ENL 6236 Restoration Literature
Retirement Poetry – Last Class
Reading: Poems by Philips, Dryden, Cowley, Marvell, Congreve (Hammond 144-166)
Scholarship Presentation: Melody Thomas on Ronald Huebert’s “Privacy: The Early Social History of a Word,” Sewanee Review 105.1 (1997): 21-38.
Oroonoko Presentation: Megan Weber
DUE: Post #14
I. Course Evaluations
II. Oroonoko Presentation and Wrap
III. “A green thought in a green shade”
What might contemplation look like to our Restoration authors and readers? In a world turned upside down by civil war and revolution, did people take seriously the efforts of the mind to compose itself? What motivated contemplation, and what did it look like? As we end our semester-long journey together, I want to take a moment to reflect and draw inspiration from the contemplative poetry of our authors.
Is nature poetry a development of Romantic thought in the latter part of the eighteenth century, or did poets engage nature in meaningful ways in our time period? How do these poems engage the natural world? What images and techniques dominate the poetry and what might that suggest about the poet’s relationship to nature? Indeed, what is nature in these poems?
Most of these poems take up the conflict between society and retirement, though they figure it differently. For example, many develop the conflict in terms of country versus city; others as action versus retirement. Still others develop a strain of anti-marriage argument, suggesting that marriage itself is antagonistic to peace and contemplation. While these (“The Garden,” “To My Honoured Kinsman”) might be profitably analyzed in terms of gender, we might also situate them within the arguments by women against marriage (e.g. Astell’s Serious Proposal and Reflections Upon Marriage). What does marriage have to do with society and why might the poets chafe against its dictates? Is this simple misogyny or something more?
Many also develop a theme about knowledge. Philips suggests that one can develop knowledge in retirement in the country; images of the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge appear in Marvell’s “The Garden” and Dryden’s “To My Honoured Kinsman”; Dryden’s poet in his translation of the Georgics asks the muses for knowledge of nature. While knowledge seems to be some sort of ideal or quest, it exists in tension with experience and lack of innocence in the poems. These are not simple idealizations of nature. How might you explain these tensions?
How do you account for the consistent use of iambic tetrameter in these poems, often with a ballad lyric trimester?
IV. Marvell’s “The Garden”
To my mind, this poem offers the richest potential for analysis of those we are reading for this week, especially in light of our discussion of Behn’s “On a Juniper Tree.” Marvell’s textured and well-crafted lyric offers a tempered idealization of nature focused on vegetation.
Examine the movement in the poem from stanza to stanza. What does the poet achieve through this movement? What tensions are developed through the transitions?
How does Marvell’s representation of trees compare with Behn’s? What role do lovers play in Marvell’s pastoral? (Is this a pastoral or an anti-pastoral?)
What becomes of our besotted nature lover in the fifth stanza? Evaluate the line “To a green thought in a green shade.”
What role does stanza eight play in the development of the themes of nature? Of solitude? Of knowledge versus innocence? Of sex?
Evaluate the closing endorsement of natural reckonings. What might it mean to reckon time with “herbs and flowers”?
V. Exam Review