that are not always ideal about the person who passed away. I have always felt that poetry took writing to another dimension in terms of emotions, so that makes sense why it would include things that are not always ideal.

I believe one of the best ways to read an elegy would be to read a biography about the person and read about their life. That way, when you read the elegy, you can make connections to what is mentioned in the elegy to things that happened in their life. This would give the reader a better understanding of what is being written. If someone has no idea whom the person the elegy is written about is, then reading and understanding it will be difficult.

In Memoriam A.H.H. – Why is it so touching

“In Memoriam A.H.H.” was an incredibly touching poem. It had a very personal feel that made the authors emotions come through very clearly. Why I felt that this was an interesting poem this week was that I wanted to determine what exactly about this poem made it seem so touching.

The poem followed the author through the death of his close friend and his ensuing grief, until he eventually found peace. I believe that this progression of events as the poem went on made it seem more real to me than “Lycidas”, which was just more of the same Greek allusions and romanticizing of a death that I have seen so much of with other poets. The language shift was particularly interesting, especially because some of the lines really caught my eye. First in section 2, there is a stanza:

The seasons bring the flowers again,

            And bring the firstling to the flock

            And in the dusk of thee, the clock

            Beats out the little lives of men.”

This stanza is both depressing and incredibly interesting. I think the rhyme scheme adds a lot to the morbid and almost cynical feel of the poem here, which is awesome, because that same rhyme scheme adds to the more uplifting feeling towards the end. I liked how consistent it was. Then towards the end, the last stanza goes:

“Far off thou art, but never nigh;

 I have thee still and I rejoice;

             I prosper, circled with thy voice;

             I shall not lose thee though I die.”

This is probably him becoming at peace with his friend’s death, but that rhyme scheme works to keep the poem hopeful and uplifting here as opposed to morbid and cynical. Word choice was clearly the determining factor, but it is interesting how different the stanzas are because of it.

Overall this poem seemed like it brought grief to a level that I could empathize with, which is something that I appreciated and what made this poem so much easier to connect with.

Change in Rhyme and Tone in “…Yeats”

W.H. Auden created an elegy titled “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”. The poem sets a clear tone from the start using morose diction. However, what I asserted as a “clear” tone became a challenge for me when Auden altered the rhyme scheme in line 42.

The first two parts of the poem are composed without a clear rhyme scheme and read like lengthy prose. The reader becomes accustomed to this looseness of form and the focus becomes more on the message than the way it is presented. Then Auden alters the rhyme scheme and creates a satisfying rhyme composed of two couplets in each stanza, beginning with an AA-BB rhyme scheme.

Usually this rhyme scheme is enjoyable to read, but in this poem, the transition is disorienting. The audience must relearn how to read the poem. Because the rhyme scheme is so bouncy and predictable, focusing on the content of the work becomes harder. It is much easier to rush through the lines to complete the couplet rhyme.

My confusion with this change is tied to the tone. The lively rhyme contrasts with the somber tone previously established in the poem.

The footnotes state attribute this change to Auden mimicking one of Yeats’s late poems “Under Ben Bulben”, which contains scenes of Yeats’s describing his own grave. Looking at Auden’s transition from that perspective, it makes more sense. Yeats described a morbid scene with a pleasurable rhyme.

I do not know why Audin used this scheme at the very end of his poem, as opposed to keeping the entire work in the same form. Perhaps he was trying to reflect the abrupt change that came with Yeats’s death. Maybe Audin was trying to show how Yeats had impacted his own work by showing the combination of the two forms.

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