Tag Archives: poetry

Annus Mirabilis

“A long poem (1997) by John Dryden (1631-1700). The annus mirabilis (wonderful year) was 1666, the year of the Fire of London and of continuing war with the Dutch. Queen Elizabeth II alluded to the phrase in a speech at the Guildhall, London, when she referred to 1992 and ‘annus horribilis’ (a coinage that had been suggested to her by a ‘sympathetic correspondent’); this was the year when fire caused extensive damage to the royal residence at Windsor Castle, Princess Anne was divorced, and the Duke of York separated from the Duchess of York, topless photos of whom appeared in the tabloids.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Synesthesia

synesthesia: A medical (or psychological) term describing the occurrence when stimulating one sense organ causes another to respond. It is as though in eating one were to receive strong visual sensations of color rather than, or along with, sensations of taste. As a literary device, synesthesia has been used in certain types of poetry of the 19th and 20th centuries, especially that of the Symbolists. Rimbaud’s “Sonnet des voyelles,” expressing the sounds of the common vowels in terms of colors, is an excellent use of this device.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed”

“An elegy on the death of President Abraham Lincoln (1809-65) by the US poet Walt Whitman (1819-92), published in 1865-6 and incorporated into Leaves of Grass in 1867. Lincoln was assassinated on the evening of 14 April 1865, and died the following morning. It was lilac time.

‘When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed,

And the great star early drooped in the western sky in the night,

I mourned, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.’

There is a musical setting for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1970) by the US composer Roger Sessions (1896-1985). The US writer Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) entitled one of his early collections of poetry When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d (1973).”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

A Learning Support on Poetry Terms

This short learning support on poetry terms is the last of the English Language Arts learning supports I have to publish for the time being. I expect, as I continue to teach, I’ll develop more of them. Maybe you can use this cogent explanation of basic terms of art in poetry.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Ambiguity

Ever since William Empson published Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930) this term has had some weight and importance in critical evaluation. In brief, Empson’s theory was that things are not often what they seem, that words connote at least as much as they denote—and very often more.  Empson explained thus: ‘We call it ambiguous…when we recognize that there should be a puzzle as to what the author meant, in that alternative views might be taken without sheer misreading….An ambiguity, in ordinary speech, means something very pronounced, and as a rule witty or deceitful.’ He uses every word in an extended sense and finds relevance in any ‘verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language.’ ‘The machinations of ambiguity,’ he says, ‘are among the very roots of poetry.’

He distinguishes seven main types, which may summarized as follows:

  1. When a detail is effective in several ways simultaneously.
  2. When two or more alternative meanings are resolved into one.
  3. When two apparently unconnected meanings are given simultaneously.
  4. When alternative meanings combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author.
  5. A kind of confusion when a writer discovers his idea while actually writing. In other words, he has not apparently preconceived the idea but come upon it during the act of creation.
  6. Where something appears to contain a contradiction and the reader has to find interpretations.
  7. A complete contradiction which shows that the author was unclear as to what he was saying.

In varying degrees, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem The Bugler’s First Communion exemplifies all seven types.”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.