Poetry context (pre 1914)


The Passionate Shepard to His Love

  • Pastoral genre is defined by its clear reference to nature and the outdoors. This definition is further exemplified by a freedom from the complexity and corruption of city life.
  • Controversional character and a homosexual, he had alternative religious views.
  • The apparant simplicity and innocence of 'The Passionate Shepard' seems to contradict this image of a vice-ridden Marlowe, but the lyric actually suggests something deeper: gender issues, social criticism, classical allusions, sexuality and manipulation. 
  • English renaissance has modern English elements: humanism, sentimentally, depcitions of courtly reality, a concern with real life, and the use of staire and comedy.
  • Renaissance= rebirth. Signals a time when Europe was recovering from the Dark ages+the plague, when people had lost their faith in the church and began to put more focus on human beings and importantly the individual.
  • The belief that humans possessed independent minds, capable of achieving intellectual, artistic, mathematical and scientific perfection. 
  • Humanism- an emphasis on human achievements and potential rather than religion.
  • Interest in secularism
  • A questioning attitude- spirit of curiousity 
1 of 20

There is a Garden in Her Face

  • Petrachan sonnet- originally from Italy, Patrachan sonnets were the first form of sonnet popularised in England by Francesco Petrach.
  • Their idealised notion of the lady as perfectly beautiful and virtuous (yet absent and aloof)
  • The idea that love is virtuous and could even be religious
  • Their description of a world, influenced by medieval courtly love, in which men performed ritualised courtly activities for an idealised and inaccessible lady. 
  • The ideal Elizabethan female had snow-white, red cheeks and lips, and fair hair. 
  • A high hairline had been for centuries a sign of aristocracy.
  • arranged in an octave and a sestet, with a volta between the two 
  • the octave presents the question, argument or observation
  • the sestet provides an answer, counter argument or clarity. 
2 of 20

Sonnet 130

  • The themes Shakespeare used in his poems included topics such as the shortness of life and nature of ageing, fleetingness of beauty and the nature of love and passion. 
  • Shakespeare's sonnets escape the Petrachan model creating emotional immediacy, retaining sensual conceits.
  • More of a geniuene ending, comment on society that it is superficial hypocrisy.
  • The use of hyperbole and cliche originated with the poetry of ancient Greece and Rome. It was a convention during the Elizabethan era- and the royal court- in both literature and art.
  • Shakespeare mocks cliches in love poetry. He satires the concept of ideal beauty and the use of hyperbole.
  • A variation on the Petrachan sonnet invented by Edmund Spenser.
  • Arranged in three quatrains and a final rhyming couplet.
  • The quatrains develop three distinct but closely related ideas.
  • The final couplet presents a different ideas or commentary on what has been said in previous lines.
3 of 20

The Collar

  • Metaphysicals- small group of poets writing at the end of the English renaissance in the 1600s.
  • They rejected ideals of love held by Elizabethan poets and rebelled against accepted ideals such as the idea of an omnipotent God in nature as well as the idea that Kings were necessarily divinely chosen and great.
  • Placed an emphasis on lived experience. 
  • The clear similarity between the metaphysical poets- new and inventitive, often original, conceits
  • Colloquial, spoken style which mirrored the wording and rhytyhms of everyday speech.
  • George Herbert was the a priest of the Church of England. 
  • After the death of King James, Herbert renewed his interest in ordination. He gave up his secular ambitions in his mid-thirties and took holy orders in the Church of England.
  • He was noted for unfailing care for his parishoners, bringing the sacraments to them when they were ill and providing food and clothing for those in need.  
4 of 20

Sonnet XIX: On His Blindness

  • Despite having been disherited by his Catholic father for vigourously embracing Protestanism, he was able to provide a very good education for his son.
  • He puts his creative ambitions on hold to focus on prose.
  • He became involved in religious dispute on the Presbyterian side by writing a series of pamphlets in 1641-42.
  • His views are very Puritan and call for the supression of the Catholic idoltary that he others felt was increasingly present in Church of England. At this stage, Milton hadn't rejected monarchism, he believed that the bishops were a threat to England and to the king. 
  • Republicanism- 2 weeks after the execution of Charles I in 1649, Milton committed herself to the Republican side by publishing The Tenture of Kings and Magistrates in support of regicide. His argument was that a monarch's power is not absolute, but derived from people he rules and held in accordance with social contarct.
  • By the end of 1651, Milton's sight, which had been deteriorating since 1644,failed him completely. He was 43, blind, and with his great work still yet to be written.
5 of 20

To My Dear and Loving Husband

  • Throughout her life Bradstreet was concerned with issues of sin, and redemption, physical and emotional fragility, death and immorality.
  • Much of her work indicates that she had a difficult time resolving the conflcit she experienced between the pleasures of sensory and familial experience and the promises of heaven. 
  • As a Puritan she struggled to subdue her attachment to the world, but as a woman she felt more strongly connected to her husband than God.
  • belived in the afterlife. Heaven promised that the joys she felt on earth would continue, she should give up pessure on earth and wait for heaven. 
  • Tension between Puritans and Church of England had long been present and worsened after Charles I became King in 1625. 
  • He dissolved Parliament in 1629 in an ill-fated attempt to silence his critics and enemies. 
  • Many Puritans decided to leave the country, with 11 ships leaving in 1630 for Massachusetts, with Puritans hoping to set up chruches in their home. 
  • Puritans placed an emphasis on simple life, believed that man's existence was solely for the Glory of God and to carry out God's will.
  • Women played an important role in Puritan life. They ran the household including finances and education of the children. Unlike many women of the time, Puritan women were taught to read.
6 of 20

A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous Ge

  • After 1707, swift became active in English and Irish religion and politics. He wrote strentously against continuing England's continental war and pointedly aginst the Duke of Malborough's role in the war.
  • Swift is universally known for his novel Guillver's Travels, a sharp, bitter and angry satire on everything from the nature of the English government to human nature itself. 
  • A satire is a poem who mocks someone (or sometimes a place, or a fashion).
  • A satirical elegy is a poem elegy  seems to be a memorial for someone who has died, but in fact mocks the person it is about. 
  • Swift states that Churchill is an evil being as being the Devil himself. 
  • 'The last loud trump to wake him now;And trust me, as the noise grows stronger, He'd wish to go to sleep a little longer.'- this states the regarding Christian belief before the last judgement, when souls are confined to Hell or Heaven, a trumpet will awaken the slepping dead. the speaker assures us that the sound signals his damnation.
  • Although Churchill started out as a good general in the war, the duke is a bad guy because his victories in the war made him indispensable to the nation but in his eyes as well, and he was accused of lining his own pockets at the expense of the people.
7 of 20

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge

  • Wordsworth was a Romantic poet, he wrote about nature and our relationship with the world around us. but this poem is baout the built environment, not the natural one. 
  • He makes the connection between the beauty of the built environment and its relationship to nature. As he saw the city of London in the early morning, when it was peaceful, before the business and shops opened. He saw sunrise over the city and recognised its beauty as something knwon to him. 
  • Wordsworth did not see the "real" side of London. The Industrial Revolution would have been present at the time, and poverty and crime. 
8 of 20

Kubla Khan

  • Coleridge wrote this poem after taking a dose of opium (painkiller in the 19th century, became an addiction) 
  • Whilst sleeping, he dreamt of a place built by Mongol emperor Kubla Khan.
  • Romantic poet- sinpired by nature and wanted to escape the trappings of old traditional English poetry.
  • The poem is characterised by its powerful descriptions of nature and its theme of how insignificant the power of man is compared to the wildness and unpredictability of nature. 
  • The Yuan Dynasty was a Mongolian dynasty that reigned from 1271 to 1368. The kingdom encompassed the vast majority of present-day Mongolia and China.
  • The Yuan Dynasty was conquered and subsequently established by Kublai Khan, a powerful Mongolian king and the namesake of Coleridge’s poem.
  • Shangdu—also known as “Xanadu”—was Kublai Khan’s northern capital, from which he ruled in the summer months.
9 of 20


  • He had studied ancient Greek which is probably why he chose the name ‘Ozymandias’, an ancient Greek version of one of Ramses II’s Egyptian names.  The famous Egyptian pharaoh was born around 1303BC and is thought to have lived to be about 90 years old. 
  • He was a great warrior and commissioned numerous statues, palaces and temples to be built to symbolise his divine power, insisting that all engravings were so deep that they could not be changed.  It was important to Ramses for his legacy to survive the ravages of time. 
  • Writing in the first person, the poet begins by putting the narrative into the voice of a traveller, who describes the shattered remains of a great Egyptian pharoah’s statue.
  • Although the inscription on  the pedestal shows Ozymandias was a powerful, vain ruler who wished to be immortalised by the ‘works’ he left behind, no amount of wealth or prestige can halt the effects of time and nature.  All that is left of his great empire are desert sands.
  • This form is often chosen for love poetry, but in this case a theme of self-love leads only to thwarted ambition and decay.  The iambic pentameter combines with the tight sonnet form to make the ironic message concise and powerful.  Shelley distances himself from the poem by putting the storytelling into the mouth of ‘a traveller’.
10 of 20

She Walks In Beauty

  • He created the concept of 'Byronic hero'- a defiant, melancholy young man, brooding on some mysterious, unforgivable event in his past.
  • Byron's influence on European poetry, music, novel, opera and art has been immense, although the poet was widely condemed on moral grounds by his contemporaries. 
  • When the rumours started to rise of his incest and his debts were accumlating Byron left England again in 1816, never to return.
  • He settled in Geneva with Percy Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and her step-sister Claire Clairment (with whom her had an affair with in Lodnon) who became his mistress.
  • Byron served as a regional leader of Italy's revolutionary organisation the Carbonari, in its struggle against Austria.
  • He later travelled to fight against the Ottoman Empire in the Greek War of Independence for which Greeks revere him as a national hero.
  • He expresses how beautiful this woman in that Byron is looking at.
  • She combines opposites in perfect proportions in her looks and in her personality.
11 of 20

The Kraken

  • Tennyson's use of the sonnet form and millenial imagery , deftly enbale him to convey the fundamental strangeness of the Kraken.
  • He suffered from mental illness, thus the Kraken could be a metaphor for his mental illness.
  • He is thought to be influenced by 19th centruy scientific discoveries in geology that is called into question the biblical creation of Earth.
  • In 1822, English geologist and paleontologist Gideon Mantell discovered dinasour skeletons in Tigate Forest in Sussex.
  • Victorian Fascination with supernatural: Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley in 1813:
  • "Exotic plants and animals influenced London from all areas of the Empire, while revoultionary theories such as radical idea that humans might be descended from apes drew crowds to heated debates. Men and women of all social classes avidly collected scientific specimens for display in their homes and devoured literature about science and its praticioners."(Darwinism)
12 of 20


  • He was a Georgian poet but was influenced by the Romantics.
  • The principal themes in his work are observations about life's hardships, the ways in which the human condition is reflected in nature, his own adventure in homelessness and the avrious characters he met.
  • The poem suggests that "the hectic pace of modern life has a detrimental effect on the human spirit." According to Davies, modern man has no time to spend free time in the lap of nature.
  • In his 1963 Critical Biography of Davies, Richard Stonesifer traces the origins of the poem back to the sonnet "The World Is To Much Is with Us" by William Wordsworth saying Davies' went to school with Wordsworth sonnet and echoes from that sonnet resound throughout his work as from few other poems. Philosophically, no other single poem can be said to form the basis of so much of his poetry. The celebrated opening of his wise little poem "Leisure" has its origins here.
13 of 20

To Autumn

  • Many of the ideas and themes evident in Keat's great odes are typically Romantic conerns: beauty of nature, the relation between imagination and creativity, the response of the passions to beauty and suffering and the transcience of human life in time. 
  • Keats began to experience the extrodinary creative inspiration that enabled him to write, a frantic rate, all his best poems in the before his death.
  • The psychological progress from "Ode on Indolence" to "To Autumn" is intimately personal, and a great deal of that intimacy is lost if one begins to imagine that the roles are spoken by a supreme of fictional characters.
  • Subtext- Keats is coming to terms with mortality, the season of life and rebirth.
  • soak up every last bit of goodness at that moment without worrying about what comes next. The woman who personifies autumn in this poem spends her time napping in the fields and watching cider being made. She doesn't fret about winter.
14 of 20

Sonnet 43: How Do I Love Thee?

  • Barrett Browning was always interested in the position of women in society, and throughout her career she wrote challengingly and combatively about the need for gender equality.
  • By the late 1830s, Barrett Browning was starting to explore her concern with the social roles prescribed for women much more critically through her poetry. In particular, she was increasingly interested in the power dynamics that lie at the heart of heterosexual relationships. Barrett Browning repeatedly criticises women’s secondary role in society, the ways in which the institution of marriage oppresses them, and the idea that love and sexual relations are often grounded in problematic and often brutal power games.
  • Born in 1806, Barrett Browning spent most of her adult life as an invalid, ruled over by a tyrannical father who forbade any of his sons and daughters to marry. She married Robert Browning in 1846 after a courtship that had to be kept secret. Despite her poor health, Barrett Browning was renowned during her lifetime for her intelligence and open-mindedness.
  • The fact that Browning admired his wife’s brilliance at a time in history when women were expected to be merely decorative, as well as the fact that she was much older than he was, depicts an unusual relationship even by modern standards. Set against the dicta of Victorian England, personified most glaringly by Barrett’s father, their mutual attraction defies time and place.
15 of 20


  • Revolves around a mother who leaves her child out on the moors to die of exposure. Watching her child die is torture for her, but the woman is under a spell and finds herself unable to walk away. There is, however, no actual reference to a child in the poem.
  • Suggests her death is near  but she's trying to escape from it.
  • The poem is happening at night in the woods- far and isolated. This creates a negative and sorrowful attidtude. This poem might have also have been written when the narrator started to accquire some sort of life threatening illness similar to the author's  mother and two eldest sisters.
  • The title indicates being distracted by something that is very irresistable to look away from, as if someone is bound by a spell- relates to the author's family
  • Author's mother died when she was 3, and death of her two eldest sisters which both were diagnosed with tuberculosis 
  • She was brought up in poor family 
  • Lack of opportunities (Emily's father stopped sending his remaining children to school). 
16 of 20


  • She suffered from depression and she was seriously interested in religion and the Church of England.
  • Sentimentalised depcition of the tragic death of women occupied many Pre-Raphalite poems and paintings. 
  • Many of these place women at the mercy of the men in their lives. these works come from a male vantage point. Christina Rossetti provides a unique answer to these works in her poem.
  • In this poem, Rossetti voices the inner thoughts of a dead Victorian woman.
  • Exposes the inadequency of earthly love when compared with the peace and fulfillment experienced by the woman upon death.
  • Poet has used a consistent metre and rhyme scheme to create to create a hymn like quality to her poem- this creates a funerial atmosphere.
17 of 20

God's Grandeur

  • Roman Catholic convert, Jesuit priest, whose posthumous fame established him among the leading Victorian poets 
  • His use of imagery established him as a daring innovator in a period laregly traditional verse- introduced new things with the metre.
  • poem presents a positive and inspirational portrait of God.
  • He expresses his disapproval that society has fallen away from God, he believes that God's power is everywhere. 
  • He also believes that we have become blind to God's power. The industrialisation that was evident at the end of the 19th century signified a change in society's reliance on religion. Advances in science and industry made the mystery of life seem like nothing more than chemical processes; we started to see past the illusion of creation- Darwinism.
18 of 20

Darkling Thrush

  • 1899/1900- fin-de siede- era of anxiety and uncertainty due to the change of the century- Victorian pessimism.
  • Distabilised British society- The Boer Wars, Industrial Revolution and fall of Christianity.
  • The thrush symbolises the small silver of hope that is still avaliable to him, he is unaware of it.
  • Nostalgia for the safe past but an acceptance of its oppressive nature, desire to move forward. 
  • He was influenced by the Romantics- Modern poet- a style that aims to move from traditional forms and ideas of time. He experimented with form and content and created his own style. 
  • However, his focus is on the isolation and despair of the world towards which he was critical of. 
19 of 20


  • Early Romantic poets tended to be supporters of the French Revolution, hoping it would bring political change- war of independence and breaking the coloniel power of Britain. 
  • Romantics highlighted the healing power of imagination because they believed that i could enable people to transcend their troubles and their circumstances. Their creative talents could transform the world into a coherent vision, to regenerate mankind spiritually.
  • Blake was radical in his political views, frequently addressing social issues in his poems and expressing his concerns about the monarchy and the church. 
  • Sublime- conveys the feelings people experience when they see landscapes or find themselves in extreme situations which elicit both fear and admiration. 
  • Blake believed that the human spirit was corrupted by modern society, in particular the innocence and freedom of childhood was destroyed by the chaos of adult life.
20 of 20


No comments have yet been made

Similar English Language & Literature resources:

See all English Language & Literature resources »See all Poetry resources »