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Peter Barry

A considerable mystique has gathered around the notion of the image in poetry, but the idea of the image is not in itself complex. A basic definition of the poetic image would be that it is an evoked object which is used to suggest an idea. In his book How to Read a Poem, Terry Eagleton considers the famous image which opens 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', the first poem in T. S. Eliot's first collection, Prufrock and Other Observations of 1917. Eagleton sees this image as typifying the impact of modernism. Thomas Wyatt was the first English poet to make extensive use of the sonnet form, which he had encountered as a youthful aristocratic traveller in Italy. All the images in Wyatt's poem are readily comprehensible because they keep the object and the idea so rigorously separate.

in Reading poetry
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Peter Barry

This chapter considers diction in poetry from several points of view, beginning with a consideration of overall effects, rather than localised instances or phrases, using notions like 'pace', 'mood' and 'cohesion'. It looks at how grammatical and syntactical means can be used to slow the reader's arrival at a culminating phrase by re-ordering the way the words would probably occur in ordinary speech. The chapter illustrates poets' frequent preference for the apparently incongruous lexical item. It also looks at two examples of 'counter-intuitive' diction in poetry. The first example shows a poet's instinct for verbal counter-intuition at the start of Michael Donaghy's poem 'Liverpool'. The second example of counter-intuitive diction is from Ciaran Carson, whose 1989 book Belfast Confetti gives a series of disturbingly intimate insights into life in Belfast at the height of the 'Troubles' during the 1970s.

in Reading poetry
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Peter Barry

This chapter presents the opening lines of The Prelude, William Wordsworth's epic poem about the development of his own mind and poetic sensibility. The poem is revolutionary in many ways, being essentially a poetic autobiography, but nothing about the opening lines hints at that, for they are quietly reflective and unhurried. Poetry written in iambic pentameter uses lines of a fixed length of 10 syllables, each line having five main stresses and five 'feet'. Lines in iambic pentameter can be either rhymed or blank verse, as in the case of The Prelude. Poets other than Wordsworth often used iambic pentameter in the format known as heroic couplets. The ballad metre, as seen in popular verse narrative, might be regarded as a looser system of metrics than the other forms so far considered, because it combines lines of two different lengths to produce its characteristic running rhythm.

in Reading poetry
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Peter Barry

This chapter is devoted to the highly flexible and successful verse form. In its origins, the ode is much more ancient than any other form of verse, since it has a double ancestry which goes back to classical Greece and Rome. The Greek model is called the Pindaric ode, because it was perfected by the lyric poet Pindar, who lived from around 518 to around 438 BC. The other model is the Horatian ode, which is based on the forms used by the Roman poet Horace. The best-known example of the Horatian form of ode is Andrew Marvell's 'An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland', which Blair Worden describes as 'the most private of political poems'. The 'irregular' ode form, which became prominent in the nineteenth century, seems to take elements from both the Pindaric and the Horatian forms.

in Reading poetry
Peter Barry

It is quite unusual to find in print discussions of whole poems rather than parts of poems. This is perhaps the inevitable result of the continuing influence of the notion of close reading, in spite of lengthy periods in which the study of literature was dominated by literary theory and various kinds of historicism. The suggested reading and study process is in four stages: the first and third involve what we call the 'distant reading' of aspects of the whole poem, while the second and fourth concern the 'close reading' of parts of it. So the four stages alternate between distant and close reading, and the process as a whole can be represented in semi-diagrammatic form as follows: think about the flow, think about a point within the flow, think about the flow again, and think about a point within the flow again.

in Reading poetry
Peter Barry

Feelings can only be implied by lines of poetry, and have to be taken on trust by the reader, for there is no way of knowing whether the sentiments professed are actually felt by the claimant or not. The example of the poetic representation of feeling is an early poem by Lee Harwood, who was influenced by the methods of the New York poets of the mid-twentieth century. The three levels of feeling within the poem are brought to light by the considered act of viewing and re-viewing the poem from the standpoint of these three different forms of feeling. They are, firstly, the pain of bereavement and loss, secondly, the continuing sense of loss of selfhood which is the consequence of his blindness, and finally, the sexual deprivation which is the result of the poet's widowhood.

in Reading poetry
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Peter Barry

This chapter addresses the issue of text and context in poetry. The panel of poetic print takes up a relatively small area in the centre of the page, and the rest contains nothing but white space. The chapter presents two examples of Irish poets or poets closely associated with Ireland. The first poem is Ciaran Carson's 'Edward Hopper: Early Sunday Morning, 1939', and, as its title indicates, it is about Hopper's painting Early Sunday Morning. The next, and rather more complex, example takes us further back in literary history. It is a poem by Edmund Spenser from his Elizabethan sonnet sequence Amoretti and Epithalamion, which was written in celebration of his marriage to Irish heiress Elizabeth Boyle. Spenser is a notorious figure in Irish culture, being an English writer who received land grants in Ireland as a reward for taking part in a ruthless and punitive expedition against the Irish.

in Reading poetry
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Peter Barry

This chapter considers poems which are about an art object. The ekphrastic process provokes consideration of how poetic representation works, partly because it embodies the Ancients' view that there is an intimate relationship between pictorial art and poetry. This view is encapsulated in the saying that 'A poem is a speaking picture; a picture is a silent poem'. Ekphrastic poetry has a long history, and the earliest well known example is the description of the shield of Achilles in Book XIII of Homer's Iliad. The most frequently cited examples of ekphrasis in English poetry are: Keats's 'Ode on a Grecian Urn'; Robert Browning's 'My Last Duchess'; and W. H. Auden's 'Musee des Beaux Arts'. These poems effectively constitute the ekphrastic canon and critics conventionally use them to analyse and classify the various elements and devices seen in ekphrastic writing.

in Reading poetry
Peter Barry

Lyric poems are usually brief and compressed utterances, so it would be surprising if poets always wrote just a single poem on each theme or topic that interested them. A rough distinction between the sequence and the cluster is that the former is usually intended as a group from the outset. The former is given a distinct structure with recognisable phases in the Elizabethan sonnet sequences of William Shakespeare, Philip Sidney, or Edmund Spenser. Spenser's sonnet sequence Amoretti and Epithalamion was published in 1595, and records the progress of his protracted courtship of the Irish heiress Elizabeth Boyle, when he was in his forties. A sonnet sequence usually has a gradual shift of atmosphere which becomes evident as it goes on.

in Reading poetry
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Peter Barry

This chapter considers how time and place are represented in poetry. It presents two well known Victorian elegiac poems, one by Tennyson, and one by Matthew Arnold. The chapter investigates the precise nature of certain poetic effects. Tennyson's In Memoriam sequence, comprising 133 poems, was written over a period of 17 years following the death of his university friend Arthur Hallam. Matthew Arnold's poem 'Thyrsis' was written in memory of his friend and fellow poet Arthur Hugh Clough, with whom he had shared his undergraduate years at Oxford. The elegy is in many ways a puzzling form of poetry, but a key motif is always to seem to want to suspend time and circumstance. The unsettling of notions of time and place in poetry is particularly marked in the case of elegiac poems, for the dichotomy between absence and presence is also deconstructed as a consequence of the chronotopic disturbance.

in Reading poetry