Tuesday, 26 May 2015



A. The Summoner:

According to the medieval sciences, the Summoner is afflicted with a species of morphea (a skin disease resulting from a corruption of the blood) known as gutta rosacea, which has alreadv developed into that kind of leprosy called alopecia. Gutta rosacea covers the skin of the face with livid red pustules. But the Summoner has, besides this, `scalled browes blake and piled herd', 'narwe eyes', 'whelkes whyte' and `knobbes' on his cheeks. Chaucer is evidently following contemporary medical opinion in supposing that the Summoner's skin disease has already developed into that type of leprosy that is produced de sanguine, or alopecia.

Alopecia. says a contemporary of Chaucer, is a species of leprosy marked by a complete depilation of the eyebrows and beard. The eyes of the patient become inflated and red. Pimples of a reddish colour appear in the face and even on the whole body, from which runs corruption mixed with blood, as seen in the `whelkes whyte and 'knobbes ' of the Summoner. His eyebrows have nearly all fallen out, and in their place is discovered a scabby, scurfy mark of black colour. His beard too has the scall to such an extent that it is thin and slight. His eyes are swollen and inflamed to a violent red and the lids, already deprived of lashes, are enlarged and corrugated so that the slits in between them—'narwe eyes' as Chaucer calls them.

Geoffrey Chaucer
Chaucer has indicated two principal causes of the disease. The Summoner is 'lecherous as a sparwe' and is accustomed to eating 'oynons, garleek and eek leekes' and drinking strong wines. He is either criminally ignorant or ruthlessly indifferent. Any physician in his time would tell him that leprosy may be contracted by association with infected women, and that garlic, onions and leeks all produce evil humours in the blood, and that red wine is the most powerful and heating of drinks. The Summoner has not read, or treats with contempt, the medical authorities, and having once contracted alopecia by riotous and lascivious living, by the immoderate use of unwholesome drinks and meat, he aggravates it by sticking to his practices.

B. The Cook:

The Cook is also affected with kind of cutaneous eruption which is less malignant than the Summoner's but more offensive to the eye. It is generally agreed that his `normal’ is to be identified with what the medieval medical writers call the malum mortuum. It is a species of ulcerated, dry-scabbed apostemas produced by a corruption in the blood. It is an infirmity infecting the arms and shins of the patient. It consists of dry. ulcers slightly generative at times of bloody matter, sometimes accompanied by severe  itching. The cause is said to be  much consumption of melancholie food (e.g., flesh of cattle and salt fish) and unhygienic sexual practices, unclean habits, lack of frequent bathing and continuous wearing of soiled clothes, drinking of strog wines and so on. So the threadbare sketch of the Cook's pre-eminence in his profession, mormal and his knowledge of London ale actually reveal all the elements of his personality. Similarly, the Summoner’s tainted blood strongly indicates this Archdeacon's messenger has called too promiscuously upon certain erring women of his diocese with other than the professional purpose of haling them to the court.

C. The Pardoner:

The Pardoner's physiognomy is clearly denoted—long straight hair as yellow as wax, which hangs thinly spread over his shoulders, wide open and glaring eyes, with voice high-pitched and thin as a goat, no indication of a beard, and a long scrawny neck. The ancient physiognomist Antonius Polemon Laodicensis says that glaring eyes prominrntly set indicate a man given to folly, a glutton, a libertine and a drunkard. High, thin voice with such eyes are directly associated with shamelessness, impudence, gluttony and licentiousness. Long, soft hair, fine in texture and reddish or yellow in colour indicates an impoverished blood, lack of vitality, and effeminacy of mind. The sparser the hair, the more cunning and deceptive is the man. Another authority opines that a long thin neck is a sign of garrulity, haughtiness of spirit and evil habits, and a man beardless by nature is endowed with a fondness for women and for crafty dealings, besides being impotent.

The Pardoner has been most unfortunate in his birth. He carries upon his mind and his body the marks of what is known to a physiognomist as a eunuchus ex nativitate. An authority in the fourth century says that those who are eunuchs by fault of nature possess certain evil characteristics which distinguish them from other men. They are usually cruel, crafty and vicious. The eunuchus ex nativitate is held to lack the redeeming qualities of even the eunuchus qui castratus. The ones who have never had a beard are worse.
Most of the medical authorities cite Polemon as the authority on eunuchs. He says:

"When the eye is wide open and like marble, glitters and coruscates, it indicates a shameless lack of modesty. This quality of the eyes is observed in a man who is not like other men, but is a eunuch. I have only known one of this kind. He was lustful and dissolute above all moderation. He had a prominent forehead, a long, thin neck, and his cries were like women. He took particular care of his own person by nurturing his abundant hair, rubbing his body with medicated unguents and by employing every expedient that might excite a desire for sexual pleasure. He was given to scornful jesting, and whatever came into his mind, he acted upon immediately. Being learned in Greek, he was accustomed to use that the most. He frequented cities and market-places, meditating on justice and gathering men together in order that he might display evil. Above all, he was a very astute wizard, practicing life and death for men; wherefore he so influenced people that vast crowds of men and women flocked to hear him. Moreover, he persuaded men that he was able to force women to them just as they sought women and surreptitiously he caused to transpire that which he had predicted. As an instructor in the doing of evil he was a past master; he collected all kinds of deadly poisons. All the power of his ingenuity was directed toward the performance of these things. Whenever, therefore, you see such eyes, you may understand that their possessor is similar to this kind of eunuch."

D. The Wife of Bath:

Dame Alisoun's body and mind are influenced by the dominant planet ruling at her birth, Venus. The children of Venus are beautiful, tall, delicate, given to drink and little food, music and the arts, and to passion. They are stately, plump but not stout, graceful, with white skin touched with pink. But unfortunately, these beneficial aspects of Venus are clouded by the presence of Mars, and the Wife is finally shaped by both. So she is endowed with a stocky build which is more or less ungraceful, buxom, and of medium height. The strength which should have accompanied grace and beauty of body is distorted into an abundance of fecund energy; her large hips indicate excessive virility. In place of the attractive face—round but not too large, with finely chiseled features, resplendent black eyes and finely arched brows, a lovely peach-bloom complexion set off by thick curling hair of a dark shade--all of which Venus might have given her, she has inflicted upon her by the malignancy of Mars a slightly heavy face inclined to fatness, characterized by perhaps coarsened features and certainly by a red or florid complexion, which indicates immodesty, loquaciousness and drunkenness. Her voice, which should have been sweet, low and well-modulated, is harsh, strident, and raised continually in vulgar jest and indelicate banter. Such a voice is especially significant in its betrayal of the Wife's voluptuous and luxurious nature. And where the love-star might have given her small sharp teeth white as alabaster, Mars is perhaps responsible for her 'gat-tothed' mouth, where gap-teeth signify that she is envious, irreverent, luxurious by nature, bold, deceitful faithless and suspicious.

This remarkable distortion of her body is paralleled by a warping of her character resulting from the Venus-Mars conjunction in Taurus. Those born under the sole influence of Venus are naturally of a happy, joyous disposition, amiable, charming, attractive, delighting in dance and all such innocent entertainment, but withal gentle, refined, and calmly dignified. They are religious in nature, just in their dealings with men, leaders of noble lives and of an artistic nature, loving delicate and pleasant odours, the colours of elegant apparel and precious jewels. Endowed with the warmest of hearts, they are highly prone to violent amours with the opposite sex, though their amatory relations need not necessarily lead to vice.

Such a woman the cloth-maker of Bath might have been, but for Mars. The natural cheerfulness resolves itself into a kind of crude and clamorous hilarity, an overflow of superabundant animal and intellectual spirits. Her religious instinct has been debased to her going to vigils and to preaching simply to show off her finery, and attending to Miracle plays or going on pilgrimages just to satisfy an idle curiosity or to find another lusty husband. The artistic temperament has been cheapened by Mars, so that she flashily decks herself out in gaudy colours—in scarlet dresses and hose, brand new shoes and silver spurs—and adorns herself on Sundays with cover-chiefs weighing ten pounds and on pilgrimage, with a hat as large as a shield. Mars has given her a steady hardiness and a body so full of `ragerye' that even at forty, she is still 'faire and well bigoon', and it is Mars who impels her to gain at all costs the dominating power over her husbands and who makes of her a scold, a wrangler and a striker of blows.

Bibiloliography: • W C Curry: Chaucer and the Medieval Sciences.

Monday, 25 May 2015




The Canterbury Tales is influenced by

1. the dream vision of Roman de la Rose (the spring opening as a prelude to a debate, the emblematic significance of the personification)

2. estates satires, though it is difficult to say for certain which of these Chaucer knew. Probably he had read the Latin and the French satires included by his friend John Gower in his Vox Clamantis. The Mirrour de l’omme and the French Roman de Carite are influential. Langland's Vision of Piers Plowman is a direct model for the A-text. Both have ideal ploughmen, thriving merchants, priests who ran off to London chantries to sing for silver, friars who wear fineries and absolve sinners for cash, a venal pardoner, rich sergeants-at-law, a group assorted citizens, mostly cloth workers c.f the haberdasher, dyers and tapicere, even the Wife.

3. Boccaccio's Decameron has been cited to be one of the sources, but has not been confirmed.

4. Novelle, by  Giovanni Sercambi.


• The most famous theme that runs across many tales is women’s role in marriage, is part of a larger theme of sexual love and the role of women in the world

• Questions about fortune and providence

• The suffering of the innocent

• What men and women most desire, the choices they make and the intention behind these choices

• Love

• The nature of friendship

• The good ruler

• Good living 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Canterbury Tales: Characters

Canterbury Tales: Characters

 Image result for canterbury tales characters

Squire - Squires had an odd collection of duties. They attended on men of rank, up to and including the royalty. Often they were expected to wear the livery ot their superior. Squires acted as valets and served at their master's table. They were also expected to provide him and any distinguished guests with entertainment e.g. music, story-telling and singing. Thus the squire we meet here has the necessary accomplishments. However, he is also clearly meant to he compared with his rather whose courage and campaigning experience he is already showing. But where the old knight is simple in dress and apparently limited in artistic and social skills, the young squire combines these skills with military virtues and a fine taste in clothes.

Yeoman — Also belonging to the aristocracy, the yeoman was a farmer of modest position as compared with someone who owns an estate. He would generally be quietly prosperous and independent, though his close-cropped hair is the mark of a servant. He might have been the tenant of a farm on the knight's estate, where he also served as a forester, an important position in those times of strict preservation of game, when hunting was the chief outdoor activity of the aristocrat.

Prioress — She may have been of a minor aristocratic family, and such women were often a very real liability to their parents. If a good match could not be found, and this meant a handsome dowry had to go with the bride, there was really nothing for them to do. They could not work for a living. So they either lingered on as vaguely helpful spinsters in the households of their relations, or entered the Church as nuns. Some of the convents were quite small and not particularly pious, but probably pleasant enough places for such women to live in an atmosphere of chatter and rather lax observation of the official rules.

Monk — The first monastery had been founded by St Benedict over 900 years before the Prologue was written, and the code of practice which Benedict laid down, and which became the basis for monastic life generally as other Orders were founded, was to keep strictly to a fixed routine of prayer, praise and work to live an austere life and, in the case of the enclosed Orders, not to leave the monastery at all once you had taken your vows. (It should perhaps be explained that in Roman Catholic teaching we can all help to alleviate the suffering of souls in Purgatory by prayer, so a primary function of monks and nuns was regular worship on behalf of the people). Monasteries also become centers of learning, often acted as local dispensaries to sick people, gave shelter to poor travelers, and were, ideally, self-supporting by the labour of all the members. Over a millennium, however; a lot of monasteries had become prosperous, idle and corrupt, though perhaps a majority still carried on the good work. However, there was growing feeling that the cloistered life was all too comfortably remote from reality. The Monk himself certainly does not care for it and is thoroughly leading a worldly life.

Friar - While the Monk was essentially one who lived in a monastery a life of regular prayer, a friar went out in the world, as poorly clad as Christ's own disciples, and preached. The four Orders referred to are the Black Friars or Dominicans, the Franciscans Grey Friars, the Carmelites or White Friars, and the Augustinians or Austin Friars. St Francis, the most well known of the friars, is held to be the example of poverty, humility and simplicity. Poverty meant that they could beg—indeed often they had to. As they sometimes needed accommodation, they built friaries, which soon become large and wealthy. Friars were popular because they preached, and medieval folk enjoyed the spoken word, and because they would carry out many of the duties of priest as well. On the other hand they were unpopular, and the subject of many of the accusations which Chaucer makes, because they had easy access to all sorts of households in particular to women, and got a lot of free food and drink. To be a successful friar as distinct from a religious one, you had to be good at pleasing all sorts of people. Our Friar is smooth-
tongued rogue.

Clerk — He is one of Chaucer's gentlest and most effective portraits. He is humbly dressed, badly mounted, reticent in speech and very poor. His position is not easy to define. Most students who managed to go to the university would after a study of the standard subjects such as grammar and rhetoric, mathematics and astronomy, proceed to  theology and would probably enter at least the 'minor orders' of the Church. Many did, not go further and take steps to become priest but found work with their skills of literacy and numeric.

Man of Law — The Sergeant of the Law is a very superior member of the legal fraternity. He was a barrister of the highest rank, one of whose duties was to act as adviser to the Crown. From this level of hierarchy, judges were chosen. In Chaucer's day, men of this rank amassed substantial fortunes, and there were some areas of practice, particularly to do with property deals, where they could succeed in pleasing their client without being over-scrupulous. The wealthy and somewhat pompous lawyer is an echo of the merchant; both are men who have turned their wits to profit. Like the Franklin who follows, he is rich, and it was becoming possible to buy your way into higher level of society.

Franklyn — A Franklin, or 'freeman', meant someone who owned property in his own right. They were often very prosperous, undertook public duties and offices, and were respected. They did not however, have any aristocratic rank. Though our Franklin is no snob or social climber perhaps he would have liked to feel his family one day ennobled, and when he comes to tell his story he wishes his son would mingle more with the nobility. He is seen as an ideal type of country gentleman.

Doctor— In the age of Chaucer, medical advisers were expected to be experts in astrology, and they based their practice on writers of the fourth century BC, and upon the authority of Aesculapius, who left no written records at all and was probably mythical. It is necessary to emphasise two points here. First, medieval people believed implicitly in the influence of the stars, which governed not only our characters and destinies, but the different parts of our bodies. A doctor thus had to know how to calculate the most suitable time to administer a particular medicine, according to the position of the relevant planets. Second, the huge list of authors with which the doctor is familiar may not be satirical, as suggested by some commentators. In the Middle Ages, there was a great respect for authority. If it is Aristotle, it is true. The doctor is probably a good physician,  but an expensive one. In those times, no common man consulted a doctor. The doctors made their money from the rich. It is also true that they made their money at the misfortune of others, like the Man of Law. Perhaps it is this that tells us was rich, because he had saved up all the money made during the plague.

Miller – Millers were unpopular because they had a monopoly—a man with corn to grind had to take it to the local mill – and millers could very easily swindle, since the absence of exact weighing devices made it hard to know how much flour your corn would make, how much the miller had taken as his 'toll'. Chaucer's Miller is presented in a brutish way—animal imagery abounds—and as being thoroughly coarse-grained. He does tell a very rude story, though it is extremely well-told.

Maunciple – The Maunciple is responsible for the catering in one of the Inns of Court, the 'legal university' of the time, to which all barristers must belong. The portrait points to the cleverness of a servant in comparison with his employers, who are steeped in legal learning. He is probably a swindler, who makes a lot of money for himself out of his supposed masters by buying cheap and doctoring the accounts.

Reeve – The Reeve is extremely unpopular with everybody, both for himself and for his job. He, a ruthless demander of rents, acts as a sort of bailiff to a large estate and cannot be cheated, but is dishonest himself.

Summoner – The job of a summoner was to summon people to the ecclesiastical courts, which dealt with moral offences, such as adultery, and they were presided over by a bishop or an archdeacon. He also acted as a semi-official informer. Such a post was open to corruption, and Chaucer's Summoner is extremely corrupt, actually accepting bribes  and encouraging the very sins that he was supposed to report for examination .His ailment was probably leprosy, and his diet of garlic and onions would hardly help his inflamed face.

Pardoner – Like the Summoner, the Pardoner is presented in a thoroughly unpleasant light. The gross abuse of the sale of pardons was one of the reasons for Reformation. Pardoners sold what seemed to be Papal documents which gave absolution for sins; the original idea was that by giving a sum of money to the Church, as well as undergoing the essential act of contrition in yourself, you could be free of minor trespasses. their This led to serious abuses. Pardoners sold fake documents and relics, and claimed that the purchase of their documents could free men from greatest sins with no more trouble than simply praying for them. The Pardoner gives a more frank account of his swindles before he tells his story which turns out to be a prefect little sermon, a parable about greed of all things, told with great skill and economy. He has been suggested to be homosexual and effeminate.  Chaucer hints that he was not fully a man – hence the unbroken ‘goot-like’ voice and hairless face.


Canterbury Tales: Fact file

Canterbury Tales: Fact file

29 pilgrims are shown to be travelling to the holy shrine of Thomas Beckett (thought to be able to cure diseases) at Canterbury. Each of the 29 pilgrims is supposed to tell two tales on way to Canterbury and two more on way back. So there should have been 29 x 4 = 116 tales in all, but the unfinished work contains only 24 tales told by 23 pilgrims (Chaucer himself as a pilgrim narrates two). The winner is to be decided by the host of Tabard Inn, Harry Bailey; the winner is to be treated to dinner ‘at oure aller cost’ and whoever opposes his judgment will reimburse the expenses of all pilgrims. Later, they are joined by two more, the Canon and his Yeoman; therefore, there are 29 + 2 = 31 pilgrims in all. But it has been suggested that the Prioress' three priests might be an error, because only one is mentioned later.

Pilgrims at Tabard Inn
The Tales

The Knight's Tale is the story of Palamon and Arcite, a courtly romance, based on Boccaccio's Teseida. Both Palamon and Arcite compete for the love of Emelye, sister of Hippolyta. queen of the Amazons, who has married Theseus, King of Athens. Palamon is defeated in the tournament but Arcite is thrown off his horse at the moment of triumph and dies. Palamon and Emelye are united after a prolonged mourning for Arcite.

The Miller's Tale is a rollicking story of a credulous carpenter and his pretty wife, who cuckolded him with an ingenious and personable young clerk. It has been said to be a parody of a courtly love story.

The Reeve's Tale: The Miller's tale enrages the Reeve, whose duties included carpentry. He tells a fabliau of two Cambridge students who take their meal to him to be ground. The miller robs them, and they avenge themselves by sleeping with both his wife and his daughter.

The Cook's Tale: The Reeve's tale sends the cook, Roger of Ware, into gales of laughter. He too begins a fabliau of Perkyn Revelour. of which only about 60 lines are extant.

The Man of Law's Tale is a symbolic story in rhyme royal, of the various misfortunes of Constance, daughter of a Roman Emperor, who married the Sultan of Turkey on condition that he embrace Christianity, but faces the jealous plots of the Sultan's mother. The tale lacks the complexity of the earlier stories.

The Wife of Bath's Tale seems rather unusual and flat for such a vivid character. It is the story of the loathly lady' who turns out to be beautiful young woman when her husband (whom she had acquired by doing him service and making him promise any payment in return) submits to her wise governance. The tale carries on the concept of `rnaistrye' and ‘experience' and combines shrewd realism with romantic delicacy. The actual tale is preceded by a long prologue, where the Wife, Alisoun, describes in candid detail her life with and her tactics to procure her five husbands. Much of it is drawn from the antifeminist literature of the day, from  Jean de Meun, St Paul, Jerome and Jovinian.

The Friar's Tale is about a greedy summoner. They come upon a carter cursing his horse to the devil. but the devil cannot take the horse because the curse was not from the heart. Later they meet an old lady and the summoner tries to rob her of some money and then she curses him to the Devil. The Devil promptly carries the summoner to hell, because this curse came from the heart.

The Summoner's Tale: The summoner takes offence at the Friar's tale and interrupts  with a tale of a greedy Friar whose covetousness lands him in a comically humiliating position, when he visits a sick man to offer him superficial words of comfort and divide a deathbed legacy.

 The Clerk's Tale: This is the story of the patient wife Griselda and her trials by her husband, the Marquis Walter. It is told in rhyme royal and carries wifely meekness and obedience to an extreme and is interrupted by Chaucer himself. This is thought to be repose to the wife of Bath's tale and part of the 'marriage group' of tales triggered by Dame Alisoun's narrative.

The Merchant's Tale: This is provoked by the Clerk's Tale. This is a tale of January. the old husband and Mary his young wife. January married young May against much advice from Justinus, and when he goes blind, she makes love to Damyan in a pear-tree. Pluto mischievously restores January's sight at this moment. but Proserpine inspires May to explain that her activities had been responsible for his restored vision and that she was only performing her wifely duties.

The Squire's Tale: This is an unfinished tale of Cambuscan, King of Tartary, who receives gifts on his birthday. Those from the king of Arabia include a ring for his daughter Canacee, which makes her understand the language of birds. The tale is incomplete.

The Franklin's Talc: It continues marriage debate with tale of Dorigin, wife of Aradragus. She will agree to the demands of her suitor Aurelius provided he perform an impossible task - remove all the rocks on the coast of Brittany. But her ploy to get rid of her suitor fails when the condition is fulfilled with the help of magic. However, Aurelius himself releases her of her promise in a burst of generosity and remorse.

The Physician's Tale: a morbid story of Virginia whose request to be killed to escape the amorous designs oldie judge Apius, is fulfilled by her father.

The Pardoner's Tale: like the wife of Bath, the Pardoner's tale follows a similarly candid and self-expository prologue where he confesses proudly to his own covetousness, a theme that takes up to impress his audience and persuade them to take his pardons. In the tale, three drunkard rioters set out to find Death and an old man directs them to a tree. There they find a heap of gold, cheat each other in order to posses all of it, and all are killed.

The Shipman's Tale: The wife of a miserly merchant asks for money from a priest to buy finery. The priest borrows the sum from the merchant himself, gives it to the wife, and receives her favours. When the merchant returns and asks the priest for his money, he says he has repaid it to his wife, who cannot deny receive the sum.

The Prioress' Tale: This rather bland tale narrates of the murder of a child by the Jews because he was singing a Marian hymn, and the discovery of the body later on because of its continued singing.

Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas: This is a brilliant parody of the conventional metrical romance. There is a steady meter, mechanical listing of physical attributes and other details, of the objects Sir Thopas carries, and so on. After about 30 stanzas of his deliberate burlesque, he is shut up by the host, when he offers to narrate 'a liter thing in prose'- the tale of Melible. Sir Thopas was in a six line stanza form with a trail —rhyme, where a pair of rhyming lines is followed by a single line of different length and this three-line pattern is repeated to make up a six- or a twelve-line stanza.

Chaucer's Tale of Melibee: This heavy prose homily is the other extreme of Sir Thopas. It is a long tedious tale of the impetuous Melibeus and his wise wife Prudence.

The Monk's Tale: These are series of tragedies, all about a reversal of fortune from high to low. In eight-line stanzas, it tells of the falls of Lucifer, Adam, Samson, Hercules, Nero, Holofernes, Alexander, and Julius Caesar and so on, before he is interrupted by the knight who can no longer bear these dreary stories.

The Nun's Priest's Tale: This is related to the French cycle of Renart the fox. The quiet realistic account is of Chanticleer, the cock and Pertelote, the hen, both belonging to a poor widow. Chanticleer is duped into the fox's trap by the praise of his father's singing, but was in turn tricked out of his prey by making him boast of his victory. The mock-heroic story is full of medieval sciences — medicine, astrology and psychology beast epic and rhetoric and wit.

The Second Nun's Tale: This is an account in rhyme royal of the life and martyrdom of St. Cecilia and her husband Valerian.

The Canon's Yeoman's   Tale:   The   Canon   and his Yeoman are the last of pilgrims   to join the entourage. The Yeoman tells at some length of the tricks used by his master in his practice of alchemy to dupe people. This shames his master so   much   that he rides   away. His tale proper is about a canon who practices alchemy as well as (though he insists that is not his master) who tricks a priest out of forty pound by pretending to teach him the art of making precious metals.

The Manciple's Tale: This fable of the tell-tale crow has many sources, including Ovid and the orient. Phebus has a crow which is white and capable of speech. The crow, tells Phebus of his wife's infidelity, and he kills her in a fit of rage. When remorse strikes, he plucks out the white feathers, depriving the crow of its speech and throwing it to the devil and this is why crows today are black.

The Parson's Tale: This prose sermon was intended to end the Canterbury Tales, even if it is incomplete, for the Parson mentions clearly that his tale will knit up and end this festivity. It is a long treatise on penitence and the seven deadly sins.

The Parson's tale is followed by Chaucer 's closing .Retracciouns' where he takes leave of his book.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Ode to Psyche: A Critical Analysis

Ode to Psyche: A Critical Analysis:


With reference to Ode to Psyche, Keats himself said in a letter to his brother:

“It is the first and only one with which I have taken even moderate pains. I have, for the most part, dashed off my lines in hurry”

Though it was written in hurry, it is Keats’ one of the most perfect piece of poetic creations. Here the poet revives and recreates the Psyche myth from Greek mythology. According to the Greek mythology, Psyche was a beautiful nymph loved by Cupid, god of love. He visited her each night, but departed at sunrise. Psyche was told never to attempt to discover his identity, but her curiosity won out. One night she lit a lamp to see him. But some of the burning oil dropped upon him. Awakened angry at being disobeyed, he left her. Psyche wandered helplessly in search of her lover and became the slave of Venus who imposed cruel tasks on her. Eventually she was reunited with Cupid and made immortal. Because of her late arrival on Olympus, as Keats observed, she was never honoured and worshiped in the way of other gods. He also explained in the same letter that Psyche was not regarded as a goddess before the time of Apuleius, who lived after the Augustan age, and that the goddess was never worshiped with any of the ancient fervour. Keats did not wish to let a heathen goddess remain neglected. He therefore wrote this poem as a tribute to her and attempted to restore her place among the gods and goddesses.

            The poem begins with an invocation to Psyche apologizing for singing to her of herself:
           “O Goddess! hear these tuneless numbers, wrung
            By sweet enforcement and remembrance dear,
            And pardon that thy secrets should be sung
             Even into thine own soft-conched ear”

Then the poet describes that in a vision he has seen Psyche and Cupid embracing each other in an idyllic surrounding in a forest. They sat beneath “ the whispering roof of leaves and trembled blossoms.” A brook, hardly visible, because of the thick grass that grows on its bank, ran by them. Amidst the deep grass and soft and fragrant flowers, they were found in an intimate moment:
         “Mid hush'd, cool-rooted flowers, fragrant-eyed,
         Blue, silver-white, and budded Tyrian,
         They lay calm-breathing, on the bedded grass;
         Their arms embraced, and their pinions too;”

Then the poet praises Psyche’s beauty abundantly. He says that her beauty is unparalled among the Greek gods and goddesses living in mount Olympus. She surpasses both Lucifer and Vesper in beauty. Yet no tributes or offerings are made to her. The poet pleads the goddess to allow him to take the role of her priest. He will create a shrine for her within his own mind. He imagines his mind to be a forest with ‘zephyrs’, ‘streams’, ‘birds’, and ‘bees’. Here he will build a temple which will be decked with roses which signify his verses. A bright torch will be kept burning in the temple and one of its windows will be left open to let her to come at late night.
            The ode has often been seen as an extended metaphor about poetry, a reading that can be supported by an analysis of the development of ideas in relation to structure. Keats restores and recreates the forgotten Psyche myth twice in this poem and these recreations occurs within the two tableaux which frame the ode. When the poet asks, “Surely I dreamt to-day, or did I see/ The winged Psyche with awaken'd eyes”, he introduces the first recreation. Here she is represented in a mythological past world, a forest bower,  a place exterior to the passive poet’s mind and accessible by dream or vision. The second recreation occurs when he vows to be her priest. Here she is more consciously and artfully recreated within the bower of poet’s mind and brought into the present. The movement from one tableaux to another is complemented by a change from the language of erotic experience to the language of aesthetic experience. The first lush natural setting is firmly anchored in sense impressions while the description in the final tableaux is too consciously artful. There is movement from the warm language of physical love to the cooler language of religious formality. Thus the poem illustrates the process of poetic creation – from sensation to sublimity. Some critics have seen this ode as an allegory of soul which has not been recognized until modern times.

            The ode is typically Keatsian for being utterly sensual in nature. It contains plenty of sensual and synaesthetic images. The description of pastoral landscape in which Cupid and Psyche spend their blissful moment is richly sensuous. Different expressions like - ‘Whispering roof of leaves’, ‘cool-rooted’ and ‘fragrant-eyed’ flowers, and ‘bedded grass’ appeal to our different senses.

Monday, 18 May 2015


Q. What is symbol? Give a suitable example by referring to a poem you have read.

i) Symbol is something associated with something else that it signifies or represents. Symbol is an object that stands for something else and opens up the possibility of multiple meanings over and beyond it. Symbols frequently are based on a likeness. The lion represents courage because lions are said to be bravo. The lily symbolizes purity because, it is white. Symbolic identifications have a certain persistence, but symbols are detachable and in time may find other affinities. The eagle of Jupiter,a heavenly messenger, became identified in Christian times with St. John, but in alchemy the eagle became the symbol of volatilization. In a somewhat stranger fashion, red -the colour of Christian charity - became associated for quite other reasons with communism and class conflict. Analogy in symbolism can be attributed to the theory of correspondence, which involved the idea that all parts of creation are related through analogy, so that to every material manifestation there corresponds a reality of a higher Order. As a result poetic symbolism becomes a means of revealing the hidden correspondences of the universe. The literary symbol appeals to the imagination and to the instinctive feelings of the reader, not to the intellect. A symbol is not a token with a precise, definite,clearly established conceptual reference to be pinned down and accurately described.

ii) Blake's The Tyger stands for and points to creative energy but it is also an instance of that creative energy, The mental picture of the Tiger bursting through the "forests of the night" is terrifyingly beautiful. According  to T.S.Eliot, the Tiger symbolizes for Blake the "abundant life" which Christ came to bring into the world. The Tiger is for Blake a symbol of regeneration and energy. In The Tyger, Blake suggests the dual aspect of God as creator and destroyer but the symbol remains enigmatic. The poem represents the defeat of Urizen(Satan) by Ore(God); the stars who throw down their spears are the hosts of Urizen, their cold light suggesting the sterility of Reason in contrast to the fiery heat of Energy, In the Prophetic Books, the "immortal smith" is Los. In The.First Book of Urizen,  Loa forges Urizen. Since Los represents in some sense Man, the point is that Man is responsible for the creation of Urizen. In "The Tyger", the "immortal smith" forges the Tiger. Possibly the meaning is that it is up to man to give shape to the vast potentialities with which it
is endowed.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015



Naturalism, a literary and cultural movement, grew out of realism in 19th century. It gives a more accurate depiction of life than realism. It is a mode of writing fiction that was deeply influenced by the Darwinian theory of evolution and focused on the gloomy aspects of life and the animal aspects hidden behind rational side of man.

Philosophical Influences on Naturalism: Darwin’s theory of evolution that destroys the possibility of connection of man with the higher spiritual order and considers man as an animal of higher-order whose character and behaviour are determined by heredity and environment. Thus it rejects the concept of the divine origin of man and shows man as helpless victim of his instincts and environment. Thus it postulates the central notion of Naturalism.

Proponents of Naturalism and their works:
  • Emile Zola- Nana, Germinal (France)
  • Thomas Hardy- Jude the Obscure (England)
  • Edith Wharton- The House of Mirth (America)
  • Ellen Glasgow- Barren Ground (America)

Difference between Realism and Naturalism:

                Though Naturalism grows out of realism, it gives a more accurate picture of life than Realism does. While Realism gives a general picture of life, Naturalism focuses on the darker aspects of life and presents ma as nothing but an animal of higher-order whose behaviour and character are determined by heredity and environment. Lastly, Naturalism was greatly influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution. But in case of realism, there was no such philosophic influence.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Realism, Reality and Real


The term “realism” is used in two different ways. Firstly, it refers to a movement in the writings of novels during 19th century that includes writers like Balzac in France, George Eliot in England and William Dean Howells in America. Secondly, it refers to a mode of writing in different eras and literary form that represents human life and experience in way that appears realistic to the readers.

Define and Explain “real”, “reality” and “realism”:
  • “Real” means existing as a thing or occurring as a fact. Actually what is not imaginary is real.

  • “Reality” is the quality of being real. But the qualities that make an object to appear real are not fixed. It varies with regard to time, place and individual.

  • The term “realism” refers to a literary movement that took place in 19th century. It is also a method of writing that represents the subject matter (it may be commonplace or rarer aspects of life) in a credible way so that the readers may take it as real.