A teacher friend has asked if I could do a close reading of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. I can’t reproduce the poem in full because it’s still in copyright in the UK, but it’s in the public domain elsewhere and you can read it here.
“Let us go then, you and I”. Seven of the most famous monosyllables in English poetry, leading us into a magical opening stanza: there’s the mystery of who’s speaking to whom; the still-disturbing image of the etherized patient; the impressionistic blur of backstreet detail. Continue reading →
Looking in detail at how a poem works (either out of copyright or else with the author’s permission). Starting with an old favourite.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci (John Keats, 1819)
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing. Continue reading →
I’ve long been convinced that Deryn Rees-Jones is one of the most original and skilled poets writing today. By chance I settled down with her latest collection, Burying the Wren, in the same week I picked up Fiona Moore‘s The Only Reason for Time (on the strength of John Field’s review on the excellent Poor Rude Lines). Both books are in part responses to the premature death of a partner, and although it would be grossly reductive to say that they are therefore “about” bereavement, it’s nonetheless interesting to look at them side by side. Continue reading →
My wife has been teaching the Ancient Mariner to her A-Level set, and over dinner we found ourselves exploring Coleridge’s trickery with tenses.
The outline of the poem we remember is simple: a (present-tense) fable about an old man and a wedding guest book-ends the old man’s much longer (past-tense) story of fall and redemption. We know the poem begins “It is an ancient mariner”, shifts to flashback with “there was a ship”, then finally pulls us back to the present as the wedding guest “goes like one that hath been stunned”.
But the poem we remember isn’t the poem Coleridge wrote. Here are stanzas 3-5 of the 1828 version: Continue reading →