Sample Analyses of Poetic Forms

The following sample analyses are very schematic and are only intended to illustrate how it is possible to approach a literary work from an organic point of view, using the principles discussed in Part one. A complete critical analysis of any work would be much more detailed. In particular, the treatment of the matter of each work is only briefly indicated.



(Object of imitation)

The Action:

The principal form of a drama which unifies the entire poetic work is its action or plot:

Jesus Christ, the God-man, offers himself to his heavenly Father as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world to obtain the rebirth and glory of his Church.

This is an action with a tragic catharsis, since joy is achieved only through Christ's heroic sacrifice of himself. It begins with sorrow, yearning, and hope (Confiteor, Kyrie, Gloria, and Collects), then passes through the act of supreme sacrifice and victory (Offertory and Canon) in which there is a reversal and a discovery, since it is by humbling himself that Christ triumphs and by death that lie is proved to be God. Finally, it ends in the perfect jaw of victory and reunion. Furthermore, it is an action of the most sublime magnitude, since it involves the entire universe and is the climax and summary of all history.

In the Holy Sacrifice, however, there is also something of the comic catharsis, since in it there is an ironic exposure of human vanity (see the parable of the supper, Lk. 14:15-24) because all men of every condition are invited to the banquet of the King who has appeared in the form of a slave (Phil. 2:7). The Eucharist is a rejoicing and a festival of common human fellowship as well as a heroic tragedy.

Beginning: Jesus Christ, the God-man, comes into the world and reveals himself as our Redeemer. This is shown in the Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, and Collects in which mankind prays for the coming of the Saviour and celebrates his presence.

Episode I: Jesus Christ announces the Truth or Gospel which he has come to witness:
   1. The Lesson, Epistle, Gradual, Alleluia or Tract are a less perfect presentation of truth by the forerunners of Christ (prophets and apostles).
   2. Gospel, Sermon, Creed are the perfect teaching of Christ, faithfully received by the Church.
Episode II (climax and reversal): Jesus Christ offers himself on the cross in proof of the Truth, rises and ascends to heaven as King of the Universe.
   1. Offertory: in which Christ (and we with him) prepares to give himself.
   2. Canon: in which Christ (and the whole Church militant and triumphant) offers himself on the cross, rises, and ascends to his heavenly throne.
End: Christ in glory invites his Church to share that glory in a heavenly banquet, received here below as a pledge.
   1.Our Father, Fraction, and Communion Prayers are a petition for the coming of the Kingdom and for a share in it.
   2. The Communion, or union of the Church with Christ at the heavenly wedding-feast.
   3. Post-Communion Prayers, Blessing, Last Gospel are the thanksgiving and petition for the final eternal fulfillment.

Secondary objects of imitation:


  1. The chief figure is Jesus Christ represented through the priest. He is a divine hero. flow then does he have the moral flaw expected in a tragic hero? He has no personal sin or defect, but he has assumed human nature which itself is under the curse of sin, and hence he appears a criminal and suffers in our place. Because of his perfect goodness we pity his sufferings, and because we know that he suffers for our sins, we fear the punishment which we have deserved, not he. Hence the tragic catharsis through pity and fear is achieved. Our Lord's character is perfectly appropriate to his role as Redeemer and King. It is lifelike because he is so entirely human in his thoughts and feelings, and it is utterly consistent, because in the Mass we see him unhesitatingly carry out the will of his Father.
  2. The secondary characters are all the members of the Church forming Christ's Mystical Body: the angels, the saints in heaven, the souls in purgatory, and all classes of men, women, and children. They are represented through the ministers of the Mass (deacon, subdeacon, acolytes) and by the congregation itself. The unseen angels and saints and the dead are commemorated in words and also by the statues and paintings, and by the choir which expresses their sentiments.

    These secondary characters are appropriate, lifelike, and consistent because they include representatives of the entire range of humanity. Each of us can find some saint, for example, with whom we can identify ourself, and some sinner who has met the fate which would be ours except for the grace of God. The function of these secondary characters is to manifest the greatness of Christ by their special likeness to him, by their proof of his grace and forgiveness, or by the defeat of their opposition to him.

    Thus we see that only our Lord is a hero capable of the sublime action of the Redemption.


In the text of the Mass we find the thought of God himself expressed through passages of Scripture, less perfectly formulated in the psalms, lessons and epistle, and most perfectly formulated in the Gospel. We also find the responding thought of the Church in the Collects and other Prayers, in the Sermon and Creed, and in the Canon of the Mass itself. This thought of the Church grows out of the Scriptures and is a commentary and answer to it. All of the greatest mysteries of the faith are expressed in the Mass, but most especially the doctrine of the Trinity (Gloria, Creed, Canon, and the ever recurrent doxologies), the Incarnation and Redemption (the conclusion of every prayer, the Gospel, the Canon, and the constant use of the sign of the cross), and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Along with this there is constant emphasis on man's duty of contrition, humility, obedience, and profound reverence of his Creator and Redeemer.

The thought of the Latin rite liturgy is characterized by its great simplicity, and its emphasis on the idea of religion, man's debt in justice to worship God and to return all things to him. The Romans, even when still pagans, had a profound sense of justice, piety, religion, and this is reflected in the Latin rite. It may be compared to the Eastern rites which express much more complicated statements of dogma, a reflection of the theological studies and controversies that took place in the East in the earlier days of the Church.

The Latin rite does not impede the action by too much talk. The thought is directly subordinated to what is being done. Read the Canon and see how businesslike it is.


(Means of imitation)

The Mass is presented dramatically (manner) but in a symbolic and sacramental fashion, not literally.


In studying the diction of the Mass the three following points should be emphasized:

  1. It is in Latin. What is the purpose of using an ancient and sacred language hallowed by tradition in a sacred drama? What are the arguments for and against the vernacular in the liturgy? Is it not clear from the artistic point of view (but not necessarily from the pastoral point of view) that the use of Latin is superior to any translation?
  2. It is scriptural. Notice the way in which the phrases, the symbols, and the tone of the Bible is kept throughout the Mass. The text is a mosaic of quotations and psalm verses, each of which has very great meaning because it alludes to a much fuller treatment in the Bible itself. Notice the similarity here between the text of the Mass and Dante, or modern poetry, which at first sight seem obscure and unconnected because of their wealth of allusion and suggestion. Notice also the use of the great biblical symbols of light and darkness, the kingdom, the marriage feast, water, fire, rock, earth and sky, etc.
  3. It is Roman in its use of great brevity (see the style of the Collects), of periodic sentences, and of a certain kind of legal exactitude (especially the Canon). The study of the Collects is especially helpful in understanding the style.

These three characteristics make the Mass dramatically effective because they are appropriate to the grandeur of the action, to the historical character of Jesus Christ who as a Jew and the Messias spoke in the biblical language, to the character of the Church which is centered in Rome, and to the thought which is sublime and yet given to the common people.

Melody and Rhythm:

Under this heading we should study the Gregorian Chant, and also the rhythm of the text of the Mass, especially considering:

  1. Why is the Chant especially the music of prayer? Consider its simplicity, freedom from all technical display or sensual effects; its use of the modes which give to the melody an effect of incompleteness and dependence on the words, its free-rhythm which is less sensual and also dependent on the Words; and its spiritual emotion.
  2. The text has the rhythm of Hebrew verse and prose based on parallelism and the linkage of one phrase to another, With the use of antiphons and refrains. The Latin text has the rhythm of periodic structure. Notice also the "circular" arrangement of the parts of the Canon around the Consecration.


We should consider the visual beauty both of the human participants and of the place and sacred articles:

1. Actions: The Church excludes actual dancing from her liturgy as too inclined to the frivolous or sensual, and she permits only men to take part in the action within the sanctuary for the same reason. Three points needs to be considered especially:
a. The processions which express the desire of men to come to God and to bring him as King into the world. The Introit, the Gradual leading up to the Gospel, the Offertory, the Communion, and the Last Gospel at a Solemn Mass each involve a procession. What is the significance of each?

b. The ministering. In a Solemn Mass, and especially a Pontifical Mass, the celebrant carries out only the principal action. In everything else he is served by the ministers. The purpose of this is to indicate that God makes use of his creatures in carrying out all his works, but he alone can bring them to ultimate success. Notice how this etiquette (Emily Post once advised attendance at Mass as a perfect lesson in good manners) is derived from the ritual of a court, in which the king is given honor in all things.

c. The gestures. Study the use of genuflections, how kisses (the kiss of peace, and the kissing of sacred objects), folded hands, the gesture of prayer with arms raised, the sign of the Cross used both as a blessing and as pointing out a sacred object which has been mentioned in Word, the incensing, etc. Each of these is marked by humility, dignity, sobriety, and moderation, and by an air of vital joy and recollection.

By a study of these actions we come to see that the action of the Mass is portrayed visually by a wonderfully expressive dance, but a dance which is free of a fixed rhythm and all sensuality, just it's the music is free of these elements.

2. Sacred articles:

a. The vestments combine a symbolism taken from the Old Testament (study the descriptions in Exodus, in the prayers for vesting and in the rites of Ordination and Episcopal Consecration) with the styles of the late Roman Empire. Notice that when properly made they are free of all suggestions of effeminacy or vanity, but are dignified, rich, and noble. They signify the "internal garments of the heart" (see St. Gregory's Pastoral Rule for an explanation of their symbolism), that is, the various virtues of Christ which his representatives ought to share.

b. The sacred vessels, the altar and its fittings, the processional cross, etc. Each of these has a definite function which it must be made to serve properly. Each also ought to lend dignity, beauty, and symbolism to the action of which it is an instrument. For example, does the chalice suggest the Precious Blood of the sacrifice which it is intended to hold? Does the altar fittingly act as the place of sacrifice, the table of the heavenly banquet, and the symbol of Christ all in one?

c. The church represents the Church Militant, the Church triumphant (heaven), and the entire universe as the Kingdom of God. We need to study its various parts to see whether each performs its function and carries out its symbolism. Does the entrance suggest the holiness of the place? Does the body of the Church suggest the unity and participation of the faithful? Does the sanctuary suggest a Holy of Holies and the heavenly sanctuary? Is it properly arranged and of sufficient size for the liturgical action? Do the statues and paintings fittingly bring to mind the unseen presences of the saints and angels?


(Object of Imitation)

The Action: A noble warrior is tempted by the honors given him by his king to kill that king, usurp the throne, and maintain himself by further murders which finally provoke a rebellion and his own destruction.

Beginning: Macbeth, rewarded by King Duncan for his valor in battle, is tempted by ambition, the powers of hell, and his own wife to usurp the throne, and yields to the temptation. ACT I

Scene 1: The witches, the powers of hell, prepare to tempt Macbeth.

Scenes 2-4: Duncan, bearing of Macbeth's valor, sends to give him honors. Macbeth is tempted by the witches, and when news of the honors come, fulfilling the witches' prophecy, he yields to the temptation, and sees his opportunity when Duncan decides to visit him.

Scenes 5-7: Lady Macbeth receives the news, Duncan and Macbeth arrive, and Macbeth and his Lady prepare the plot. It is only at this point that we are sure that Macbeth has really given into the temptation and will carry through his crime.


   Episode I: The murder of Duncan. ACT II

Scene 1: Banquo tries to check Macbeth. Macbeth's vision of the dagger, a second warning, and foreshadowing of the madness that may follow his crime.

Scene 2: The murder carried out.

Scenes 3-4: Discovery of the murder, flight of Malcolm and Donalbain, Duncan's sons. Macbeth will succeed to the throne.

   Episode II: The murder of Banquo. ACT III

Scene 1: Macbeth says goodby to Banquo and then arranges his murder.

Scenes 2-4: The fear of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, then the murder with the escape of Fleance (Banquo's son), and the banquet scene in which Macbeth betrays his guilt.

Scenes 5-6: The witches prepare for Macbeth's downfall and talk is going on in the court that Macduff is in England to prepare the return of the rightful heir.

It is in Scenes 2-4 that the climax, discovery, and reversal take place. Fleance's escape insures that Banquo's heirs will succeed to the throne, while Macbeth's betrayal of himself (discovery) at the banquet scene marks the beginning of his public downfall, since now the lords will not hesitate to rebel against him, seeing that he is losing his grip.

   Episode III: Macbeth seals his own fate. ACT IV

Scene 1: Macbeth comes again to the witches who drive him to desperation by showing that Banquo's line will succeed and by giving him false assurances that he cannot be killed. Word comes that Macduff has fled, and Macbeth sends to kill Macduff's wife, a final act of cruelty that insures he will receive no mercy from the rebel lords.

Scenes 2-3: The murder of Lady Macduff and son is carried out, while in England Macduff gains the consent of Malcom, the rightful heir, to head the rebellion, and to become a good king like St. Edward of England. The arrival of news of the murder of his wife and son clinches their resolution.

End: Macbeth, driven on by his illusion of invulnerability, deserted by all and his wife dead, in final impenitence and despair is killed by Macduff, and Malcolm the rightful heir regains the throne which will someday pass to Banquo's line.

Scenes 1-5: While the army of restoration is advancing on the castle with the ruse of carrying the branches of Birnam wood, Lady Macbeth goes mad and dies. Macbeth left alone is in the state of despair, yet relies on the witches' promise of victory, when word comes that the "wood is marching."

Scenes 6-8: Still relying on the last promise of invulnerability Macbeth enters the fight, then learns that Macduff was "not born of woman." He is killed off-stage, and his head brought in as the new king commemorates his victory by creating his generals new Earls of Scotland.

Catharsis: The difficulty of this plot was to make Macbeth seem sympathetic and therefore to make him arouse our pity, since be is to die unrepentant and completely guilty. Hence it is made very clear that his yielding to dreadful temptation was something very human, since this temptation is strengthened by the devil (the witches) and by the counsel of his wife. Thus we feel pity for a man so blinded, and fear when we see how the delusions of sin lead from one crime to another and finally to despair and damnation. Macbeth is not saved, and the serenity we feel at the end of the play comes from our relief to see that tyranny produces inevitable opposition and the rising of the forces of justice to restore order. Our sympathy for Macduff and Malcolm, who are made very human, assists in confirming this effect.

Macbeth is thus different than most tragedies in that it deals with a hero who is finally damned. It would be a mistake to think that his crime is excused by the force of temptation. In the play it is in no way excused, but merely made to appear something we might ourselves do without God's grace, that is, something pitiable and fearful.


  1. Macbeth is shown at the beginning as a noble warrior who would make a good king, who is naturally tempted when he finds himself rising in honor above the other lords. His flaw of ambition, however, blinds him, so as to make him the ready victim of the delusive temptation from the witches, and the passionate rashness of his wife. On the other hand, his soliloquies show him a man who would ordinarily be very prudent and cautious in action, and his relations both with Banquo and Lady Macbeth show that ordinarily he would have been a man of tender friendship and love.

  2. The other characters seem developed to reflect the various aspects of Macbeth's own character:
a. Banquo (prudent, cautious), and Duncan (noble, generous), who have admired Macbeth, show us the kind of man he appeared at his best, like them. St. Edward is referred to as showing the ideal of kingship.

b. The witches and Lady Macbeth show us the evil side of Macbeth's character. Lady Macbeth corresponds to his emotions or passions. She is a driving force at the beginning of the play, but then goes mad, and leaves him in cold despair, just as passion drives man to sin, then torments him by remorse, and finally leaves the sinner in emptiness. The witches are sin itself, which blinds the mind by vain promises which lead the sinner deeper and deeper into damnation.

c. The other characters represent the sanity of the social order. There is the interesting contrast between the high-spirited young Siward, and the hesitating, inexperienced Malcolm, who must become king. Macduff, Ross, and the other generals are presented as manly, human, sympathetic people.

d. The Porter and Old Man give a comic touch, which in this play, however, is kept to a minimum and used only to heighten the unrelieved terror. Lady Macduff and her son are also shown as light, innocent people who might have had their place in a comedy but who are here caught in dreadful tragedy.

Thought: In this play we find two lines of thought:

  1. The terrible soliloquies of Macbeth, the promptings of his dreadful Lady, and the vile songs of the witches, all of which show the sophistry of temptation, the effort to find reasons for sin.

  2. Thought on the duty of a good king (Duncan, Edward) and the spirit of liberty expressed by the lords. The chief thought running through the play turns on the majesty of good kingship and the terrible wickedness of tyranny.

If we consider the relations of Action, Character, and Thought in this play we see that the action is thoroughly probable, since it develops inevitably from Macbeth's initial blind decision to yield to the temptations of ambition. The outcome is inevitable because crime leads to crime, one blind delusion to another. That Macbeth does not repent is also probable, because his blindness is willful and his crimes increasingly cold-blooded. It is also probable that Lady Macbeth, whose strength is only in emotion, not in real power of will, should in the long run be the first to fail. The revolt is also painted convincingly, since we see the various stages of hesitation, irresolution, and indignant determination by which it proceeds. Some would criticize the witches as mere machinery, but it seems very right that the blindness of sin should be dramatized by this ghastly and unsubstantial trickery. The tragedy gains in stature in that it is not the mere sin, of an individual but a picture of tyranny and of the restoration of justice and the social order which is painted.

(not analyzed in detail)

Words: The play can be especially studied for four elements:

  1. The weird, insane jumble of the witches' songs.
  2. The language of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth which is so tortured, brilliant, lurid, with its themes of the crown blood, night, sleep, madness.
  3. The martial language of the Lords with its military and political figures.
  4. The beautiful language put in the mouths of the innocent characters, Duncan, Banquo, Lady Macduff and her boy, and the description of St. Edward.

Such a study will show the consistency of the atmosphere created by the first two types of language and the relief into which it is thrown by the other two.

Melody and Rhythm: Notice the crazy jingle of the witches' songs, the use of prose in the porter's scene and in the sleep-walking scene. Notice, too, the complex rhythm of Macbeth's early soliloquies expressive of his tortured state of mind, and the strange, dead monotony of despair in "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, etc."

Spectacle: Everyone recognizes the wonderful stage-effectiveness of the witches' scenes, the dagger and banquet scene, and the sleepwalking scene. Harder to make effective is the final scene of battle, which must. be presented so as to give the impression of clear daylight dawning after a nightmare.

Problems: Many problems can be raised about this play, for example:

  1. Is it not, after all, the story of a bad man meeting a bad end, which Aristotle says is one of the worst of plots since it arouses no emotion but disgust?
  2. Are not Acts IV and V weaker than the preceding acts?
  3. Is not Act II, Scene 4 a clumsy transition? Why the Hecate scene (Act III, Scene 5)? Is not Act III, Scene 6 superfluous? Are not the concluding battle scenes rather weak and confused? Why the passage about St. Edward of England?

The above analysis suggests how most of these problems might be answered.


(Object of Imitation)

Plot: A Christian merchant in order to assist his dearest friend in his courtship pledges his life to a usurer who secretly hates him so that the merchant seems compelled by misfortune to pay the forfeit, but is rescued through his friend's good fortune in love.

Subplots: The subplots have as their chief purpose to make clear the nature of the true love of the friend (Bassanio) and Portia, since it is to further this love that the merchant Antonio makes his sacrifice and through it that he is rescued. The subplots are:

  1. Bassanio wins Portia in a trial required by her father's will by choosing the casket which symbolizes that true love is deeper than appearances.
  2. Portia tests the love of Bassanio by giving him a ring and then getting him to give it up by a trick, but only in such a way that he shows he values nothing more than her love except virtue and honor, and hence that his love is true. The wooing of Nerissa, Portia's maid, by Gratiano, Bassanio's companion, parallels their love and emphasizes its nobility by contrast.
  3. Lorenzo steals away Jessica, the daughter of Antonio's enemy, along with her father's money, has her baptized a Christian, and marries her, obtaining the rest of the father's ill-gotten fortune. This parallels the theme of love overcoming evil; as Antonio by love gains all, his enemy by hate loses all.

The "comic relief" of the servant Launcelot Gobbo, who runs away from Shylock and assists Lorenzo, is a part of this subplot and serves the same purpose at a lower level. Shylock loses the fidelity, not only of his daughter, but even of his servants.

Stages of the Plot:

Beginning (ACT 1):

The merchant of Venice, Antonio, put himself in the power of the usurer Shylock (who secretly hates him because he opposes usury) by borrowing money needed by his friend Bassanio to carry on his courtship of the noble lady Portia, on the agreement to forfeit a pound of his own flesh if he does not pay at the appointed time, which payment depends on the return of his many ships.

Scene 1: The love of Antonio for Bassanio is shown by his willingness to obtain the money required by Bassanio to woo lady Portia.

Scene 2: Beginning of chief subplot, whose purpose is to show that the love between Bassanio and Portia is the truest sort, yet not as noble as Antonio's love. Portia loves Bassanio but by her father's will must give her hand to the suitor who is wise enough to pick the casket with the right motto; in other words he must be not only attractive but a man of true love.

Scene 3: Antonio makes the bargain of the pound of flesh with Shylock to obtain the money Bassanio needs to woo Portia. It is revealed to the audience that Shylock hates Antonio because of his generosity, while Antonio despises Shylock because of his avarice. We thus see that Antonio's love is one of perfect generosity, and that Shylock provides the contrast and test of this.

The bargain sets the main action in motion.


Episode 1: The first episode in the action is the coming of news that some of Antonio's ships are lost, and his refusal to recall Bassanio, thus putting himself another step in danger. The rest of the act is occupied with the subplots. ACT II.

Scene 1: The Prince of Morocco arrives at Belmont to make his choice of the casket. The theme of mismating (a Moor of different race and religion) is emphasized.

Scenes 2-6: The two Gobbos, and the intentions of young Launcelot to run away because of Shylock's ill-treatment. Then the love of Lorenzo and Jessica, and the plot for the elopement, with Jessica taking her father's ill-gotten jewels. The elopement is carried out with the help of Gratiano (Bassanio's servant) and masquers, but the masque is stopped by Antonio, who announces that the wind has changed and it is time for Bassanio to leave for Belmont.

The purpose of these scenes is to put forward the daring young love of Lorenzo and Jessica. Here again is the theme of mismating (she is a Jewess and the daughter of the villain), but this time the ardor of young love overcomes evil. Thus suspense is created for Bassanio's choice of the casket; yet we are prepared by this parallel love story, where daring wins all.

Scene 7: The choice of the Prince of Morocco, who chooses the golden casket (symbol of outward worth) and receives a death's-head as reward.

Scene 8: The outcry of Shylock on discovering his daughter's elopement and the loss of his jewels. He runs to the Duke to complain and stop Bassanio, but it is too late. At this moment news arrives that some of Antonio's ships are lost, but Antonio refuses to recall Bassanio.

Scene 9: The Prince of Aragon comes to choose and takes the silver casket (symbol of self-love). He gets a fool's bead. This scene is put shortly and directly without the preparation of the Prince of Morocco's scene, in order not to be repetitious, and also to quicken the pace.

At the end Nerissa announces the coming of Bassanio, and reveals her interest in Gratiano.

Episode II: Antonio's ships are lost but he gains the victory for Bassanio; Shylock in a fury of revenge. ACT III.

Scene 1: Antonio's ships are lost, and Shylock sees how to take his revenge. This is a discovery. It has no special probability, since the loss of the ships is not due to anything in the plot. Yet Shakespeare has rendered it more probable (1) by, showing, that Shylock was willing to bet that they might be lost, (2) by giving the news in two stages, since in Act II, Scene 8, we have already heard of the storm.

Scene 2: Bassanio's choice of the leaden casket (symbol of true inner love and humility). He Wins Portia. This scene of triumph follows immediately on the previous disaster and thus makes a dramatic contrast. Bassanio's happiness has been purchased by Antonio's sacrifice.

Rings are exchanged by the lovers and by Gratiano and Nerissa. just then Lorenzo and Jessica (third pair of lovers) arrive with news of Antonio's disaster. Bassanio and Portia agree to marry at once, but postpone their married life until they have rescued Antonio. We thus see Antonio's love inspiring nobility and sacrifice in others.

Episode III: Antonio arrested, and the subplot united to main plot. ACT III,

Scene 3: Antonio taken to jail. He attempts to win mercy from Shylock, who refuses it. This scene shows Antonio come to understand Shylock's real purpose and jealousy, and his resignation to his fate.

Scene 4: The subplot now begins to join the main plot, since Portia prepares to rescue Antonio.

Scene 5: "Comic relief," banter between Launcelot and Jessica, then love scene of Jessica and Lorenzo, With praise of Portia. This scene is not very effective, but its purpose obviously is to begin to reveal Portia in her role as rescuer, and to play up the theme that she and Bassanio have delayed their love-making for Antonio's sake.

Episode IV: The Trial. In this we have the climax and reversal since Shylock's villainy is turned on himself by Portia. In this the true grandeur of Antonio is shown, and also the nobility of the love which he has inspired in Bassanio, and the worth of Portia. Act IV.

Scene 1: The trial. The theme of the trial is the nobility of mercy, generosity, and true love, in contrast to Shylock.

Scene 2: At the end of the trial, the giving of Portia's and Nerissa's rings by Bassanio and Gratiano, to the same women in disguise. This links the intense action to the final act.

Conclusion: ACT V.

The beautiful moonlight love scene of Jessica and Lorenzo, awaiting the return of the others, indicates to us Bassanio and Portia's anticipation of their own union.

Portia and Nerissa return. Then comes Bassanio and Antonio with Gratiano. The quarrel over the rings. Antonio pledges himself once more for Bassanio, showing his love never changes. Word arrives that Antonio's ships have returned after all.

Catharsis: At the beginning Antonio is in a state of melancholy because as a man of noble soul he is weary of a world that values only what is material and false. The middle of the plot at first seems to show that he is a fool, since he puts himself in the power of the most avaricious and false of men to help Bassanio, a not too bright young man, risk a fortune on trying to win a capricious woman. But the conclusion shows that his love was very wise. Bassanio, through love, makes the right choice of the casket, and the woman he loves, Portia, turns out to be very wise herself and Antonio's rescuer. Hence at the end Antonio is freed from sorrow and rejoices in serenity at the pure love of his friends. The false values of Shylock and the Princes have been exposed, and even the ships return safe.

This is a true comic plot since there is an exposure of avarice, envy, and false standards of love (social values) without serious consequences to anyone. Even Shylock is better off in that he was prevented from committing a crime and ends a Christian. (The play takes for granted that his forced conversion would in tile end prove genuine and permit a reconciliation with his daughter.)


1. Antonio is a merchant, and such a character is not usually pictured as noble, since ordinarily he would be too occupied with money. But here this is used to show him by contrast as a man indifferent to the world's standards, and saddened by an inexplicable sorrow. It is only through the play that we begin to feel that he is melancholy. It is because be is disillusioned with the world, as is manifested by his world-weary wittiness. Yet in the last scenes he becomes serene and joyful as he sees that be has engendered a true love in Bassanio and Portia. In the end he is still witty, still a spectator of the world rather than a participant, but one who nevertheless is consoled that not all in the world is falsehood.

It is a puzzle of the play that Antonio, the central character, still is in the background. Many interpretations of the play, and many performances of it, treat him as a mere foil to Bassanio. This misses the subtlety of Shakespeare. It is hard to show a noble spirit without making him seem stuffy and unreal. Hence Antonio is revealed to us, not through himself, but through his friends who reflect his nobility.

2. Bassanio is the perfect young lover, and his relative lack of wit compared to his brilliant wife adds a comic note to his love. Yet he shows up very well by his humility in the choice of the casket, his determination to stand by Antonio, his sense of gratitude to the "lawyer." He shows us a man who is capable of great romantic love and yet who will not sacrifice his friendship, nor his duty of gratitude, to it.

3. Portia is a woman whose superior intelligence would make her capable of rivaling any man, and yet who for that reason well understands her role as a woman of modesty, an obedient wife, and a friend to her husband's friends; but she is not above playing a joke on her husband. Her warmth, her chastity, her wit, and her tenderness are beautifully blended.

4. Nerissa, Gratiano, Jessica, Lorenzo are spirited young people, generous, witty, with a good deal of the thoughtlessness and unconscious cruelty of the young, Their comparative shallowness throws into relief the richer characters of Portia and Bassanio.

5. The Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Aragon are properly ceremonious and pompous. At the other extreme, the two Gobbos by their crudity and silliness are foils to the elegance of the other characters and to the malicious cunning of Shylock.

6. Shylock is admitted by all to be a great portrait. He is not sentimentalized, nor justified by the author, as romantic critics supposed. He is truly eaten up by avarice, envy, and malice, but this wickedness is credible because we are shown its root in natural human feelings. Shylock is a genuine human being, but a bad one. Yet be is comic, not a tragic figure, because he is essentially a dupe, a man who cannot succeed in his wickedness because be is outwitted by two women, his own daughter and Portia. The scene in which he bemoans the loss of his daughter and his money-bags is the perfect revelation and exposure of his true character. His function in the play is to be the very reverse of Antonio, and yet to be a plausible human being, not a stock villain.


This is a witty play in which there is a constant exchange of pointed moral comments. The main themes turn around fidelity in love and friendship. The theme of the witty woman and the theme of the apparent conflict of mercy and justice are also aired. Shylock's famous speech (Act III, Scene 1, lines 44-60) is a fine example of rhetoric which is at the same time ironic in its dramatic setting, since Shylock himself is without mercy. It would be a mistake, however, to consider that this play deals with the problem of anti-Semitism as some modern writers seem to think.



The play sparkles throughout with brilliant descriptions and a witty eloquence. Special study should be given to the colorful talk of the merchants in the first act, the use of biblical phraseology by Shylock, the high-flown courtliness of the two suitor princes, the light banter of the women, the nobility of the trial scene in which the phrases of the New Testament are used against the Old Testament quotations of Shylock and in which the legal language is so cleverly employed, and finally the lyricism of the last act with its moonlight and music. The low language of the Gobbos seems like the earth from which all these flowery phrases grow. Noteworthy is the imagery of the ship with its cargo, and the theme of gold and jewels throughout the entire play. In contrast to this theme of gold are the themes of the "pound of flesh" and of the human heart, which are warm and living.

In studying the diction of each scene it is important to see how this use of several languages (language of business, language of law, language of wit, language of love, Shylock's language) is managed so as to bring out the conflict of the various elements in the plot.


A study needs to be made of the use of prose for comic scenes (for example, Shylock's big speech in Act III). There is also a marked contrast between the lyric quality of the speeches in the last act, and the grand music of many of the speeches in the trial scene. This play is notable for its very lively and highly varied rhythms and sounds, from the loud outcries of Shylock to the dulcet music of the last act.


The great feature of the play is, of course, the trial to it is the repetition of the scene with caskets and the concluding night scene. The elopement of Jessica, combined with the masquers, and Shylock's frantic running about the stage, are visually very effective. Striking, too, is the contrast between the colorful quay of Venice, the solemnity of the Duke's court, and the peaceful elegance of the country estate at Belmont. Can you imagine the use of Venetian paintings by a scene designer for this play? Might the rapid alternations of the scene, in the third act, for example, be managed by multiple or revolving stages?


(Object of imitation)

The Action:

When Troy is destroyed through the hatred of the goddess Juno, Aeneas, son of the king of the city and the goddess Venus, escapes by his mother's aid, and after enduring many hardships sent by Juno, including the sacrifice of his personal happiness, succeeds in reconciling the gods and founding a new Troy that will become imperial Rome.

This story is tragic, since it involves the greatest consequences, namely, the founding of an empire, and this is achieved only by the suffering of a hero who sacrifices all for the common good, although he is not put to the test of ultimate failure. The catharsis is through pity and fear, since we admire Aeneas as a great patriot who suffers for the common good, but we are also filled with fear to see how much the duty to our country requires us to sacrifice of personal happiness.

The parts of this action are as follows:

Beginning: The beginning of the plot is Aeneas' flight from Troy with his household goods and his son and father (symbols of his future destiny), but without his wife (symbol of personal happiness). This is related, however, by a flashback technique in Books II-III.

Middle: The middle has two larger episodes, divided into many smaller ones. The larger episodes are the journey to Italy (Books I-VI) and the Wars in Italy (Books VII-XII).* [Vergil thus cleverly combines the two themes of Homeric epic: the perilous voyage (Odyssey) in Books I-VI, , and the fortunes of war (Iliad) in Books VII-XIII.]

   A. The voyage to Italy, where the new Troy is to be founded.

Book 1: Aeneas is shipwrecked on the shores of Carthage by Juno and the god of the sea, but by the help of his mother Venus he regains his crew at the court of Dido, Queen of Carthage, who receives them graciously.

Book II. At a banquet given by the Queen, Aeneas relates the fall of Troy by the trick of the horse, his loss of his wife, and his flight..

Book III: He continues the account of his wanderings (the harpies, the temple of the sun, his meeting with his brother Hector's Widow, Andromache, the passage of Scylla and Charybdis, the cave of the Cyclops, and the death of his father Anchises in Italy).

Book IV: The love-story of Aeneas and Dido, Summoned to his mission by the gods, Aeneas leaves, and Dido commits suicide.

These four books form, as it were, a single episode, whose theme is the effort of Juno to entangle Aeneas in the pursuit of his own personal romantic happiness. Carthage and its queen are for this epic a symbol of a merely personal happiness, based on love, riches, and pleasure, in contrast to the nobler ideal of Rome based on patriotism and glory.

Book V: The funeral games for Anchises in Sicily. While these are in progress, Juno inspires the Trojan women to burn the ships. Aeneas escapes with part of the fleet, but loses his steersman Palinurus.

Book VI: Aeneas descends into the Underworld to see the spirit of his father, and there learns the meaning of his mission, the future founding of the Roman Empire.

Book VI marks the climax of the epic, since here Aeneas realizes the meaning of his life. Book V serves as a transition to this climax, completing the previous themes, The burial of Anchises is the final end of Aeneas' duty to the past, and the attempt of the women is a last echo of the Dido episode. Palinurus' death terminates the story of the voyage.

   B. The wars in Italy, the founding of the New Troy.

Book VII: Aeneas arrives in Latium and is engaged to Lavinia, daughter of the native king, intended by her mother Amata for the native prince Turnus. Juno inspires this outraged pair to foment a rebellion.

Book VIII: Aeneas, faced with the war, learns in a vision from the god of the river Tiber that Juno is the cause of his disasters. He is advised to placate Juno and seek an alliance with Evander, King of Arcadia. Aeneas goes to the King who relates to him the history and mythology of the land, gives him an army and his own son Pallas, and advises another alliance with the Etruscans. The Etruscans have lately expelled the tyrant Mezentius, who has become an ally of Turnus.

Book IX: Turnus attacks the fleet of Aeneas, which is turned into a band of sea-nymphs by the goddess Cybele. Then occur the fierce battles of Turnus, the first exploits of Ascanius, son of Aeneas, and the sad episode of the friends, Nisus and Euryalus, who die for each other. Turnus is turned back.

These three books constitute a first great episode of the war in which Turnus is defeated, but not decisively. Aeneas' departure serves to heighten the tension and give the lesser warriors their chance, while Evander gives us a picture of the background and primitive times of the land where the new Troy is to rise.

Book X: Quarrel among the gods, but Jupiter resolves to let the battle go on. Aeneas is returning with an Etruscan fleet, and meets his own fleet turned into sea-nymphs. Turnus attempts to prevent the landing and kills Pallas, then is driven back. Aeneas kills Lausus, son of Mezentius, and then Mezentius himself.

Book XI: The funeral of Pallas and the grief of his father Evander. Envoys arrive from Diomed, King of the Argive settlement, with his refusal to assist the rebels. King Latinus is ready to surrender, but Turnus refuses and begins a new attack, sending the warrior maiden Camilla to hold off the troops. She performs great feats but is slain by Arrnus, who is then slain by Diana, protectress of Camilla.


Book XII: Turnus wishes to fight Aeneas alone in spite of the protests of King Latinus and his queen. Juno sends Juturna, nymph of the streams, to assist Turnus, who is her brother. Aeneas and Latinus take an oath to make a treaty if Aeneas wins. Juturna in disguise provokes the Latins to break the truce to save Turnus. In the fighting Aeneas is hit by an arrow, but healed by an herb sent by Venus. Aeneas pursues Turnus, but is deceived by Juturna, so that he turns on the city to attack it. The Queen kills herself thinking Turnus is already dead. Turnus stops Juturna and demands the single combat with Aeneas. Jupiter on Olympus reconciles Juno to Aeneas' triumph by promising that the now nation will be called Latin and not Trojan. Aeneas defeats Turnus, and, because of his cruelty to young Pallas, puts him to death.

These three books built up to the defeat of Turnus and the reconciliation of Juno. They are arranged to maintain suspense to the end, and Book XI in particular makes us accept the death of Turnus, by showing that in spite of his bravery be is cruel. The death of Camilla and the young men adds to the pathos of the war, since Aeneas sorrows at it all and would have prevented it if he could.


1. Aeneas is shown as the mail of patriotism (piety), who does his duty to his father, to his nation, and to the gods. He is shown as superior to Paris (man of romance), Odysseus (man of adventure), or Achilles and Hector (men of war). He is the father of his people who suffers over them, and is strong both to endure and attack, but is above all a man of justice. Yet he himself suffers because of human weakness and personal attachments, first of love (Dido) and then of affection for his countrymen and allies (Pallas, and others).

2. The many subordinate characters are typical, rather than individual, and yet each is aptly characterized. Ascanius is the youth Of promise who has to make good. Anchises, Latinus, and Evander are the wise old men. Dido and Amata are typical women of emotion. Turnus, the hero, and Pallas and Lausus are the young men of fiery courage, but rash rather than prudent. Camilla and Lavinia are two virgins contrasted to each other, one the "tom-boy," the other the retiring maiden. Vergil makes these types real by his power in depicting contrasted types and in showing the struggle of the passions. Thus in Dido we see the struggle between love and hatred of a woman scorned. In Turnus we See the struggle of courage and despair of one who knows he will fail, but cannot Submit to failure. Aeneas is not shown as struggling, but rather as suffering with a firm resolve.

3. The gods and goddesses are depicted as grandly noble personifications of the forces of nature and fate that affect human life. Venus is not shown as favoring romance, but rather as the "higher love" who favors Aeneas because he is carrying out the law of progress which requires the creative work of fathering a new nation. Juno is depicted, on the other hand, as a conservative force attempting to defend the established order. When Aeneas succeeds and shows himself respectful of tradition and custom, she finally accepts him. Jupiter shows himself as the mediator and harmonizer of these two forces of progress and conservatism.


Throughout the poem there are very many speeches of debate and deliberation, both among the gods and among men (for example, the discussions of whether to yield or continue the war in Book XI). The theme of most of these is the problem of man's submission to destiny. The necessity of leadership, of firmness of purpose, of the spirit of peace and reasonable compromise in order to construct a great nation are all discussed. There is not much of a highly philosophic character, but the thought of the poem is impressive by reason of its sense of the power of political prudence to dominate the raging sea of human passions. Book VI contains a kind of philosophic picture of the world and of human destiny. Vergil was an Epicurean by training, but his philosophy is a sort of pantheism which might just as well be Stoic, and the general tone of the poem is a defense of duty against personal pleasure or gain.

(not analyzed in detail)


It is generally admitted that the style of Vergil in this poem is beyond praise (although the poem was never finally polished, and the Poet wished it destroyed). Full advantage is taken of the power of Latin (as of Greek) to use a complex word-order to hold ideas suspended until clinched by a final operative word (periodic sentences). The style is highly varied and colored but kept very close to an even, moderate tone, and it rejects complex ornamentation. There is great economy in exposition so that each book has its special and novel interest in description and incident, so that each could stand alone. It is also generally admitted that Vergil is not equal to Homer in dramatic boldness, freshness, and power. However, he probably excels Homer in economy, variety, and clearness of structure. Vergil particularly excels in two elements: 1) description, particularly of landscapes, and of the effect of light; 2) in the pathetic, emotional quality which gives much of his poem the tone of pastoral elegy.

Rhythm and Melody:

Read the well-known tribute of Tennyson to Vergil. The dactylic hexameter is taken over from Greek epic poetry, and is used because it is rapid in movement and permits a great variety of rhythm by substituted feet and variation in the pauses. Vergil does not have Homer's vigor in the use of this meter, but produces verses of great smoothness and grandeur that often take on a lyric quality. Where Homer is famous for his effects of great sound volume (the sound of the sea and the clamor of battle), Vergil is famous for his effects of moonlit silence and shadowy forests.


(Objection of imitation)

The Action:

A girl from a financially embarrassed family, although urged to a wealthy marriage by her scheming mother, refuses a wealthy gentleman because of his and her own pride, and because mistakenly she believes him dishonorable, until he proves himself humbled by love, and truly honorable and generous, and wins her apology and her hand.

This plot is of the comic variety because it turns on the failing of vanity and over-sensitive suspicion (pride and prejudice) which are without grave consequences. The chief characters are good, but not heroic, while the other characters are largely absurd in their vanities and pretensions. The catharsis comes through the gradual exposure of the incongruous attitudes, and ends in laughter and joy when true love is found underneath the illusions. The truth which is finally seen is that even noble characters misunderstand each other when they are infected by the vanities and prejudices of those less noble with whom they live.

Beginning: The beginning is the ball at which the Bennet girls make various impressions, while Elizabeth Bennet meets the eligible but haughty Mr. Darcy and overhears his slighting remark about her.

Middle: The chief episodes fall into three groups:

  1. Episodes leading up to Darcy's first proposal and Elizabeth's rejection of him.
  2. Episodes turning about the disgrace to the family that comes through Lydia's elopement, in which Darcy is proved honorable and generous, but Elizabeth is left stranded.
  3. The attempt of Darcy's aunt to get Elizabeth to promise to refuse Darcy; her refusal, and the subsequent second proposal of Darcy.

End: The end is Elizabeth's and Darcy's final recognition of their mistakes and their true love for each other.

As sub-plots to this main action are:

  1. The story of Collins and his unwanted proposal.
  2. The story of Jane and Bingley.
  3. The story of Lydia and Wickham.

These are united to the main plot because they, too, are an effect of Mrs. Bennet's effort to marry off her daughters, and they cause much of the complication in the main story.


  1. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet set the stage by the sharp opposition between her worldly foolishness and his world-weary wisdom. She judges everything superficially and by the most worldly standards. He is a man who despairs of changing the silly people be finds about him.

  2. Elizabeth is the daughter of both. Like her father she has complete personal honesty of character and an ironic sense of humor, but this pure character is somewhat clouded by superficiality and vanity of judgment which have resulted from contact with her mother. Not that she judges as her mother does, but that she has become suspicious of others through seeing her mother's way of acting.

  3. The other daughters provide the appropriate contrast to Elizabeth. Jane is simply good and innocent, while Lydia is very much like her own mother. Similarly, Elizabeth's friend Charlotte is a girl without proper self-respect and independence. Miss Bentley is a snob, abetted by Lady Charlotte and Mr. Collins.

  4. Darcy is like Elizabeth in that he is truly honorable. He is capable of deep love but infected by the snobbery about him. Not indeed that be is a snob, but his reaction to snobbery is to be suspicious and reserved.

  5. Darcy is supported by Bentley, who is simply good, and contrasted to Wickham the cad, Collins the snob, and old Mr. Bennet, who did not find the right wife.

Throughout, the characterization emphasizes the contrast between simple people unaffected by their situation, absurd, superficial people; and Darcy and Elizabeth, who are in the middle, honest but not simple enough to be free of the effects of their environment.


The thought stays strictly on the level of a discussion of the social problems of money, marriage, and social position, without any wider implications, Elizabeth, Darcy, Mr. Bennet, and Miss Bingley are all notable for their sharp and witty exchanges. An interesting play is kept up by the contrast between their clear minds and incisive speech and the prejudices which affect them. The depth of the humor, however, is found in the way it is made clear that the best people have a great deal of difficulty in not being trapped by the "climate of opinion" which surrounds them.



A study of the style will show that it is characterized especially by its simplicity (very little elaborate description or ornamentation) and by its constant but deft employment of irony. The author makes occasional comments on the situation, but they are very brief and dry. Everything that is sensational or exotic is avoided. Even the elopement is treated in an anticlimactic fashion, without moralizing. There is genuine pathos in Mr. Bennet and in the suffering of the two principal characters, but it is treated very quietly. It is characteristic of the author's method that the action moves ahead chiefly by conversation, in which a considerable number of different characters engage and are played off against each other.

Melody and rhythm:

Austin uses a very pure prose style without poetic ornamentation, but she is very effective in reproducing the rhythm and inflection of conversational speech, and in setting it off against a background of social movement, all of which is suggested in the prose rhythms.



The Action:

A foreign woman and a widow, out of loyalty to her widowed mother-in-law who is a member of the Chosen People, returns with her to Bethlehem, and there by her obedience to the counsel of her mother-in-law obtains a rich husband Booz, and thus becomes a member of the Chosen People and ancestress of King David and the Messias.

This is a pastoral whose intention is comic in that it is intended to rebuke the vanity of people who bad forgotten that the glory of the Jewish Kingdom rested on humble foundations of piety and virtue. This is, of course, a very quiet kind of comedy, whose effect is ironic and not boisterous. The catharsis ends in joy achieved through a share in the humiliation and anxiety of the two women, and even of Booz, the puzzled bridegroom. In the poem, however, there is something of epic grandeur, by reason of its relation to the Messias.


   Chapter 1: Fidelity of Ruth to her widowed mother-in-law.

  1. The story of the Jewess Noemi, who was left a widow in the land of Moab, and how her sons married Moabite women and finally died.

  2. Noemi decides to return to Bethlehem in her own land. One daughter-in-law, Orpha, says farewell, but the other, Ruth, returns with Noemi at the harvest time.


   First Episode: Chapter II: Ruth goes to reap the field of Noemi's relative, Booz, to help Noemi. Booz sees her and acknowledges her as a relative, inviting her to reap, protecting her from the young men, and letting her partake of the harvest meal. She tells Noemi of his kindness.

   Second Episode: Chapter III: Noemi gives Ruth advice as to how she is to conduct herself so as to attract Booz' attention and modestly indicate to him the possibility of their marriage. Booz treats her with courtesy, gives her barley, and sends her home to Noemi.

   Third Episode: Chapter IV: Booz bargains With the nearest kinsman for the right to wed Noemi. This takes place in the presence of the elders who call down blessings on the pair.

End: End of Chapter IV: Booz marries Ruth. Noemi receives congratulations over the birth of her grandson Obed, and the genealogy of the House of David is given.


1. Noemi is the type of the widow. We see her many sorrows, her bitterness and shame over her lot, her resolve to return to her people in spite of her shame at her misfortunes, and her dawning hope when she hears of Booz' interest in Ruth. Then we see her experience and prudence in bringing the matter to a successful and proper conclusion.

2. Ruth is contrasted to her sister Orpha. There is something mysterious in Ruth's wonderful fidelity to Noemi. Why did she love her so? Was it not because she recognized the superior virtue of Noemi, born of Noemi's faith in the true God, which made her superior to the women of Moab? Ruth shows her generosity also in her willingness to go to work to support both of them, without being asked. Before Booz she is modest; yet in her suit she shows both her courage and her chastity. Note that after her marriage nothing is said in detail of her, she is only praised as "better to thee (Booz) than seven sons" (4:15).

3. Booz is shown as a man of humanity and kindness. He is an older man, chaste and humble, but very just and resolved to fulfil all his duties to the law. "Thy later kindness has surpassed the former, because thou bast not followed young men, either rich or poor" (3:10) are his words to Ruth, and they show his humility about himself, and his deep joy in her love for him.

4. The kinsman (Chapter IV) is not characterized. The elders form a kind of chorus, and the women who congratulate Noemi another chorus.


As always in Scripture, the thought expressed is supernatural and profound. We notice in Ruth's wonderful speech of fidelity that, although she is still a pagan, there is alive in her a longing for better things. Admiring Noemi, she says, "and thy gods, shall be my gods," Not realizing that she will be led by her fidelity to know the One True God. We also admire the justice and prudence of the two older people, Noemi and Booz. Finally, in the two choruses of elders and of women we hear of the justice and mercy of God, who does his work through the humble.

(Means of imitation)


Even in translation the beautiful simplicity of the style with its flavor of antiquity is evident. Notice the use of genealogies as an opening and closing of the story. The speeches are couched in a kind of epic style, in which there is a use of the favorite Hebrew device of parallelism. Notice the play on the names of Noemi and Mara (1:20), and the blessing's and curses (1:16; 2:12; 2:20; 3:10; 4:11; 4:14). Characteristic of the pastoral is the use of rustic details and the description of quaint customs; for example, the gleaning customs, the manner of eating the harvest meal, the sleeping in the fields, and the customs connected with marriage.

Rhythm and Melody:

We can appreciate the rapid movement of the prose, rising to a poetic prose in the speeches, and to actual poetry in the choruses. Notice the use of parallelism in rhythm throughout. Study the sound in the translation of Monsignor Knox. Notice also the effect given by the genealogies with their sonorous and mysterious names.


(Object of imitation)

The Action:

An elder son who has always seemed a model of virtue reveals his selfish motives when he is angered by his good father's rejoicing over the return of a prodigal younger brother.

This parable has been understood in different ways. Many think that the story concerns the prodigal son (hence it is often called The Parable of the Prodigal Son), others think it centers on the father. But the point of the whole story concerns the older brother, since if this is not the case, the ending of the story would be an anticlimax.

The story has a comic catharsis, because its aim is the exposure of the elder brother's vanity and pettiness. It is told with great wit, which conceals the real point of the story until the last. We suppose that we are hearing a story with the simple, expected moral, crime does not pay." Then when the story seems to have wound up, we have a surprise ending: it turns out that the real prodigal was the respectable brother who stayed at home. Since we have been identifying ourself with this self-righteous attitude, we feel ourselves suddenly exposed with him.

This work is rhetorical as applied to the sinner, for it does move us to repent. Nevertheless, the main point is the exposure of vanity. Hence the sermon ends in a catharsis and is rhetoric which closely approaches the manner of poetry.

   Beginning: The young son departs with his inheritance, but the older brother stays (verses 11 and 12).


  1. The younger son squanders his money in riotous living and is reduced to want (13-16).

  2. The younger son repents and decides to return home (17-20).

  3. The younger son is met by his father and invited to a banquet (20-24).

  4. The older son returns and angrily refuses to enter (25-28).

  5. The older son rebukes his indulgent father (28-30).

   End: The father by a word exposes the selfishness of the older son. (31-32).

The Characters:

1. The younger son is thoughtless in his first demands. The same thoughtlessness leads him into dissipation and utter destitution. His attitude is always materialistic but straightforward. Like a person with such an attitude he is completely sorry because of the consequences of his foolishness and resolves on abasing himself totally by offering to become his father's servant. The fact that he believes his father would accept such an offer shows how little be really appreciates his father's attitude. When he returns and finds his father forgiving, he confesses his sin, but does not offer to become a servant. We feel that he quickly forgot his troubles and joined gaily in the dancing and the good times, perhaps only a little wiser for his lesson.

2. The father is a marvelous picture of a wise old man. He lets the younger boy go, biding his grief at the boy's ingratitude, understanding the youth has to learn the hard way. He longs for the boy's return, and when he sees him runs to kiss him without any reproach. He is especially anxious to hide the young man's shame (although, as we have seen, the young man's shame is not really so deep) by giving him the dignity of a robe, a ring, and a party.

No one ever need know the disgraceful tale. Nevertheless, the father is not merely fond and foolish, for when he is rebuked by the older son, he answers him with a marvelous and penetrating reply. Yet he ends on a note of rejoicing ("for thy brother was dead, and has come to life; he was lost, and is found") rather than of reproach.

3. The older brother is built up for us by contrast with the others. We know that he is everything the prodigal was not. Yet as he comes soberly in from the field where he has worked so patiently and hears the music and the dancing, be suddenly flies into a bitter rage and refuses even to see his brother. Then when his father comes to get him, he answers him with a very bitter speech, praising and justifying himself: "I have never transgressed one of thy commandments," and implying that he has worked for his father for pay. He calls his brother "thy son," and throws in the nasty detail, "who has devoured his means with harlots."

4. The servant and the friends merely fill in the picture and are not characterized.


This is a parable which implies a deeper meaning. It refers to the Pharisees and all self-righteous persons who think themselves just and reject the Gentiles and sinners, while they themselves are even more guilty through their ingratitude and lack of love of God, since they serve him only for material benefits. This profound moral truth is brought out through the wit of the story, all summed up in the three speeches in which each man characterizes himself: the speech of the prodigal admitting his sin, the speech of the elder son justifying himself and condemning his brother and father, and the wonderful speech of the father exposing the self-righteousness of the older son. In a parable the details need not have meaning, but there can be little doubt that the "inheritance" symbolizes the heavenly inheritance of grace, the confession of the prodigal symbolizes the sacrament of penance, and the banquet the Holy Eucharist and heaven.

(Means of imitation)


The story is told with utmost economy and wit. Note the quickness of the beginning, and the delicate passing-over of the details of the "riotous living." A modern author would feel compelled to picture all this in a "realistic" fashion. Then notice the vivid and direct picture of the prodigal with the swine, and the telling detail, "And he longed to fill his belly with the pods that the swine were eating, but no one offered them to him." Note, too, the vividness of the contrast between the swine-pen and his dream of his father's home, and then the reality of that home which is more perfect than the dream itself. There is drama in the fact that the older son becomes aware of the prodigal's return by the sound of music as he returns from work. The phrase, "The father came out and began to entreat him" is a powerful one, and the last speech of the father is marvelous in its complete simplicity and antithesis of ideas ("death" contrasted to "life").

Rhythm and Melody:

The parable has an oral style, effective in oral delivery. For this reason it uses the devise of repetition (the repeated speech of the prodigal, first to himself, then to his father; then the speech of the father to the prodigal and its repetition by the servant to the elder son, and its quotation by the elder son back to his father; and finally the father's repetition of his own speech to the prodigal at the very end of the story. See 18 and 21; 23, 27, 30; 24 and 32). Also notice the constant use of parallelism and antithesis.


(Object of imitation)

The Action:

A man is helped by his brother to elope, but in the flight the brother is wounded and the man leaves him to die in order to escape with his bride, who too eventually dies, leaving him with nothing but remorse.

This plot is told by a flashback device: A white traveler stops at nightfall at a native clearing on a jungle lagoon at a haunted house, where lives an exiled Malayan, Arsat, whose wife Diamelen is dying. During the night Arsat explains how he loved her, but could not win her from her jealous mistress, Inchi Midah, wife of a ruler, until he,

with his brother's help, escaped. During the flight Arsat saw his brother fall wounded, but did not turn back to save him. Since then he has lived alone on the lagoon, feared by the natives and inwardly eaten with remorse. At dawn Diamelen dies, and Arsat decides to go

back to his own land for an empty revenge. As the traveler departs by boat he sees Arsat gazing blindly, at the new day.

The story seems tragic, dealing with a man of courage and great love who through his love sins against gratitude to his brother, but comes at last through the loss of his love to see the futility of sin. However, the story falls short of the tragic in that it is a purely personal story without social consequences. We feel pity at the intense suffering of this man because of remorse and death, and we feel fear because it is implied that this story is typical of the strange tangle of human life.

The method of narrating the story (manner) is chosen to make the feeling of fear and anguish very intense, until the telling of the story and the final death of the woman is a relief from an unbearable strain. It is the catharsis of confession but not of absolution. It might be asked, however, whether there is not something pointless to it all, since it is not clear that this confession brings any ultimate peace. It would appear pointless if represented as tragic in the full sense, but its exotic setting, etc., make it a mysterious personal incident, the sad fate that befalls some individuals and which leaves us pondering. The resolution, therefore, does not really come from the action, but from the satisfaction of our curiosity, our desire to understand and experience. It is thus more an adventure story than a tragedy, and its catharsis is not in the action, but rather in the traveler who bears the story. This explains why the author chose the form of a short story, and his peculiar method of narration which makes the action an incident or episode, rather than something complete in itself.

   Beginning: The traveler arrives and finds the strange man and his dying wife.

   Middle: The flashback explaining the action; the story told by Arsat:

  1. Arsat's relations with the traveler, and with his own brother.

  2. The wooing of Diamelen and the obstacles to their wedding.

  3. The flight.

  4. The death of his brother, and his remorse.

   End: The death of the wife, Arsat's determination to return and seek revenge, and the traveler's departure.

The Characters:

1. The traveler is characterized only by his power as a silent observer, who is objective, touched by the events without being involved in them. The narrator seems to take the same point of view as the traveler.

2. Arsat is an exotic character who speaks a poetic kind of language. His motives are simple and primitive, and we feel that although he expresses himself well it is only with difficulty that be is able to reflect over his experience and formulate it. He is first characterized for us by the fear and dislike of the natives, who sense that he is a man with a secret. Then we see his strange calm at his wife's approaching death. Then at last he reveals himself. As the traveler leaves him at the end, we seem to see him receding from us and once more involved in mystery.

3. Diamelen does not speak, and we know her only through her husband's description as a woman who responds completely to Arsat's love.

4. The brother of Arsat also is known to us only through Arsat's description, but he stands out very vividly in his desperate courage.

5. The natives form a kind of chorus in the background, not speaking but by their fear making vivid to us the idea that Arsat is a man marked by fate.

The Thought:

The story presents us with three interpretations of the same facts: (1) The interpretation of the natives who regard the man as accursed; (2) the interpretation of the white traveler who pities Arsat and sees him as man whose life has been wasted in delusions of romance, of remorse, and of revenge; (3) Arsat's own interpretation of himself as fated, yet guilty. Back of all seems to be the reflection of the narrator, who is pondering on the mystery of human destiny set against the background of the immense pattern of nature. The author senses the mystery of life and seeks to render this in his story, but without being able to give any key to it. In a larger work this would seem very inconclusive and unsatisfactory, but in a short story we are content with a less complete effect.

(Means of imitation)


In this story, elaborate, lyrical description is extensively used to produce a mood, a feeling of the immense, strange, and pitiless setting of nature in the midst of which human beings live their little lives. Word-painting is used to give us a vivid sense of evening, of the long night, and of the dawn. In contrast to this lyrical description is the narrative of Arsat, which is told in a primitive, but poetic language, that reminds us a little of the kind of narrative we find in a folk ballad. It is also evident that the lagoon takes on a symbolic meaning, It seems to stand for the remorse within the soul of Arsat, which is at first mysterious and whose meaning is gradually revealed to us. Study how the rich vocabulary and careful choice of adjectives and verbs helps to create these effects.

Melody and Rhythm:

The rhythm of the evening, night, and dawn, and of the coming and departure of the boat, forms a setting for the story. There is also a suggestion of the tense rhythm of the woman's fever and her husband's hidden anguish, bursting forth at last in the overflow of his confession. The prose rhythm, which is very strong, indicates this tension and overflow. Notice too how sound-effects (onomatopoeia) are used in the description.


If this story were made as a movie, the setting would play a very large role in its effect, The writer includes this setting in his narrative by use of extensive descriptive effects. We have explained the symbolism of this setting above.


(Object of imitation)

The Action:

An old maid takes out her precious fox-fur to go for a walk, During which she watches the city life about her and feels herself an actress playing an important role in the drama until a couple of young lovers laugh at her fur and she returns to her lonely flat in tears to put it away.

In this story the action is reduced to a minimum and directed to the revelation of character. The story is comic in that it reveals character through the exposure of the spinster's absurd little pleasures and vanities, but it is a pathetic type of comedy ending in pity. Nevertheless, it does not end in mere pathos, since ill exposing Miss Brill's absurdity we also come at the end to see her inner human dignity, which is deep and fine, Thus the catharsis is the removal of our own tendency to regard such people as absurd and grotesque, and results in a deeper insight into the real beauty of human character. In this way the sorrowful element is less deep than our new joy in human dignity.

It might be thought that the author is not altogether successful in achieving this positive resolution, and that we are left suspended in a mere sense of "Oh, the pity of it all!" Nevertheless, the effect intended is a very delicate one, and to many it will seem that she hit a very good balance. To be more emphatic about the positive aspect of Miss Brill might have been very heavy-handed. It seems better to let the reader draw his own conclusion.

   Beginning: Miss Brill takes out the fur neck-piece.

   Middle: She takes her walk and shares the life around her, until she overbears the young couple making full of her.

   End: She returns in tears and puts back the fur.

The Characters:

A single character is portrayed for us. The other characters are types, who merely provide the occasion for Miss Brill's thoughts. Even if the young couple had not laughed, no doubt her story would have ended the same way, since she could never sustain her gay mood of illusion.

Miss Brill is shown to us as a person who by nature had great capacity for sensitivity, for laughter, for human friendship, for beauty. Her reactions are all essentially refined, but all this has taken on a grotesqueness and absurdity from the emptiness of her life. We feel that she has not had the courage to enter into more real relations with people, because failure would have been so painful to her. We might question, however, whether the author has not somewhat sentimentalized this figure. Would not a Miss Brill in real life have some element of bitterness? Would it not be more evident that the emptiness of her life was also due to real defects of character, which were in her own power to correct? Has not the author "stacked the cards" in favor of Miss Brill by making it appear that her story is wholly pathetic?

The Thought:

The story is told us chiefly through the inner stream of consciousness of Miss Brill herself. She is not a woman who really thinks, but only one who imagines. Yet there is a certain element of thought in the passage in which Miss Brill thinks of herself as an actress playing a role. This is as close as she comes to trying to understand her own character. Is there not here an implication that, after all, the pathetic bystander actually sees more of the reality of life than the participants, who are so engaged in living that they cannot reflect on it or appreciate it? THE MATTER (Means of imitation)


The effect of the story depends on the mincing, finicky, delicate style in which the most minute things are noticed and mentioned. Typical are the description of the fur piece and the reports of the inane conversations which Miss Brill overhears. This style reflects the point of view of Miss Brill. We feel her delicate, sharply observant, nervous, exclamatory, shy personality in the choice of adjectives and the multiplication of details,

Melody and Rhythm:

The broken, frequently qualified sentences, the light touch of sound bears out the tone of the diction. For example: "Although it was so brilliantly fine -- the blue sky powdered with old and great spots of light like white wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques -- Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur." Notice how the word "decided" at the end of this sentence makes the whole sentence seem pathetically comic.

When the Lord brought back the captives of Sion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
Then they said among the nations,
"The Lord has done great things for them!"
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.

(Object of imitation)

The Action:

The Jews returned from exile recall the joy they felt upon their return and in the midst of present hardships in building up the city pray that at last that joy will be renewed when their work is accomplished.

In a lyric poem the action is reduced to a movement of emotion. In this poem the emotion is one of hope and supplication, and it has a heroic (tragic) tone.

   Beginning: The Jews recall their joy when they returned from exile (by implication they are now in difficulties), line 1.


     Stanza 1: How great was their joy at that time!

     Stanza 2: Grant, O Lord, a return of that joy as the reward of present labors!

   End: The Jews anticipate the joy at harvest (reward of labor), last two lines.

The Characters:

In a lyric poem, since the action is reduced to an emotional experience, what is chiefly revealed to us is the habitual character of the singer. In this poem we have depicted the ideal character of one who believes in God. In the first stanza we see the profound attachment of the Jews to their own land. This attachment is not only one of patriotism, but of religion. They know that God has a special providence over their nation (the symbol of the Catholic Church), and hence, when they returned to the Holy Land, they knew that it was the promises of God that were being fulfilled. In the second stanza we see that this religion is not something superficial, but that it has been tested by suffering and labor, and that it is firm in hope. Thus the character depicted to us is one in whom the virtues of patience and hope are very great.

The Thought:

In Sacred Scripture the thought is always profound and supernatural, The thought of this poem is twofold: (1) Great blessings come to us only from divine providence, which has favored the Jewish nation of old and the Church today above every other people and institution. It is noteworthy that Our Lady (who is a type of the Church) uses the last two lines of the first stanza in her own Magnificat. (2) God will give the reward to our labors, but we must suffer to obtain it. Thus the answer to the great philosophical problem of the reason for evil in the world is contained in this little poem.

(Means of imitation)


This poem has in translation (and in the original) a very simple diction, suitable to its brevity, and its direct, strong emotion. This is enriched, however, in several ways:

  1. The use of parallelism and antithesis throughout the poem.

  2. The use of grammatical variation. Notice that the first six lines are in the past tense, then the last couplet of the stanza shifts to the present. Notice the climactic effect of the quotation in the first stanza. In the second stanza the first two lines are in the second person, while the rest is again in the third. Finally, the last four lines are an expansion of the second couplet of the second stanza. In the Psalms this rather abrupt shift of person, mood, and the use of repetitions and expansions give life and variety.

  3. The use of simile (second line of each stanza) and metaphor (the last six lines).

Rhythm and Melody:

The verse is based on parallelism. There are two stanzas, each with four parallel couplets. The other effects present in the Hebrew cannot be carried over into the translation.

Behold her, single in the field,
Yon solitary Highland Lass!
Reaping and singing by herself;
Stop here, or gently pass!
Alone she cuts and binds the grain,
And sings a melancholy strain;
O listen! for the Vale profound
Is overflowing with the sound.

No nightingale did ever chaunt
More welcome notes to weary bands
Of travellers in some shady haunt,
Among Arabian sands.
A voice so thrilling ne'er was beard
In springtime from the cuckoo-bird
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.

Will no one tell me what she sings?
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
For old, unhappy, far-off things,
And battles long ago.
Or is it some more humble lay,
Familiar matter of today?
Sonic natural sorrow, loss, or pain,
That has been, and may be again?

Whate'er the theme, the maiden sang
As if her song could have no ending;
I saw her singing at her work,
And o'er the sickle bending --
I listened, motionless and still;
And, as I mounted up the hill,
The music in my heart I bore
Long after it was heard no more.

(Object of imitation)

The Action:

A traveler stops to listen to a Highland girl singing as she works in the harvest, and, musing on the meaning of her song, comes to realize, as he rides away, that his own sorrow is only a part of the universal sorrow expressed in the songs of humanity.

In this poem we se a catharsis of our narrow personal sorrow which takes place by identification with the sorrows of other men and which ends in the contemplation of the dignity of all men. It belongs to the tragic rather than the comic view of life, since our pride in our own importance is replaced by the sense of the universal or cosmic order.

Beginning: Stanza 1: The traveler pauses and is aroused from his own thoughts to listen to the wonderful song of the peasant girl which seems to fill the whole valley.

Middle: The middle consists in the poet's reflection on the meaning of the girls song.

   Stanza 2: This homely song is more beautiful than the most exotic melody:

  1. More beautiful than the song of the nightingale in an oasis in the Arabian desert.

  2. More beautiful than the song of the cuckoo in the isles of the Hebrides.

   Stanza 3: What is the meaning of its words?

  1. Are they a story of ancient times and heroic wars?

  2. Or are they a story of common human problems?

   End: Stanza 4: The girl continues working, while the traveler departs carrying the song in his heart.

Notice that the emotion in this poem advances by even steps.

   Stanza 1: Traveler awakened from sorrow by a sudden beautiful sound.

   Stanza 2: This sound arouses delightful imaginings.

   Stanza 3: The images awaken a desire for understanding, which comes at the end of the stanza.

   Stanza 4: This understanding is stored in the memory and reflected upon. (Wordsworth's famous "emotion recollected in tranquillity.")

Thus there is a movement from the external senses to the imagination, and then to the depths of the intelligence.

The Characters:

In a lyric poem the action is reduced to a movement of emotion, which is of interest chiefly because it reveals the character ("personality") of the singer. The poet here is waking up to his own real self. At the beginning of the poem he is probably absorbed in narrow personal thoughts (this is implied without being actually stated, since he compares himself in the second stanza to someone weary of the desert or the ocean). Meeting the simple peasant girl, he gradually begins to become. aware that between them there is a deep bond, the bond of common humanity. As he departs he has come to realize his deeper inner self which is greater and nobler than he had supposed.

Thus the traveler is revealed to us as a man of sensitivity and sympathy who is, however, often dull and introverted until awakened by beauty to a realization of the deeper more universal things of life.

The peasant girl is not characterized for us except as a type of simplicity.

The Thought:

The thought of the poem is made explicit in Stanza 3, lines 5 to 8. It is the thesis so common in Wordsworth's writings that the deepest things of human life are not necessarily spectacular public actions but the common experiences of all men, which may be found in their clearest forms in the life of the common man.

This is the idea expressed by many writers of the Romantic period and emphasized by Rousseau and other philosophers of the democratic movements of the 18th and 19th centuries. Is it true or false? We may grant that it is true if stated in a moderate form (as in this poem), since it is indeed true that the common consent of mankind is a strong evidence of truth, but if taken in the exaggerated sense that "the people are always right," or that sentiment is better than disciplined reason, it is very false.

(Means of imitation)


The diction of this poem is almost perfect and deserves close study. In general it is very simple and harmonizes with the mildness and intellectual serenity of the speaker. Many of the words are monosyllables and of Anglo-Saxon origin, and the last stanza is plainest of all.

   Stanza 1: The apostrophes, "Behold her . . . "Stop here, or gently pass," "O listen!" are intended to show that the poet has been suddenly brought to life by the beautiful sound; yet because they are rather rhetorical, they give us the impression that the poet at first is merely admiring the view and the music, and is not yet deeply affected. In this stanza there are two dominant notes:

1) The notion of solitude indicated by "single in the field," " solitary Highland lass," "Reaping and singing by herself", "Alone she cuts and binds the grain." From the visual impression of the girl in the field, we are led to an impression of her movement, then of her song, and finally its echo. Thus the impression sinks into the poet's soul. At first it is distant, then it is closer, and finally it pervades and engulfs him.

2) The second note is that of melancholy. This word is the richest and most unusual word in the stanza, and with it we feel that the poet is becoming emotionally involved and is no longer merely a spectator. The melancholy tone of the music strikes some sympathetic chord in his own heart. In keeping with the simplicity of the style, very few adjectives are used (single, solitary, melancholy, profound) and these convey the central notions. Much of the picture is given by verbs and participles (reaping, singing, cuts, binds, sings, overflowing).

   Stanza 2: In this stanza the words become more fanciful and unusual because the imagination of the traveler is now aroused. Again two pictures are presented:

1) The nightingale is heard in Arabia by a caravan coming in from the desert. Here for the first time we get a reference to the traveler himself who is metaphorically compared to such parched desert wayfarers. We guess that the traveler himself is physically weary and spiritually parched with thirst, and that the music suddenly awakens and refreshes him, The words chaunt" and "Arabian sands" are exotic, distant. The adjectives "welcome," "weary," "shade" are very simple, but adequate to the picture intended.

2) The cuckoo-bird sings to sea-weary travelers (only implicit) who have passed over silent seas to the remote islands of the north. Here the picture is only hinted at, and the emphasis is put on the "thrilling" voice in the silence. The cuckoo is not as romantic as the nightingale, but much more homelike, and we have the sense at once of a deep, springtime freshness, and of the intimacy of the experience. Thus the poet has contrasted for us the extreme south and the extreme north, but the latter is closer to home. The "silence of the seas" is an unusual combination of images, since ordinarily we think of the seas as noisy. It pictures to us at once a calm: northern sea, perhaps in the morning twilight, close to shore, with the cuckoo's voice coming across the water.

   Stanza 3: This stanza is more prosaic, indicating that the poet is now trying to formulate and rationalize his feelings. The song is in Gaelic or a dialectic, and the poet (asking himself a rhetorical question) wishes for a translator. He can only guess the meaning for himself. Again there are two distinct ideas:

1) He guesses at first that it is a folk song telling of some ancient historical tragedy or war, the "old, unhappy, far-off things and battles long ago." The vagueness of "things and battles" and the term "unhappy," which is somehow both restless and vague, indicates the stirring of his memories which do not fully rise to the surface of consciousness.

2) Next he guesses at the idea of personal, domestic troubles which more closely touch the traveler. "Familiar matter of today" indicates how humdrum such things ordinarily appear, yet they are profound and universal as we see in the phrase, "That has been, and may be again." This last line of the stanza and the word "natural" in the previous line seem to be the very heart of the poem. They are very quiet, yet penetrating in tone.

   Stanza 4: The last stanza suddenly shifts tense to the past, indicating that the action of the poem is reaching its end. The traveler sees the girl move away, becoming a symbol. Her song has "no ending" as she keeps working on, moving into the distance. The last half of the stanza brings the traveler into objective relief and we finally sees that he is a traveler who must move on. He stands for a moment, then moves on, but as he goes he find himself changed. The music (i.e., the realization of the universality of human problems) remains in his heart. The words in the last two lines are the simplest of the poem (all monosyllables except music and after). The last line, "Long after it was heard no more," indicates very plainly the movement of the whole poem, namely, a passage from the mere hearing of a sound to a change of inner attitude of mind and the heart.

Rhythm and Melody:

We have noticed the symmetry of the four stanzas: a beginning, a middle of two episodes, and a conclusion. The first three stanzas form an ascending movement (sensation, imagination, reflection), and the last is a summary balanced against the other three and contrasted to them by its tense. In each stanza there are two quatrains, each of which has its own unity:

  1. Sight of lass (solitude).
  2. Sound of song, (melancholy).
  3. Metaphor of the nightingale.
  4. Metaphor of the cuckoo.
  5. Is it a song of history?
  6. Or a song of personal life?
  7. She goes on working and singing.
  8. I go away changed.

This parallelism is so exact that it gives the poem a classic balance and strength which sustains its delicate mood.

The rhyme scheme is a  b  a  b  c  c  d  d, except that in the first and last stanzas the a lines do not rhyme, although they have the very imperfect rhymes field - self, and sang - work. This imperfection is hardly a fault, since it mutes the rhyme which might seem too assertive and does not jar us (frequently in quatrains only two lines rhyme). The use of two couplets (c  c  d  d) in the second half of each stanza helps make a more intense ending, and in each case the emotional tension of the words is also greater. The lines are iambic tetrameter, which is appropriate because it is the most ordinary rhythm, often used in folk-songs. It is varied by frequent trochaic Movements (reaping, breaking, etc.). There are frequent breaks in the lines: "Behold her/single in the field," "Stop here/or gently pass," "O listen/ for the vale profound." These seem to indicate the pausing motion of the traveler. In the second stanza each half is grammatically and rhythmically very smooth. The fourth stanza has a rather prosaic, but gentle rhythm. In the last stanza there is a marked antithetical effect, couplet by couplet, which indicates the contrast and separation between singer and traveler who now part.

Throughout the poem here is a very smooth, gentle, melancholy melody. In the first stanza this is indicated by the onomatopoeia of "melancholy strain," "Oh listen! for the vale profound/Is overflowing with the sound." The last stanza in its last part is filled with m sounds which give it a muted, quiet effect. Throughout the poem there is a great use of 1, m, n, sounds which contribute to its smooth flow.

Some additional remarks:

Our interpretation of this poem is confirmed by the fact that Dorothy Wordsworth, the poet's sister, tells us that the poem was " suggested to William by a beautiful sentence in Thomas Wilkinson's Tour in Scotland." This sentence contained the thought found in the last two lines of the poem. We thus see that the poet began with this "formative idea" of the change wrought in our attitude by listening to folk-songs and from this his poem took shape, using the Scottish setting.

A number of objections may be raised to this poem. For example:

1. There is in admixture of the 18th century rhetorical style. Notice "Behold," "Yon," "Stop here or gently pass!", "O listen!", "melancholy strain," "vale profound," "chaunt," "Will not someone tell me what she sings?", "plaintive numbers," "humble Jay," "What'er the theme." Are not these clichés?

Answer: It will be noticed that most of these expressions, except " melancholy" and "vale," appear in parts of the poem which are more reflective and hence properly somewhat more prosaic and conventional. "Chaunt" is appropriate precisely because it is archaic and fits the exotic imagery of the first part of the second stanza. The phrases "melancholy strain" and "vale profound" are justified by the magnificent sound effect which they give.

2. The last stanza is too obvious.

Answer: The poem is not intended to be intellectually intricate. its subtlety comes, not from the ideas, but from the gradual movement from the exterior sensation to the interior change of attitude. This last stanza does not break the unity of the work, since it is still concrete and experiential. The traveler sees the girl move away, and as he departs is surprised to find the continuance of her song in his changed attitude. It will be especially noticed that the sound of these last lilies with their o's are a wonderful echo of the sound given at the end of the first stanza.

3. The catharsis is incomplete, since we still do not understand why men must suffer.

Answer: It is true that this poem remains at a somewhat shallow level, typical of much romantic poetry. Nevertheless, its resolution is not a false one, since such experiences do give us a more universal outlook, and it is proportionate to the brevity and unpretentiousness of the poem.

Conclusion: We have here a very perfect lyric, especially notable for a well-maintained tone, for the way in which its sound sustains the meaning, and for its balance between sensation, imagination, feeling, and reflection. It is somewhat weak in thought content, and its emotion is very passive.


Happy those early days, when I

Shined in my angel-infancy!
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white, celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And looking back at that short space,
Could see a glimpse of His bright face;
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispense
A several sin to every sense,
But felt through this fleshy dress
Bright roots of everlastingness.

Oh, how I long to travel back,
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train,
From whence the enlightened spirit sees
That shady city of palm trees.
But, ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk, and staggers in the way.
Some men a forward motion love,
But I by backward steps would move,
And when this dust falls in the urn,
In that state I came, return.
(Object of imitation)

The Action:


A man meditates on his childhood and is crushed by the thought of his fall from innocence until be realizes he can regain it by a Christian death.

   Beginning: He suddenly recalls the innocence of his childhood (lines 1-14).


     Episode 1: He recalls his fall into sin (lines 15-20).

     Episode 2: he now longs to return to innocence (lines 21-26).

   Conclusion: Innocence can be regained by a Christian death (lines 27-32).

In this plot the catharsis moves from a joy recollected in sorrow, through fear to hope, and ends in a resigned courage. Thus the poem as a whole is sorrowful throughout, but the sorrow changes from the intense pain of the contrast between recollected joy and present misery, to patience (resigned courage). There is a resolution or catharsis, but of the imperfect sort found in sorrowful songs and poems. How can we say that this is an end to the poem, when it seems like a return to the beginning? It is an end in that it implies a firm determination of the will to return to innocence. This action belongs to the class of the tragic, but since this is a lyric the poet does not actually show us moral determination and decision but only an attitude which is habitual with him. In other words, a lyric rather emphasizes character (a habitual condition) than action in the full sense.


Since this is a lyric, character is emphasized. The person speaking, is deeply spiritual, early awakened to the reality of spiritual things, but this spiritual clarity has become confused by the trials and failures of life. Yet his sins are not malicious since he continues to realize keenly his spiritual destiny. He is a person who feels himself different from others, a stranger in this world. Others look forward to worldly success. He feels himself to be one who is fortunate to regain what he has lost. He is of a temperament inclined to reflection, a character rather sensitive and timid, yet deep in his faith and firm in his ultimate determination. This is shown us through the intense contrast he feels between his ideal and the actuality of his own character; but it is not confused feeling, it is a feeling which is clearheaded and rational.


This poem emphasizes thought rather than emotion. The thought is in the terms of Christian theology. The speaker sees himself in childhood as living in the state of grace through baptism, close to the angelic world, separated from the ways of this world, and with charity toward God. His faith then was enlightened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that he could almost see God, and could know his reflection in the beauties of nature. Then sin came to him first by the sins of the tongue (lying, uncharitable speech), then by a yielding to the sins of the five senses. Before his body had something of the purity of the glorified body; now it is wounded.

Thus in the first part of the poem he pictured baptismal innocence in clear terms. In the last part he sees the good life as a straight path through this world to heaven, which lies ahead like an oasis in the desert. He bewails his departure from this plain path. He can conceive his goal ahead only by recalling what he has left behind. Nevertheless, his faith makes him confident that he can regain innocence at death. The last stanza states very clearly the ambiguity of the state of the Christian who falters in his way, who is at once alive and dead, and who waits for death to become fully alive once more. It is not a mere pious platitude which he utters, but the real experience of a man struggling with himself.


The diction is very simple but achieves a certain richness by a few vivid and surprising touches that are borrowed from the imagery of the liturgy and the technical language of theology.

The first sentence sets the tone of the poem by an exclamation which is like a sigh. "Shined in my angel-infancy" contains a paradoxical idea, since a child is not an angel. "Before I understood this place/Appointed for my second race": Here we have the idea that the child is placed in a strange home which is unsuited to it, and which it views with surprise and alarm to find that it must run a new race on a new path, so different from the angelic paths which seem natural to it. The notion of the path is the basic image of the poem. "Or taught my soul to fancy aught/But a White celestial thought" indicates that the child was in a sense his own teacher, since he learned to sin only by his own free will. "White celestial thought" echoes the angel image, so that throughout the poem the

notion of the shining soul caught on a dark path is maintained.

"While yet I had not walked above/A mile or two from my first love" the image of the path continues. Note the simplicity of diction in the following line: "And looking back at that short space/Could see a glimpse of His bright face." The child is pictured as walking away from its father, making its first steps, but turning back to the father for encouragement. Note the mysterious quality of the description of God only as a "bright face." "When on some gilded cloud or flower/My gazing soul would dwell an hour, /And in those weaker glories spy, /Some shadows of eternity." As the child continues in the path he stops to admire a flower, or a cloud in the distance. They are "gilded" because their beauty is not their own, but comes from the sun of God's face. This beauty is now only a shadow.

"Before I taught" recalls the third line, "Before I understood." Again the child teaches himself to sin by lying. The tongue "wounds the conscience with a sinful sound," because the tongue is sharp, lying, and uncharitable. "Sinful sound" suggests the amazement of the child to find himself telling a he. He hears his own voice with amazement, he had never thought that he would be a liar. "Or had the black art to dispense/A several sin to every sense." "Black art" is diabolic magic, and indicates the strange perverse cleverness of deliberate sin. "Black" contrasts with the image of light and whiteness that has pervaded the first part of the poem. The words "dispense" and "several" indicate the deliberate character of sensuality. The notion of the sin of the five senses recalls the ritual of the sacrament of extreme unction, in which each sense is anointed to remove the sin committed through it. The final lines of the stanza. "But felt through this fleshy dress/Bright roots of everlastingness," very vividly indicate that the body was originally intended as the pilgrim garment underneath which was hidden the inner glory of baptismal innocence destined for eternity. The term "roots" indicates the idea of scholastic theology that the powers of the body, in this case the senses, are rooted in the essence of the soul. It also indicates the idea that "race is the "seed of glory," intended to grow up to the full fruition of eternal life.

The second part of the poem is marked by a new exclamation: "Oh, how I long to travel back/And tread again that ancient track." The track or path to heaven is ancient, not merely because he trod it in his own youth, but because it is the path to heaven which all the saints from Adam on have taken. "That I might once more reach that plain/Where first I left my glorious train, /Front whence the enlightened spirit sees/The shady city of palm trees." The path passes through a plain, not through mountains, because it is the straight, low way of humility, and on it march the whole caravan of glorious beings who follow the light of spiritual faith to a shady city of palm trees, the place of rest and of victory. Undoubtedly we have here the familiar Old Testament and liturgical image of the Hebrews marching across the plain through the desert to the promised land and the Holy City. Notice the use of the image of light again, of shade as the symbol of rest, and of the fertile oasis city as a new garden of paradise which is like the final flowering of the roots spoken of previously.

The last part of the poem also has a sigh: "But ah! my soul with too much stay/Is drunk, and staggers in the way." This is perhaps the most intense and dramatic couplet of the poem, marking the beginning of the resolution. "Stay" indicates the weariness of the journey, like that of the Hebrews. The intoxication is the dizziness both of weariness and despair through which many stragglers drop out of the caravan and wander from the path. "Some men a forward motion love" is perhaps the strangest line of the poem. It is an abstract scholastic statement, the familiar philosophical principle that motion goes toward a term and that love sets this term. This line prefaces the intellectual paradox which is the conclusion of the poem, and its oddity and abstractness arouse our attention. "But I by backward steps would move,/And when this dust falls in the urn,/In that state I came, return." Notice the complexity of the motion indicated. There is a forward motion, a falling motion of the dust, and a returning motion of the soul set free from the body. The thought is suspended until the last word. To "go back" is ordinarily to fail, but the poet sees this as really a return to his goal, since he has fallen from the way. The dust of the body sifting into the urn is chosen as something utterly sterile and dark, in contrast to the images of growth and light.

Rhythm: The grammar of the poem makes it fall into the following symmetrical arrangement, each major part beginning with an exclamation:

I.  Happy my youthful innocence!
   a. Before I understood this place. . . .
      Or taught my soul to sin
      When I had not walked far....
      When I could still see glimpses of light....
   b. Before I taught my tongue to sin,
      Or had the black art....
   c. But still felt the bright root of everlastingness.

II. Oh, how I long to return!
      Would that I might return to the path that leads to the city....

III. But I seem always to fail!
   a. I stagger in my forward motion.
   b. Unlike other men I would return. 

The meter is iambic tetrameter, but with very frequent trochaic beginnings of lines (e.g., first two lines). The use of frequent spondees or heavy endings of lines ("second race," "fancy aught," "first love," " short space," "bright face," "sinful sound," " everlastingness," "Palm trees," etc.) makes the movement of the verse slow and sad in sound, an effect also increased by the constant use of lines loaded with words of one syllable ("When yet I had not walked above/A mile or two from my first love," or "That I might once more reach that plain"). Notice also the effective rhythm of "Is drunk, and staggers by the way," which seems to stagger, and the completeness of the closing line "In that state I came, return."

Melody: Throughout the sound is sombre, but with a contrast between high sounds ("But a white, celestial thought," etc.), symbolic of light, and the prevailing low tones. There is constant modulation of vowel sounds as in "When on some gilded cloud or flower/My gazing soul would dwell an hour,/And in those weaker glories see /Some shadows of eternity," where there is a wonderful variation between faint and deep tones. Notice, for example, the phrase "weaker glories" where the word "glories" is an organ-toned word, while weaker" is very faint and lifeless. Notice also the hissing in "My conscience with a sinful sound" and ". . . to dispense a several sin to every sense." The use of rhyme throughout contributes both to the sombre and meditative rhythm, and to an emphasis on the thought. Notice how frequently the rhyme word contributes an important element to the thought.

Concluding remarks: This poem is remarkable as a parallel in theme to Wordsworth's famous Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. If we compare the two we cannot help but be struck by the fact that Vaughn's poem expresses a much keener sense of anguish and shame, and a more telling union between thought and image, than does Wordsworth's. The idea of the marching motion and the surprising turn it is given at the end unifies the entire poem. The emotion and thought expressed are complex and paradoxical, but reasonable.

Might we not say that there is something unhealthy in the poet's idea that Christian perfection is simply regressing to childhood innocence? Is it not pessimistic and Calvinist in tone! This is undoubtedly a poem in the style of Mannerism. Mannerism was an artistic transition movement which liked to picture ambiguous, uneasy effects, in which the catharsis seemed incomplete. Its purpose was to indicate the reality of the other life in contrast to the darkness and confusion of our world. The pictures of El Greco are wonderful examples of this tendency. Vaughn is entirely Christian in his concept that we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. In order to make us wake up to this too familiar truth, he states it in terms of a personal confession and in a paradoxical style.


(Object of imitation)

These two poems really form a single poem, since the second answers the first and shows the superiority of the life of contemplation to the life of pleasure. Hence they can best be analyzed together.

The Action:

In a descriptive poem, the action is reduced to a movement of emotion, as in any lyrical poem, and this emotion is primarily a revelation of character.

A young man delights in thinking of a life of innocent pleasure in the country and the, city, then reflects on the higher delights of the life of contemplation in the enjoyment of nature, of reading, of meditation, and of prayer, and judges these as the greater.

   Beginning (L'Allegro, lines 1-10): The young man dismisses Melancholy (his conception of the contemplative life) and calls upon Mirth.


  A. The description of the life of pleasure.

1. Invocation of the Goddess of Mirth, accompanied by Jollity, Jest, Sport, and Laughter.
2. Description of a day in the country from dawn to evening.
3. Description of a day and an evening in the city.

   Apparent ending: The young man resolves to live always with mirth (last couplet of L'Allegro).

   New Beginning: (Il Penseroso, lines 1-10): The young man now dismisses Mirth and calls on Melancholy.

   Middle continued:

   B. The Description of the life of contemplation.

1. Invocation to Melancholy, accompanied by Peace, Quiet, Fasting, Leisure, Contemplation, and Silence (lines 11-59).
2. Description of an evening stroll and reading to midnight.
3. Description of a rainy morning, a walk in the wood, a church or a hermitage.

   True end: The young man resolves to choose the contemplative life.

The catharsis in this poem comes from the fact that the young man passes from a fear of melancholy at the beginning, and a delight only in more superficial pleasures, to a realization that what he feared can be a higher joy. Thus there is a reversal by which what first appeared sorrowful turns out to be joyful.

The Characters:

There is a single character who has two phases. He is a young man sensitive to all the variety of life and finding it hard to decide what he really wants. He imaginatively enters into both ways of life, and finds both good. The pleasure to which he is attracted is an honorable and temperate pleasure, not a dissipated one. Hence it is natural that a person of this noble temperament would be even more attractive by the higher pleasure of the contemplative life. The special beauty of this poem is the way in which it succeeds in showing two contrasting moods as both very good, although one is better than the other. The poem does not actually say that the character is a young man, but it is manifest from the fact that he is still deliberating on a choice of life. In a mature man such variation of mood would not be appropriate.

In order, however, to make the description more concrete, the device of personification is used. Thus Mirth is pictured is a beautiful young goddess (see the famous picture of Botticelli called The Allegory of Spring accompanied by a gay crew of gods and nymphs, but then dismissed in the second part as a fantastic dream. Melancholy is pictured as a hideous, dark-clad figure with snaky locks accompanied by a raven, but then is transformed in the second poem into a virgin goddess like a Nun, walking with her quiet companions, but preceded by Contemplation who is a winged Cherub that guides

a fiery-chariot by which she (Melancholy) may return to heaven and become Joy.

The Thought:

The poem has little of thought. Since the young speaker has only an imaginative insight into the two lives he depicts, he does not have any real intellectual understanding of their significance, which would be inappropriate to his age. Nevertheless, it is the work of a young man of keen intelligence occupied at the moment with observing the English country and town life about him, and relating it to his studies of the Latin and Greek classics.

(Means of imitation)


We have already mentioned the use of personification and of classical allusion. Note that in the first poem the characters are revealed to us through their laughter and their dancing motions, as a crew following their leader in a kind of bacchanal, while in the second poem we seem to see a solemn procession.

After these very formal openings to the poems, the succeeding descriptions are wonderfully fresh and real, although classical allusions and English folklore are mixed with observation to give it greater richness. It will be noted that Milton is rather sparing in the use of purely visual words, but uses many sound effects (the birds, the cock, the hounds and horn, the echoes, the whistling plowman, the singing milkmaid, the counting shepherd, the bells, the musical instruments, the stories, the flail, the wind, the hum of the city, the sound of revelry, the poetry of plays, etc.). Notice also the constant use of verbals (see lines 64 to 72 of the first poem, for example).

In the first work the general symbol of a lively dance moves through the entire poem in its two cycles and gives the impression of a rapidly shifting, colorful display. In the second poem the grave procession or quiet walk with frequent pauses is felt. In the first poem sunlight and torchlight are emphasized. In the second, moonlight and firelight. A detailed study will bring out a wonderful felicity in almost every word.


We have already noted that the first poem has a dancing effect, the second the effect of a quiet stroll. The opening of each poem is in alternate trimeter and pentameter lines, which gives each a slow opening and then moves into the very smooth meter of the tetrameters of the rest of each poem. The basic meter is really iambic tetrameter, but in order to get a dancing effect in the first poem, Milton makes most of it trochaic by starting lines with an accented syllable. Frequent feminine endings ("offended-descended") give lightness to the movement of both poems. The wonderful variety of meter in both poems is beyond praise. For example:

Or let my lamp, at midnight hour,
Be seen in some high lonely tower
Where I may oft outwatch the Bear
With thrice-great Hermes, or unsphere
The spirit of Plato, to unfold
What worlds or what vast regions hold
The immortal mind that hath forsook
His mansion in this fleshly nook;
And of those demons that are found
In fire, air, flood, or underground,
Whose power hath a true consent
With planet or with element.

Notice how here "midnight hour" and "high lonely tower" give the heavy sense of loneliness and elevation. The run-on line, "or unsphere the spirit of Plato," gives an eery quality by breaking the regular rhythm, while the subsequent three lines run together to give the impression of the soaring spirit. The line, "In fire, air, flood, or underground," is like a magical incantation.


The fluidity of sound is wonderful and abounds in special effects (the description of Shakespeare's verse in the first poem, line 134, or of the organ, second poem, line 161 ff.). The use of rhyme is appropriate in poems which have a light, imaginative character, and used here with a mixture of masculine and feminine endings and run-on lines is not at all tedious.

For a fine study of the verse of these poems see Hilaire Belloc, Milton (Philadelphia: J. P. Lippencott, 1935) pp. 98 ff. Belloc feels that Il Penseroso does not quite sustain the level of the first poem, and contains some weak lines, for example, "Or if the air will not permit" (line 77).


(Object of imitation)

The Action:

A poet ponders the relation of writing to criticism, conceding that a poem must meet critical standards, rejecting the unfairness of criticism, and yet submitting his own work to the judgment of any fair critic.

In a didactic poem the action is reduced to a movement of thought, as in a lyric it is reduced to a movement of emotion; yet in every poem, action, emotion (character), and thought must all be present. This poem is comic in character, since it satirizes the pretentious critic and the pretentious post and exposes their absurdities. Hence its catharsis consists in movement from an apparent conflict between criticism and poetry, through an exposure of false criticism, to a reconciliation of criticism and poetry.

Beginning: The paradox of the poet and the critic; their apparent conflict (I, lines 1-8).
  A. The true role of a critic (Part 1, lines 9 ff.).
    1. Nature is the true standard of poetry.
      a. A true critic is as rare as a great poet (9-18).
      b. Yet taste is natural to men before they are spoiled (10-25).
      c. Why so many wish to be critics (26-45).
      d. We ought to know our own limits as critics (46-67).
      e. But we must form our judgment by nature (68-87).
      f. And improve it by a knowledge of the rules, which are nature methodized (88).
    2. The classics embody this standard, and are therefore our models.
      a. The rules of ancient poetry (88-110).
      b. We must study these models, especially Homer and Vergil (120-138).
      c. Licenses from the rules (140-180).
      d. Praise of the ancient poets (181-200).
  B. The obstacles to just criticism (Part II).
    1. Pride (201-214).
    2. Ignorance.
      a. Little learning (215-232).
      b. Judging by parts and not the whole (233-288).
    3. Prejudice.
      a. Singling out one's pet interest (289-383).
      b. Being too critical or too lavish in praise (384-393).
      c. Partiality to some sect, ancient or modern (394-407).
      d. Pure prejudice (408-423).
      e. Singularity (424-429).
      f. Inconstancy (430-451).
      g. Party-spirit (452-455).
    4. Envy,
      a. Envy (456-507).
      b. Praise of good nature in a critic (50S-525).
      c. Severity is sometimes necessary (526-558).
  C. The ideal critic (Part III).
    1. The qualities of an ideal critic.
      a. Candor (559-566).
      b. Modesty (567-571).
      c. Good-breeding (572-577).
      d. Sincerity and freedom of advice (578-599).
    2. Types of poets and critics.
      a. The incorrigible poet (600-609).
      b. The impertinent critic (610-628).
      c. The good critic (629-644).
    3. A short history of great critics.
      a. Aristotle (645-652),
      b. Horace (653-664).
      c. Dionysius (665-666).
      d. Petronius (667-669).
      e. Quintilian (670-674).
      f. Longinus (675-680).
      g. Decay and revival of criticism (681-692).
      h. Erasmus (693-704).
      i. Vida (705-713),
      j. Boileau (714-7224).
      k. Lord Roscommon (725-728).
      l. Walsh (729-733).
End: The poet's own attitude: He will listen to fair criticism and ignore what is unfair. 

The Characters:

The poet reveals himself as sensitive, disturbed by conflict, zealous for his honor as a poet, but resolved to maintain his integrity in the face of unjust criticism by adherence to the rules of his art. He wishes above all to be all artist who is balanced.

In the poem he characterizes many types of good and bad poets and good and bad critics. The method of characterization is that of epigram, that is of brief witty statements that seize on some significant detail. These characterizations are often individual, but are intended to indicate types. See for example the Flattering Critic (416-421-3), the Hyper critic (610-629) or the Learned Critic (4224-429).


In a didactic poem the thought is the dominant object of imitation. The poet does not merely present us thought in the abstract, but as a concrete expression of the personal attitude of the character who speaks. The whole poem is like the witty remarks of a character in a play or novel and is to be judged such as a speech would be judged, more as the clever presentation of a point of view, than as pure doctrine.

The ideas which the speaker presents are not original but are largely derived from Boileau's L'Art Poetique (1647), which in turn is based on the Ars Poetica of Horace (about 10 B.C.) and were commonplace in Pope's time. This theory of poetry is by no means equal to that of Aristotle, since it chiefly emphasizes style, rather than the imitation of action, as the principal element of poetry, and thus tends to confuse poetics and rhetoric. Although inadequate, it is sound as far as it goes, and Pope illustrates it very aptly from his own personal experience with critics. Throughout, however, we have the narrow-minded rationalism so common in the 18th century (notice the stock criticisms against the scholastic thought of the Middle Ages in lines 440-446, for example). The chief characteristic of this thought is that it is clear, reasonable, balanced, yet vigorous in

its concrete human examples drawn from life, and in its brilliant wit.

(Means of imitation)


In a poem of this type, elegance of expression is of fundamental importance. Pope strives to achieve a tone which is very urbane, well-bred, correct, witty, yet pungent with occasional touches of the colloquial and topical. The basic figure is antithesis ("'Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill/Appear in writing or in judging ill;/But of the two, less dangerous is the offense/To tire our patience, than mislead our sense"). With this goes the use of the maxim or "quotable quote" ("A little learning is a dangerous thing, etc."; "We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow,/Our wiser sons, no doubt, will think us so"; "Be not the first by whom the new are tried,/Nor yet the last to lay the old aside").

There is a frequent use of personification ("Nature," "Art", "The Church," "Faith," "False Eloquence," etc.), collectives ("The Ancients," "The Moderns"), and apostrophes to the various famous poets and the Muses. All this is conventional style, but serves the definite purpose of placing before us a series of types, each of which is characterized. The famous metaphor in which the pursuit of art is compared to mountain climbing (218-232) should be noted, but there are many felicitous metaphors throughout.

Pope has a remarkable ability to use this conventional diction in order to give subtle effects (as in lines 484-493), or to combine it smoothly with colloquial conversation (as in lines 279-283).


The heroic rimed couplet is used by Pope because it makes possible a very smooth type of verse, in which the antithesis of ideas is clearly marked by the parallelism of the lines and the rhyme, and which at the same time permits great variety. It is in giving this constant, shifting variety without destroying the smoothness and balance that Pope excels. Study, for example, the variety found in lines 68-78.


The most remarkable example in this poem is, of course, the famous passage on style (lines 337-382) in which Pope himself gives examples of sound effects. Study also lines 626-642, or the highly "rhetorical" passage in lines 181-200, where be so successfully gets a volume of sound.


(Object of imitation)

The Action:

The "essay" may be poetic, rhetorical, dialectical, or scientific. What is often called "the familiar essay" is frequently poetic. It resembles the didactic poem in that it emphasizes thought, and reduces the action to a certain emotional experience. It differs from dialectical or scientific writing in that it is intended to express the thought or attitude of a concrete personality who is revealed to us this way, and it differs from rhetoric in that its principal purpose is to amuse us.

A man expresses his pleasure in traveling alone where be can take in the view without explaining his reactions to anyone, enjoy living at an inn without immediate cares, and escape his ordinary point of view, but he prefers to have company when visiting ruins or ancient buildings, or when abroad, and does not wish to get too far from home.

   Beginning: I like to journey alone, not with a companion,


  1. I can best take in the view without having to express my thoughts and feelings to others.
  2. I even prefer to be alone when stopping at an inn, where I can eat, think, imagine, and read by myself.
  3. When traveling, one's whole point of view toward things changes.
  4. However, I would like companions when visiting ruins, or when abroad.

   End: I do not wish my journeys to take me too far from home.

The Characters:

Somewhat in the manner of a lyric poem, the speaker reveals to us a definite personality (which, of course, is an artistic creation; it need not be the true character of the writer). We see this speaker as a very lively, observant man, who makes little attempt to organize his thoughts systematically, but who would rather absorb as many impressions as possible. He is sociable, but be often finds that be cannot communicate his lively sympathies to others. He is incorrigibly English, devoted to the democratic ideal, and very much attached to home.

In the course of the essay he also paints other incidental characters for us, for example, his friends Coleridge and Lamb, and the guide at Blenheim castle. These serve only to illustrate and enliven his own impressions.

The Thought:

In this essay the thought is very light, and is principally psychological. Hazlitt is telling us about the psychological laws which require us to take in impressions from outside before we have any material to think about, and he shows us how being alone and in a strange place may greatly heighten our receptivity to our surroundings, but that if the place is too strange we are so upset that we are less observant.

(Means of imitation)


We notice at once that Hazlitt's style is a very easy and lively one. His sentences are short and varied. In general the vocabulary is simple and direct, a very pure kind of English, but he enlivens it by many devices. Among these are his use of quotations (poetic and prose, and even in foreign languages), his allusions to books, places, events, characters which we need to recognize and which bring to mind a host of associations. He also makes use of vivid little descriptions, and he is constantly speaking of things in terms that display his personal emotional reaction to them. We are made to feel that be reacts to everything about him; nothing is merely stated in an objective fashion. Metaphor is also used with effect.

If studied carefully, this essay will indicate how a prose style can be colorful without becoming poetic.

Rhythm and Melody:

In prose it is necessary to avoid a rhythm that is too pronounced. Hazlitt attempts to keep his prose running along very rapidly, and constantly varies its pace. The student will easily discover some of the methods which he uses to achieve this, if he reads the essay aloud, trying to give it the informality and liveliness of good conversation.