August 2011

Keats' "Odes"


John Keats, the Romantic English poet, is one of the most enduring poets of all time. It’s amazing that he’s achieved this kind of reputation since he died at the age of 25, spending only six years really writing poetry and only publishing for four years.

Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Remember high school?

Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem by Coleridge that you probably read in high school, but maybe don't remember too well.  Here's a bit about it--a Mariner starts telling a story to a man going to a wedding ceremony.  The story is really long and the wedding guest kind of wants to leave, but he doesn't want to be rude.  This Mariner is going on and on about his glory days, when he used to sail.  One trip, his ship got off-course in a huge storm. As a south wind starts following the ship around so does a giant bird, the albatross.  The bird is a symbol of good fortune, but the stupid Mariner shoots the bird and gets the ship off course. Again. The bird is hung around the mariner's neck.  This time, all the Mariner's crew members die and he has to watch their bodies rot for seven days afterwards.  He sees slimy sea creatures in the sea, but praises them as beauties, thereby lifting the albatross' curse. A hermit finds the mariner and the ship and saves him, but all is not well with the albatross.  The Mariner can never find a homeland, but has to wander the earth, telling the tale.

Good story, eh?

Coleridge was obsessed with talking about eyes as he wrote this poem.He uses the symbol of the eye to represent the eternal nature of the Mariner’s “curse” and therefore the eternal nature of the relevance of the Mariner’s tale. By making connections between the dead and the living and the Mariner’s “curse” with this symbol, Coleridge uses the eye to illustrate this theme. With these connections in mind, Coleridge bookends of the “bright eye” at the beginning and ending of the piece illustrate the never-ending relevance of the Mariner’s tale.

Coleridge draws obvious parallels between the dead sailors and the living Mariner with his use of the image of the glittering eye. The speaker describes the Mariner’s “glittering eye” as he tells this tale. The dead sailors look at the Mariner with “their stony eyes that in the Moon did glitter.” By using the word “glitter,” with this recurring symbol, Coleridge not only draws parallels between the sailors and the Mariner, but also implies there is something alive in both the living and the dead.

Coleridge illustrates this eternally alive thing is the “curse” which followed the Mariner after he shot the Albatross. Even after death, a sailor still cursed the Mariner. This continuing symbol of the “eye” both connects the Mariner’s curse to the connections drawn earlier as well as adding to the evidence of the immortality of the curse.

Adrienne Rich

America's radical, lesbian, feminist, anti-capitalist poet.

Adrienne Rich is my favorite poet.  Her poetry is sort of esoteric, but it is beautiful and readable without a lot of effort.  As lazy as that sounds, it's true.  I am willing to work, but I am not willing to work that hard to read poetry.  Here's a bit more about Rich: