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ENL 6236: Restoration and
Eighteenth-Century Literature

Civility and the Public Sphere


Class 8

Reading Assignment:

Oct. 18: Nighttime and Nature -- Sensibility?
    Finch, "Nocturnal Reverie" (2239-4)
    Thomson, "Autumn" (2822)
    Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (2830-2833)
    Collins, "To Evening" (2836-7)

    Also read: Christopher R. Miller, "Staying out late: Anne Finch's Poetics of Evening" SEL 45.3 (Summer 2005): 603-623. [This is available through Project Muse.]

    Report Topics: Eighteenth-century Nature Poetry, Ecological perspectives, influence of Milton -- Maria

    DUE: Post #7

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Our focus on poetry of the evening will allow for a closer inspection of the revisions to the pastoral mode made by eighteenth century poets as well as the transition from Augustan styled poetry to that of sensibility. In this way we can incorporate our course theme, Civility and the Public Sphere, by examining the methods and modes of representing night and retreat from the public sphere. Focus on individual apprehension of the landscape and the poet's emotions also signal the rise of sensibility.

The article included in today's reading is an important analysis of Finch's work in a literary tradition that emphasizes the relationship between Paradise Lost and "Nocturnal Reverie." This intelligent article also offers a badly needed model for criticism of women's writing that treats female poets as artists over people expressing the experiences of their gender. The article introduces excellent ways to discuss the poetry of evening of the eighteenth century, and we will examine its insights and evaluate its effectiveness.

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Notes and Discussion Questions:

1. Finch and Miller's "Staying out late"

This article suggests the importance of performing close readings on the poetry by women and of placing them within a context of literary precedents and artistic agency.

According to his review of criticism on Finch, how does literary criticism situate the female author in critical history? What is her relationship to dominant male poets, such as Wordsworth or Pope? Does there have to be such a relationship?

Note the main theses of his article, stated on p. 605. What tradition or arguments does he oppose in placing Finch's significance in literary rather than broadly cultural contexts?

Evaluate the success of his thesis that "Nocturnal Reverie" functions as"a witty, gender-inflected version of pastoral and as a revisitation of nocturnal scenes from Paradise Lost."

Refresh your memory of Paradise Lost book four and read some other poems, especially those treated by Miller, in order to appreciate the full meaning of the article. Reading Milton again will also be helpful in assessing the work of the other poets.

Miller adopts the argument that in pastoral, night functions as a "diurnal arbiter between two irreconcilable positions, and a keenly felt index of passing time" (607). To what extent is this applicable to the poems for today? What are some of the other symbolic meanings of evening/dusk/nighttime in the poems (cf. Finch's use of evening as a passage from youth to age)?

To what extent does "Nocturnal Reverie" generate a theme of redemption after a fall (see p. 608)?

Section III of the article contains the focused close reading of "Nocturnal Reverie." Attend to his points and observations. HOw well does this essay understand the poem? How well does it improve your understanding of the poem?

HOw does Finch revise Eve's dream, according to Miller? What are the implications for this revisitation of Milton's scenes?

In what ways does Finch suggest Milton's nightingale -- the poet persona -- in "Nocturnal Reverie"? Are their significant gender differences?

How does Locke's empiricism inform "Nocturnal Reverie" and the use of "reverie"?

What are the connotations of the freedom described in "Nocturnal Reverie"? Are there parallels in the other poems for today?

What do the poem's patterns of guidance needed and supplied and danger invoked and avoided suggest?

IN the conclusion Miller alludes to the time sequence of Gray's Elegy. IN what ways does the Elegy adopt a similar poetic timeframe as "Nocturnal Reverie"? What is the poet's relationship to pastoral? What role does night play in Gray's poem as symbol? As landscape?

In what ways might this essay be helpful for understanding the other night poems on the list? What role does Milton play for each? Can you say they are "gender-inflected"?

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2.

An Elegy Wrote in a Country Church Yard (1751)

Be sure to read the headnote to Gray to learn about the history and success of this famous poem.

As background or prepatory work for appreciating this poem, consider and compare the ways in which we commemorate the dead. Who do we commemorate and how? Why do we honor the dead? What words do we leave behind for the dead? Read some obituaries and compare their meaning with the ideas of the poem. See St. Petersburg Times online for examples.

To glimpse an idea of the form of pomp and pageantry granted to the honored dead, visit the website for Westminster Abbey, the most famous collection of memorials for the dead in Britain. In particular take the 360 degree tour of Poet's Corner.

This poem investigates the dangers of the glamorous world and contrasts that with the humble simplicity of the country villagers, but unlike the representation of rural life in Collier, for instance, this poem is written from the perspective of the educated outsider poet. How does this differ?

The style is elegiacal with the traditional ABAB four line stanza. What is the effect of this rhyme scheme on the sound of the poem? How does this heighten the effect of the language?

Whose elegy is this? What is the speaker's relationship to those he writes about? Why is he writing this elegy?

The first three stanzas describe the rural landscape at dusk, once again invoking this liminal state -- this in-betweenness that is not day and is not night. What is the significance of the country church yard, as opposed to, say, Westminster Abbey? What does the setting suggest about the poet's place in this context?

The poet considers the "rude Forefathers of the Hamlet" in lines 17 and on. What virtues do these rustics possess? What are the implications of this description?

Analyze line 36: "The Paths of Glory lead but to the Grave" -- how does the poem develop this theme?

Who does the speaker address in the next lines (37-40):
"Nor you, ye Proud, impute to These the fault/ If Mem'ry o'er their Tomb no Trophies raise, / Where thro' the long-drawn Isle and fretted Vault / The pealing Anthem swells the Note of Praise."

Examine the beautiful lines 49-56 "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen...." What do these lines suggest about fame? About the laboring classes?

Examine the implications of the poet's thoughts on "Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, / some Cromwell guiltless of his Country's Blood" (59-60).

The speaker makes his own unambiguous decision in favor of a life of rural innocence in the first stage of the poem. However, the inadequacy of the solution -- the escape into the country -- surfaces in the conclusion. What are some of the problems with rural country innocence? How is the poet barred from the experience?

The poet changes his mind regarding the state of this class. What makes him reconsider? What does this new value for ignorance have to do with the country versus the city?

The last section centers on the role of poetry -- how one remembers the dead. How does one remember the unlettered dead?

The speaker imagines a rustic muse, creating epitaphs for the dearly departed. Everybody needs to be remembered: "ev'n from the Tomb the Voice of Nature Cries,/ Ev'n in our Ashes live their wonted Fires" What are the implications of this?

He then offers these lines -- the poem -- to those who are "mindful of th'unhonoured dead" (93). What does this suggest about the poet's attitude toward the laboring people? Toward poetry?

The closing lines here return to the poet himself, as he imagines what one of the country folk would say of his death. The division between the country people and the poet himself becomes evident. Examine the final lines.

The poem celebrating the unhonored dead ends with a fantasy of the poet's own death, where he envisions his anonymity (and marginality) but creates his own fame (both in the epitaph, and in the poem which literally made Gray famous). How does this illustrate the problems of fame and immortality that the poem tries to work out?

3.

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? How does this differ from "nature" as represented by Pope in Essay on Criticism? What is the role of society in this poem?



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