1. In Shelley's, A Defence of Poetry, he discusses the difference between poetry and a story:

There is this difference between a story and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached facts, which have no other bond of connexion than time, place, circumstance, cause and effect; the other is the creation of actions according to the unchangeable forms of human nature, as existing in the mind of the creator, which is itself the image of all other minds. The one is partial, and applies only to a definite period of time, and a certain combination of events which can never again recur; the other is universal and contains within itself the germ of a relation to whatever motive or actions have place in the possible varieties of human nature. Time, which destroys the beauty and the use of the story of particular facts, stript of the poetry which should invest them, augments that of Poetry, and for ever develops new and wonderful applications of the eternal truth which it contains. Hence epitomes have been called the moths of just history; they eat out the poetry of it. The story of particular facts is as a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should be beautiful: Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted.

This passage makes me think of two things: both oral traditions and its significance, and the argument that Graham Swift makes in Waterland regarding the importance of storytelling. It is satisfactory to say that Swift dismisses Shelley's argument that stories are "partial" or that they are a "combination of events which can never again recur" in that Swift relates his family history (which occurs long before the French Revolution) to the goings-on in the French Revolution. Oral traditions, on the other hand, can be compared to poetry in that they are factual stories passed down from generation to generation, by way of creativity and imagination. Would Shelley have placed oral traditions under poetry or even under storytelling because the written aspect was omitted? Would Graham Swift be more inclined to oral traditions (say in West Africa) or the poetry that Shelley speaks of? Are all of the expressions really that different? Is it fair to place these expressions in a hierarchy? Does this hierarchy have anything to do with social privilege or status? (Cameo Brown)

2. She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die; And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:

In his poem "Ode on Melancholy," Keats seems to emphasize a highly transitory philosophy toward life and pleasure. Clearly this reflects the emerging Romantic belief in nature and the backlash against industrialization. But what is Keats saying about the human condition? Beyond social comentary, is Keats — as a romantic poet — making a statement that departs from earlier thinking about the nature of existence? (Michael Slaby)

3. Keats heavily infuses his poem "Ode to a Nightingale" with imagery surrounding two of the themes most central to his work: death and sleep, with death (and the fate of men) especially coming into question. The central object in this poem is the nightingale, upon which he places the ability to escape the human inevitability of death:

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown (61-64

It is interesting that the nightingale, which lives on through its song, is the only thing to which Keats will confer immortality. We see in the poem that he expresses both a desire to live on with the bird and with it "fade away into the forest dim" (20) as well as to save himself from suffering by dying immediately, while the bird is still singing (55). Does his capitalization of "Bird" (61) echo the Romantic poets' capitalization of "Nature"? Why does this bird hold so much power in his eyes — why doesn't this immortality found in song also apply to himself (or poets in general) through the generations who will read his verse (a theme in Shakespeare's sonnets)? (lexi adams)

4.The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure dome with caves of ice!

In "Kubla Khan," Samuel Taylor Coleridge seems to elaborate on the dark secrets of paradise. Most scholars would not link a nefarious image such as demonic caves of ice to the sultry pleasures of paradise within the same location, but Coleridge seems to want to make a point out of this idea. Is it that he believes that heaven co-exists with a hell or that the evils alluded to in this poem stem from a perfect world? If he wants to make this point, then he is indirectly saying that there is no hope for a peaceful world. For Coleridge, is evil born from good or does it always co-exist with it? (Renold Rose)

5. In reading both the works of Wordsworth and Keats it struck me to look at how both of these writers came across as being egocentric. For Keats egocenric ideas are manifested in his poem "When I have fears that I may cease to be" through his self immortalizing in language. The narrator of the poem goes on and on about what he will catalogue in words within his lifetime, and what, in the time he has left, he will leave the world in descriptions within his verses:

"When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry
Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain."

This egocentrism comes through because of Keats' attempt to immortalize not only his words but himself as well. Wordsworth on the other hands deals with egocentrism by using the tools of hindsight and the knowledge gained from experience. An example of this can be found in "A HREF="../../ww/tintern.html">Tintern Abbey" as he, the narrator of the poem, is found addressing his sister, Dorothy (112-146), with pearls of wisdom picked up in his days and years away from Tintern Abbey. (Damon Bayles)

6. Paradise, and groves
Elysian, Fortunate Fields — like those of old
Sought in the Atlantic Main — why should they be
A history only of departed things,
Or a mere fiction that never was?
For the discerning intellect of Man,
When wedded to this goodly universe
In love and holy passion, shall find these
A simple produce of the common day.
(Wordsworth, Prospectus to the Recluse 47-55)

In the quoted passage, Wordsworth maintains that the human mind is capable of creating a veritable Paradise for itself to inhabit. The " . . . intellect of Man" (52) is the instrument of such creation, and ". . . this goodly universe" (53) is the substance on which it works. This is all well and good, as long as the universe which Man inhabits is, indeed, "goodly" (53). Earlier in the poem, Wordsworth advances the idea that the human mind is also capable of creating horrors more detestable than "The darkest pit of lowest Erebus" (36); this assertion implies that the universe which man implies is not always so "goodly" (53) after all. Can this contradiction be resolved by claiming that this range of the human imagination is a function of intellect, whose nature changes from individual to individual? (Darren Smith)

7. In "Ode on a Grecian Urn" (e-text) Keats lauds the urn for its depiction of moments frozen in time, its constancy and capability of maintaining the status quo, so to speak, and the freedom it lends to the viewer's magination:

...Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal — yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

This state of frozen time is without a doubt preferable to the condition of humans described in "Ode to a Nightingale":

...The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs,
Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Keats yearns for the stability of the urn with its anticipation and assurance of the "future" (if one can even speak of the future of an object who is "foster child of Silence and slow Time"). Does Keats truly desire this type of permanence, which could become eventual stagnation, if prolonged — all anticipation, no actual living of the moment? Is this the definition of "Beauty" and "truth" that he writes of in the last two lines of the poem? What does he mean in the line "Beauty is truth, truth beauty?" Did the sorrow and adversity he faced in his own life destroy his earlier visions of tasting the "pure fountains" of dreamed of countries and catching the "white-handed nymphs to woo sweet kisses from averted faces?" Is he still striving "against all doubtings" and keeping "alive the thought of that same chariot, and the strange Journey it went. (from "Sleep and Poetry")?" How has his vision changed or not changed through these poems? (Tien-Tien Chen)

8. John Keats wrote in "La Belle Dame sans Merci: A Ballad" stanza 12:

And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and paley loitering,
Though the sedge is wither'd from
the lake
And no birds sing.

Keats, like Coleridge, writes about his loneliness and despair — a world without song. He was orphaned by losing both parents, impoverished, scorned by love, and at a very young age died a painful death. Coleridge wrote about a life without hope and dwelled in the dark pools of contemplation. Keats too is overcome by grief and solitude. Keats's life is a tragic story of a young man who loved poetry. How does creativity spring from such exhaustion and torment? There is life in the words of these two poets. What passes between the poet, depressed, dark and alone, to the pen, to the page, and finally to the heart of the beloved reader? (Ama Codjoe)

Incorporated in the Victorian Web July 2000