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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780

Class 23

Nov. 17: Night poetry (Finch, Thomson, Collins)

Reading Assignment:

    Finch, "Nocturnal Reverie" (2239-4)
    Thomson, "Autumn" (2822)
    Collins, "To Evening" (2836-7)

      Due: Post #11 Group A

    The readings for today all focus on nighttime, and each owes something to Milton's Paradise Lost. In particular they draw from the night scene in book four, where Adam and Eve prepare for sleep, and in book five the representation of Eve's dream of rambling at night. Refresh your memory of these scenes from Milton and try to understand what the poems for today borrow from Milton. In particular, pay attention to the way that Finch represents night rambling in "Nocturnal Reverie" and the way that Collins represents evening as Eve in "Ode to Evening."

    Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:


    "Nocturnal Reverie"

    Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, was an accomplished poet and contemporary with Pope and Swift. The poem "Nocturnal Reverie" was published in a collection of her poems in 1713.

    Form: The poem consists of one long sentence that describes the speaker's experience of walking at night. The poem is punctuated by the repeated phrase "In such a night", followed by a series of clauses that describe the sights (or lack of), sounds, smells and tactile images of the night. Note how the third repetition of the phrase (line 47) initiates the conclusion and a sharp change in tone.

    As you read the poem, focus on the imagery. What does the poem describe? What is the feeling evoked by the language /images? What happens to the speaker?

    Based on the language, what virtues or benefits does the poem attribute to nighttime?

    Is the speaker alone in the landscape?

    Does the speaker experience danger at night?

    How does the poem describe the animals at nighttime? What is the meaning of their release from "tyrant man"? Does the speaker share a sympathy with these celebrating creatures? Why or why not?

    Examine the lines:

      "But silent musings urge the mind to seek
      Something, too high for syllables to speak;
      Till the free soul to a composedness charmed,
      Finding the elements of rage disarmed,
      O'er all below a solmen quiet grown,
      Joys in the inferior world, and thinks it like her own" (41-46).
    What do the lines mean? What does it suggest about the speaker's mind at this point in the poem? What is the significance of this change?

    Examine closely the final two couplets. How are these lines (particularly the last couplet) different from the rest of the poem? Consider the sound, the tone, the meaning and the structure of the lines. (Think Pope and balance and antithesis). What is the significance of this change in poetic style?

    Consider the overall meaning of the poem: What is the occasion for writing the poem? What is the purpose of the poem? What methods does it use to achieve the purpose? How successful is it?

    Consider the relationship to Milton's representation of evening, and in particularly Eve's dream. In what ways might this "Nocturnal Reverie" be a rewriting of Eve's dream. What is the meaning of "reverie"? If this is a rewriting, what is the point of the changes?


    Ode to Evening (1747)

    Describe the style of this poem. How does the line compare with the dominant couplet form used by Pope? How does it compare with the blank verse used by Milton? What are the implications of the choice? Note the use of punctuation and the fluid syntax. What are the effects of this? What is the tone of the poem? Describe the sound of the poem (read it out loud.)

    Who is "chaste Eve" in line 2? What is the effect of this personification? what is the effect of the allusion to Milton?

    What mood is created through the imagery of lines 5-14?

    What is the poet's role in this context? What is his relationship to Eve?

    Examine the closing lines. What does the poet commit himself to? What does this suggest about the role of nature in poetry?

    Consider the overall meaning of the poem. Why does the poet write an ode to evening? How does the poem develop the praise of evening? What is the purpose? How effective is it?

    Compare the representation of evening in Collins' poem with that in Milton's Paradise Lost book four. What do the poems share? What is the point of Collins' borrowings?

    Compare the poems on night for today. What are their similarities? What does this suggest about the evocative power of nighttime? What does this suggest about the proper subjects for poetry?

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