Introduce eighteenth-century literature
The poems for today belong in many traditions, rural or pastoral poetry, night poetry, elegy. Please read through the poems several times, paraphrasing
the lines so that you have a firm understanding of the poems.
Reading Notes and Discussion Questions:
The following information may be of some help in your reading. You have no post due today, and so the questions are meant only to get you thinking.
Nocturnal Reverie (1713)
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
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?
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?
Both poems for today owe something to Milton's
Paradise Lost. In particular Finch draws 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.
Consider the relationship to Milton's representation of evening, and in particular 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?
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
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, examine
the church's illustrious history and see which famous occupant from our class is listed under "B".
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 from the perspective of peasants, for instance, this
poem is written from the perspective of the educated
outsider poet. How does this differ?
The poem is considered a pastoral elegy -- that is
an elegy or poem in honor of a dead person set in
the country, with conventions of shepherds, swains,
nymphs. What does it have in common with other pastoral poetry
we studied previously?
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?
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