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Poetry : pre-1914 - Explore some of the methods your chosen poets adopt to enrich an understanding of the human condition.

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Introduction

GCSE English literature Poetry : pre-1914 Explore some of the methods your chosen poets adopt to enrich an understanding of the human condition. I have chosen to compare the three poems London, by William Blake, Holy Sonnet X by John Donne and a section from The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales based on the description of the Squire by Geoffrey Chaucer. These pieces of verse show a slice of British history which range from the early Middle Ages through the renaissance to the 19th century industrial revolution. They cover social issues and personal religious faith as well as demonstrating the view of the classes through the ages. In Chaucer's The General Prologue the Squire is described as a portrait of natural order with an iconic idealism built around it. The idea of his two colours being "white and reede" symbolise purity and passion, two of the qualities for a hero in the romance of courtly love for men in medieval times. These two colours also link with natural images of springtime, a period of things growing and fertility. This concept is continued with the quotation "he was as fresshe as is the month on May," which is represented of germination and growth, and appropriate time for courtship. The Squire is well educated and has a strong faith in God, an idea which implies he fought for the Christian crusades. ...read more.

Middle

This is stating that death is not an enemy but the source of eternal life itself. During mortal life the soul is confined but when one dies the body is delivered into the land of the eternal, whilst bodily life is taken by Death which means that Death is a positive thing as it has given birth to immortality. The poem is divided into two parts. The octet (eight lines) personifies Death as a restorative influence and is an image of re-birth as well as an image to be conquered. This is supported by lines like "mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so". This again shows how the tortuously worked-out argumentative style comes to an infinite conclusion. These phrases, rhetorical in style are full of syllogistic arguments and are full of paradoxes contrived by conceits; an example of this is being "From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be", showing that Death is being flattered by its reviving influence and the passage to re-birth. There is an ingenious parallel between the analogy and the two dissimilar things which are totally unrelated in ordinary reasoning. The sestet (six lines) are a direct challenge to Death. After explaining the idea of Death having no threat at the point of leaving the mortal world, the poet decides to satirise Death and simply treat it like any other superstitious fear. ...read more.

Conclusion

The word "appals" could refer to St. Paul's in London, an irony in the language, or it could be the poet's outrage at the seeming immorality of religion. It is probable that Blake intended to imply these as a direct attack on the contemporary church. The chimney sweeper represents again the vicious use of child labour and the vast injustice they suffered. The image "the hapless Soldier's sigh, Runs in blood down the palace walls" is symbolic of the monarchy's abuse of power and the needless death of innocent soldiers in war blind to responsibility. The fourth stanza comments on the plight of innocence women as victims of unhappy marriages and infant mortality. The "youthful Harlot's curse" is representative of those who suffer as a result of mass capitalism and society being deaf to their cries. The symbolic "marriage hearse" implies being born with a life that is short and painful and it is a paradox of a living death and misery. These three poems all demonstrate divergent cultural contexts. They all show the power of religion and how at all times, there is someone in power and someone who is oppressed. Chaucer displays the image of a popular, iconic young man whilst Blake focuses on the imperialistic capitalism of the 19th century and Donne focuses on personal faith in God, confidence in the immortality of life as in there is life beyond the time when we leave this world. Philip Spicer 21/9/03 ...read more.

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