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ENL 3230
British Literature 1616-1780


Class 4

Sep. 8: Marvell, Milton (sonnets)


Reading Assignment:

    Marvell: "Bermudas" (1686), "A Dialogue Between the Soul and Body" (1687), "To His Coy Mistress" (1691), "An Horatian Ode" (1700)

    Milton: ""On the New Forcers of Conscience Under the Long Parliament" (1812), "To the Lord General Cromwell, May 1652" (1813), "When I Consider How My Light is Spent" (1814), "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont" (1814), "Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint" (1815)

    Due: Post #2 Group A


    More so than before it will be necessary for you to have read the introduction to "Early Seventeenth Century" in the NAEL because it will explain the complicated religious and political events of this era. Both Marvell and Milton were politically minded poets who supported the interregnum governments and believed in religious toleration. Both criticized the monarchy and royalists, especially after the Restoration, though Marvell did so anonymously. Both were consummate formal poets who used political and religious subjects in their poetry. Pay particular attention to the discussion of Puritan poets in the introduction, pp. 1228-1230.

    This is our first introduction to Milton, and we will look at his sonnets. The next three classes will be devoted to his epic Paradise Lost. (And you thought Philips wrote long poems!)

    Please focus on Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" and "An Horatian Ode" as well as Milton's "To the Lord General Cromwell, May 1652" and "When I consider How My Light is Spent."


    Notes and Discussion Questions:

    1. Andrew Marvell

    I've asked you to focus on two very different poems by Marvell to emphasize his range of subject and poetic control. For both, I would like you to analyze the tone of the poems. Marvell's tone is elusive, and it is key to understanding the complexity of the poems.

    "To His Coy Mistress"

    Note the use of hyperbole in the first stanza. What is the effect of these statements? What does this stanza establish as the subject of the poem? Note also the role of time and space "world enough and time" and examine how the poem develops around these motifs.

    How does the poem change at line 21? As suggested in Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" the theme of memento mori (a reminder that we shall all die) leads to something of a carpe diem theme (seize the day). What is the relationship between these two themes? How does Marvell present these themes in the two remaining stanzas?

    Note the imagery used to describe the lovers in the last stanza: amorous birds of prey, devouring time, rolling all pleasure and sweetness into a ball that tears "with rough strife" through the "iron gates of life". How seductive is this picture? What is the tone of this final stanza?

    Given the ambivalence of the poem, what do you think the purpose of the poem is? (Note: not everyone will agree on this. Please offer some analysis of the poem in support of your answer.)

    "An Horatian Ode"

    What is an "Horatian Ode" and why is this an appropriate vehicle for this public poem?

    How does Marvell describe Cromwell in the opening 24 lines? What does the speaker suggest about Cromwell's martial qualities?

    Compare the poem's representation of Cromwell as a warlike leader with Charles I and his execution (49-72). Where does the speaker's sympathy lie? If you don't find sympathy, then what do the lines express?

    How does the poem represent England (i.e. Cromwell's) relationship to Ireland and Scotland? Europe? What does the speaker prophesy (or at least imply might be the future)?

    Examine the closing lines that reflect the Machiavellian advice that "a kindgom won by force must for some time be maintained by force" (1704). What are the implications of this?

    What is the sentiment or point of the poem describing (honoring?) Cromwell? Again, what is the tone?

    *********************

    2. Milton's sonnets

    Review the basics of the sonnet form (see Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology in the appendices), a form that was quite popular in the Renaissance. Based on your knowledge of previous sonnets (by Shakespeare, Sydney, Spenser, or even Donne), how are Milton's sonnets different in subject? How are they different in form? (Note that the revolutionary poet would not even conform to the rigidity of traditional poetic forms but must create anew!)

    Compare Milton's representation of Cromwell with Marvell's in "An Horatian Ode." How does Milton represent the martial qualities of his leader? What, according to the poem, "remains / To Conquer Still"? What victories does Milton hope for in peace time?

    What is the purpose of this sonnet? How does the purpose here compare with that of "When I consider how my light is spent"?

    What role do biblical parables play in Milton's sonnet on his blindness? What is the effect of including these allusions?

    Who speaks in the dialogue of the sonnet? What is the point of this dialogue?

    Examine the shifts in representation of his God. What images does he use? What is the significance of figuring him as a king?

    In what sense do those "who only stand and wait" still serve? What is the point of the poem?


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