WHAT IS POETRY? Poetry is one of the oldest forms of artistic expression. It originated in the human impulse to express emotions/ideas/tell a story. It has a specific form – lines and stanzas in rhythmic language. It uses imagery and figurative language.
FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE – every day words put together in new ways to create vivid word pictures.
IMAGE – refers to a vivid visual description. It appeals to the reader’s emotions and imagination.
IMAGERY – refers to images (mental pictures) taken collectively. It Is used to signify all the objects and qualities of sense perception referred to in a poem. The different types of imagery are – visual (sight), auditory (hearing), tactile ( touch), olfactory ( smell), gustatory ( taste), kinaesthetic (sensations of movement) & thermal ( heat and cold).
SYMBOL is derived from Greek ‘symbolon’ meaning ‘mark’ or ‘sign.’ It is an object, animate/inanimate, which represents something else – scales > justice; dove > peace;
Actions are also symbolic– arms raised > surrender. Literary symbols are of two kinds – public/conventional – journey > life and personal/private – red rose > love.
FIGURES OF SPEECH – specific ways of putting words together. The popular figures of speech are:
Simile is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two distinctly different things /actions / feelings using words such as ‘like’, ‘as’, ‘than’, ‘resembles’.
Example: “I wandered lonely as a cloud” & “My love is like a red, red rose’’.
Epic Simile is a lengthy and more elaborate simile used as a digression in a narrative work; Example: the similes in John Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Metaphor is a figure of speech that makes a comparison between two unlike things / actions / ideas without asserting the comparison with the words ‘as’ and ‘like’ but by suggesting that
they are identical.
Example: “All the world is a stage” & “My love is a red, red rose”.
Personification is a figure of speech that gives human characteristics to an inanimate object / an abstract concept.
Example: “… and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe” & “Hope was but a timid friend”.
Oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines two contradictory terms.
Example: “bitter sweet memories” & “darkness visible”.
Hyperbole/Trope is an exaggeration/overstatement for the sake of emphasis in a figure of speech.
Example: “I’ve been waiting for ages” & “She is thirsty enough to drink a river dry”.
Alliteration is the repetition of similar sounds in a sequence of words. The term is usually applied only to the repetition of consonant sounds in the beginning of words or stressed syllables within words. Example: “She sells sea shells on the sea shore” & “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought”.
Assonance is the repetition of similar vowels in the stressed syllable of two nearby words
It is the vowel equivalent of alliteration. Example: “As I strolled alone years ago” & “The engineer held the steering to steer the vehicle”.
Rhythm is the Greek word for ‘flowing’ meaning regular pattern of sound. The movement / sense of movement is communicated by the arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables.
Meter: Traditionally, poetry is distinguished from prose by its form. One main ingredient of its form is metre. Metre can be defined as the pattern or arrangement of strong and weak syllables. It gives poetry its regular rhythm. Weak and strong syllables can be arranged in several ways to give different kinds of metre. There are four most common meters in English:
Iambic = unstressed + stressed
Trochee = stressed + unstressed
Anapaest = 2 unstressed + 1 stressed
Dactyl = 1 stressed + 2 unstressed
Iambic pentameter: The commonest metre in English is iambic pentameter – each line has five feet or ten syllables following the weak-strong pattern. Gray’s Elegy, Shakespeare’s sonnets, and many other poems in English are written in iambic pentameter.
Foot is a fixed combination of syllables forming a metrical unit. It is a unit of rhythm. The common metrical feet in English are:
Monometer – one foot per line
Dimeter – two feet
Trimeter – three feet
Tetrameter – four feet
Pentameter – five feet
Hexameter – six feet
Heptameter – seven feet
Octameter – eight feet
Rhyme is the repetition in the rhyming words of the last stressed vowel and of all the speech sounds following the vowel. E.g.: late – fate, follow – hollow. There are different kinds of rhyme:
End rhyme which occurs at the end of a verse is the most frequent type.
Masculine rhyme refers to a single stressed syllable, e.g.: hill – will.
Feminine rhyme consists of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable, e.g.: ending – bending
BLANK VERSE is lines of iambic pentameter without rhyme. So, “blank” means “without rhyme”. Each line has ten syllables or five feet alternating weak and strong syllables but the lines do not rhyme. It bears a close resemblance to the natural rhythm of ordinary speech giving poetry a natural feel. It was introduced into English by Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey. This is a favourite form with many great English poets like Shakespeare and Milton. Milton’s epic, Paradise Lost is written entirely in blank verse i.e. unrhymed iambic pentameter.
FREE VERSE or VERS LIBRE refers to a form of poetry that does not follow any metrical pattern. Often there is no rhyme or stanza but there are free verse poems that are rhythmic. Free verse came into vogue in the beginning of the twentieth century and was popularised by T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound et al. Many modern poets feel that traditional metre restricts the free flow of poetry. They avoid traditional metre and write in free verse. Leaves of Grass by the American poet, Walt Whitman is one of the earliest works in free verse. Free verse is the most common form in modern English poetry.
STANZA is the Italian word for ‘stopping place’; it is a grouping of the verse lines in a poem, often set off by a space in the printed text. Usually the stanzas are marked by a recurrent pattern of rhyme. Stanzas are also uniform in the number and length of the component lines. There is great diversity of English stanza forms.
ENGLISH STANZA FORMS
Couplet is a pair of rhymed lines of equal length.
Heroic Couplet refers to lines of iambic pentameter which rhyme in pairs: aa, bb, cc. It was introduced into English poetry by Chaucer. The term ‘heroic’ was applied in the 17th century because of the frequent use of such couplets in heroic (epic) poems and in heroic drama.
Tercet / Triplet is a stanza of three lines with a single rhyme. The lines are of the same length or varying length in iambic tetrameter.
Terza rima is composed of interlinked tercets with the rhyme aba, bcb. Sir Thomas Wyatt introduced it into English poetry in the 16th century. It is not a common meter in English. It occurs in Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind and in the poetry of John Milton, Robert Browning and T.S. Eliot.
Quatrain is a four-line stanza. It is the most common form in English poetry. It has various meters and rhyme schemes. The ballad stanza rhyming abcb, is one common quatrain.
Heroic quatrain refers to lines in iambic pentameter rhyming abab. Gray’s Elegy is written in heroic quatrain.
Rime royal was introduced by Chaucer. Its later use by King James I of Scotland gave it its name. It is a seven-line iambic pentameter stanza rhyming ab ab bc c.
Ottava rima has 8 lines rhyming ab ab ab cc. Sir Thomas Wyatt brought it from Italy in the16th century.Spenserian stanza is a still longer form devised by Edmund Spenser for The Faerie Queene. It consists of nine lines; the first 8 lines are iambic pentameter and the last line iambic hexameter (an Alexandrine) rhyming ab ab bc bc c.
The Ode – is of Greek origin. It is a serious and dignified composition almost always in rhyme, and longer than the lyric proper. It is often in the form of an address and is sometimes used to commemorate an important public occasion. It is exalted in subject matter and elevated in tone and style. Neither the theme nor its treatment can be trivial or undignified.
There are two types of ode (a) the Dorian or Pindaric ode. It is choric and sung to the accompaniment of a dance. It consists of three parts: the Strophe, during the recitation of which the dancers made a turn from the right to the left; the Anti-strophe during the recitation of which the dancers made a counter-turn from the left to the right; the Epode during the recitation of which the dancers stood still. Thomas Gray’s The Bard is one of the most successful imitations of this form in English. The Dorian ode is also known as the Pindaric ode from its brilliant use by the Greek poet, Pindar. (b) the Lesbian/the Horatian ode, named after the island of Lesbos where it originally flourished. It is simpler in form than the Pindaric ode and has therefore proved easier to imitate. It consists of a no of short stanzas similar in length and arrangement. It was popularized by two great Roman writers, Horace and Catallus. The works of Horace served as a model to English imitators of them form; so English odes of this type are commonly known as Horatian odes. The English odes are not strictly bound by classical traditions. They are either Regular, consisting of a series of exactly similar stanzas,
like Shelley’s odes or Irregular, when each stanza follows a different arrangement as in Wordsworth’s Immortality Ode.
The Epic — is a form of objective poetry in which the writer’s personality remains in the background. The characters in the epic are given superhuman dimensions. Their actions are often subject to the personal intervention of the gods, who preside over their destinies. The language is noble and exalted, as befits the words and deeds of gods and heroes. There are several epic conventions : (a) the theme is stated in the first few lines, accompanied by a prayer to the Muse; (b) the use of certain conventional poetic devices such as the Homeric epithet and the Homeric simile; (c) the action of the epic is often controlled by supernatural agents; (d) the epic contains a no of thrilling ‘episodes’ such as battles and duels; (e) the epic is divided into books usually twelve eg: Milton’s Paradise Lost comprises twelve books.
Epics are of two types : (1)Epic of Growth – is the result of natural growth in popular song and story. It is also called the Folk Epic or the Authentic Epic. It is not the work of one man; before being formulated into an artistic whole, it existed in fragments for ages. These fragments were later collected together by some poet and given shape. (2) Epic of Art – is the result of conscious literary effort on the part of the artist. It is also known as Literary Epic.
Mock Epic — is a parody of the epic form. It originated in Italy and France and later found imitators in England. In a mock epic a theme, obviously unworthy of the serious epic, is set forth in the traditional and solemn dignity of the epic form.
The Ballad — arose out of folk literature. It is one of the oldest forms in English and is one of the few that are of native growth. Originally it was sung from village to village by a strolling singer or bands of singers to the accompaniment of a harp or fiddle. In its earliest stages the song must have been accompanied by a crude tribal dance for the word ballad means ‘a dancing-song.’ In the days before printing was invented it was handed down by oral tradition; each successive generation or locality made its own alteration to suit local or contemporary conditions. Since the ballad developed at an early stage in man’s cultural evolution, its subjects are deeds — a memorable feud, a thrilling adventure, a family disaster etc. The ballad has certain distinct features: (1) the tale opens abruptly without a systematic introduction (2) it is impersonal with nothing to show the writer’s identity. (3) the same lines are often repeated from stanza to stanza as a refrain and stock phrases are freely used eg: bonny bride, gentle knight. (4) no details of time and place. Ballads are of two kinds : (a) the Ballad of Growth of unknown authorship which has been in existence for ages. It is also known as the Authentic Ballad. (b) the Ballad of Art / Literary Ballad. It is a literary development of the traditional form.
The Dramatic Monologue — is a type of lyric, which was perfected by Robert Browning. It has the following features — (a) a single person, who is not the poet, utters the speech that makes up the whole of the poem, in a specific situation at a critical moment. (b) this person addresses and interacts with one or more people; but we know of the listener’s presence and what he/she says and does only from clues in the discourse of the single speaker. (c) the main aim of the speaker is to reveal to the reader his temperament and character Eg: Browning’s My Last Duchess.
Haikku — is a Japanese poetic form that represents in 17 syllables, ordered into three lines of 5,7 and 5 syllables, the poet’s emotional or spiritual response to a natural object, scene or season. The strict form of the Japanese Haikku — the short, uniform and unstressed syllabic structure — is very difficult in English. The Haikku influenced Ezra Pound and other Imagists.
The Sonnet — The word sonnet is derived from the Italian ‘sonetto’ meaning ‘a little sound.’ It is a poetic form which originated in Italy. By the 13th century the term came to be associated with a poem of 14 lines that followed a strict rhyme scheme and specific structure and which expressed a single thought or feeling. The Italian sonnet is known as the Petrarchan sonnet from its brilliant use by the Italian poet, Petrarch. The Petrarchan sonnet consists of two parts: the octave, a stanza of eight lines (two quatrains, that is, 2 four line stanzas) and the sestet, a stanza of six lines (two tercets, that is, 2 three line stanzas). The octave proposes the problem and the sestet proposes a solution. The Petrarchan sonnet followed the rhyme scheme — abba, abba, cde, cde. Milton’s sonnets illustrate the characteristics of the Petrarchan sonnet. The sonnet form was introduced into England by Wyatt and Surrey in the 16th century. Later this poetic form was extensively used by Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney. The English sonnet comprises three quatrains in alternate rhyme and a concluding couplet – abab, cdcd, efef, gg. There is no set range of subjects for sonnets. Shakespeare limited his theme to love. His sonnets celebrate either his attachment to a young friend, the unidentified Mr W.H. or his love for a mysterious ‘Dark Lady.’ In course of time the sonnet came to include almost everything in the range of human feeling and experience.
The Elegy — The elegy is a brief lyric of mourning. It is usually a lamentation for the dead; but it can also have sombre themes such as unrequited love, the fall of a famous city etc. It is a tribute to something loved and lost. The elegy usually aims at an effect of dignity and solemnity without a sense of artificiality eg: Gray’s Elegy. Grief is the dominant emotion in the early part of the Elegy; but the note changes to one of resignation towards the close of the poem when the poet reconciles himself to the inevitable.
Pastoral Elegy — was introduced into English during the Renaissance. It is a form of elegy in which the poet represents himself as a shepherd bewailing the loss of a companion, in an idealized pastoral background. The pastoral elegy follows a formal pattern. It usually begins with an expression of grief and an invocation to the Muse to help the poet in expressing his grief. It contains a funeral procession, a description of nature’s sympathetic mourning and musings on the unkindness of death. It ends with an acceptance of nature’s laws. Milton’s Lycidas is a pastoral elegy.
THOMAS GRAY’S ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD
Gray’s Elegy is among the greatest and the most popular poems in the English language. Its deep human interest, its noble sentiment, the universal appeal of its theme and its perfect style and diction are the factors that have made the Elegy widely read and popular.
The dominant theme of the poem is death. It deals with the death of the rude forefathers of the village; it also stresses the fact that death is a common occurrence in the world and also describes the anticipated death of the poet. The transience of human glory and joy is another theme dealt with in the poem. Gray has brought out the contrast between the lives of the privileged and the unprivileged and has shown how the poor are not in a position to enjoy the luxuries of life in this world. Their poverty is an obstacle in the path of their progress. But this poverty is a blessing in disguise; for it restrains them from doing evil by limiting their power to do so. The poem also deals with the desire for fame and the desire to be remembered after death. The poem also presents a nostalgic longing for life. It shows how no man dies without casting a long lingering look behind.
The poem begins with a beautiful picture of an evening in a village. The day is over and the cattle are moving slowly to the fold. The ploughmen, tired after the day’s toil, are returning home. Alone in the engulfing darkness and the stillness which is disturbed only by the droning beetles and the moping owl, the poet muses on the rude forefathers of the village who lie buried under the yew tree. They are enjoying eternal sleep and cannot be roused by the morning breeze or the swallow’s twitter or the cock’s shrill call. They cannot perform the normal activities of day-to-day life and enjoy the joys of domestic life that they had enjoyed while they were alive.
The sight of their graves reminds Gray of the vanity of riches and of the inevitability of death which comes to all be they rich or poor. The dead villagers had the potential for development. If they had been given a chance they might have become well known statesmen, great poets and worthy patriots like Hampden, Milton and Cromwell. But their merits remained unrecognized and their talents unutilized. They were unknown like gems that lie hidden in the ocean or like a flower wasting its fragrance in the desert. At the same time their capacity for harming others was also limited by their inability to do much in life.
The sight of the tombs decorated with ‘uncouth rhymes’ makes the poet reflect on man’s desire to perpetuate his memory. These memorials are inscribed with the details of the dead and the text of the Bible. Nobody leaves this world without yearning to be remembered after death and without casting one longing lingering look behind.
After brooding over the villagers Gray describes his own fate. He hoped that just as he honoured the obscure villagers he too would be honoured by some living poet/wayfarer to whom some peasant might describe his life: the peasant had seen the poet at dawn rushing towards the uplands where he would lie in the shade of the beech tree. But one day he did not find the poet at his favourite spot; he was not there the next day too. On the third day his body was carried to the churchyard where he was buried. The peasant would ask the living poet / wayfarer to go the poet’s tomb and read the epitaph engraved on it.
The epitaph presents the poet as an obscure young man of humble birth and melancholic nature. He was unknown to fortune and fame but he had acquired knowledge. He was very sincere and generous. His life was full of misery and sorrow but God rewarded him in the form of a friend. The epitaph concludes with an advice to the reader not to disclose or discuss his merits and weaknesses.
Gray’s short and simple annals of the poor have a universal appeal because they express the sentiment which ‘oft was thought but never so well expressed.’
W.B. YEATS’ THE CIRCUS ANIMALS’ DESERTION
W.B. Yeats is the greatest English poet of the present century. His poetry is characterized by its intense lyricism, its symbolism, its sensuous beauty, precision and realism. The poem The Circus Animals’ Desertion was written between November 1937 and September 1938, during the last stage of his life and appeared in his collection Last Poems.
The poem looks back over Yeats’s rich and productive poetic career and contrasts it with the apparently creative barrenness of the present. As a victim of writer’s block Yeats makes an objective analysis of his earlier poems and plays and the motives that worked behind his choice of subject- matter and selection of style. The poem is a mosaic of personal memories, imagined stories, Irish myths and introspective comments.
Yeats, the elderly speaker, is a broken man, who is not able to write a poem on account of old age and the weakening of his imagination and mental powers. During his youth and middle age, he was never short of poetic inspiration. But now he can only recount the ideas and themes which inspired his earlier poems. Like a circus show-man, he reviews his animals – poems, situations and characters – which performed for him in his youth. The poems of those days depicted boastful young lovers and heroic adventurous men.
His first great poem is The Wanderings of Oisin about the adventures of Oisin who was led by his sweetheart, Niamh to three beautiful legendary islands – the Country of the Young, the Country of the Living and the Country of Forgetfulness. Oisin’s joys and struggles echoed Yeats’s love for his beloved, Maud Gonne.
After this phase of myth and legend he turned to the theatre; he got completely engaged with the Abbey Theatre and lost interest in everything else. His play The Countess Cathleen is his second great composition. It centres on the countess who sold her soul to the Devil to save the Irish from starvation; but she was saved by Heaven. In this play too Yeats refers to Maud Gonne who forsook him in order to take part in political activity.
The poet’s third great achievement is the work On Baile’s Strand, in which he gives an account of the tragic tale of the protagonist, Cuchualain, who unwittingly kills his son while safeguarding the Irish kingdom. When the Fool, a minor character, informs him of this, Cuchualain becomes mad with grief; he rushes to the sea to fight the waves but gets drowned. When the people of the land assemble at the seashore to witness his struggle against the waves, a Blind Man, plans to steal food from the empty houses. In this play Yeats expresses his bitter disappointment when he came to know of Maud Gonne’s engagement with Major MacBride.
These imaginary characters and situations completely captured his mind and overwhelmed the confused mass of observations and impressions of reality. He recognizes that rich inspiration and easy creativity formed the staple of his youth. As a result commonplace objects and sights like a broken can, old iron, old bones and the crazy girl who looks after the cash gave birth to his poems. But in his old age, he is deprived of both gifts and so he has to settle for a life of lesser expectations; and content himself with the raw material of poetic composition – the foul rag-and-bone shop of his heart.
PETER PORTER’S A CONSUMER’S REPORT
A Consumer’s Report is an extended metaphor which compares life to products that are consumed. It is a satire criticizing capitalist society — life is a commodity which can be bought, sold and returned if necessary. It is also a critical assessment of the many contradictory aspects of life. Religion makes man believe that life is God’s gift to him and that he must be thankful to God for the benefits he enjoys on earth. But experience of life shows him that life is not always joyful and a smooth sail but is fraught with many difficulties. Then he realizes that he does not enjoy unlimited freedom; to make matters worse, he has to restrain his conscience. Even when he is savouring moments of calm and serenity he is not able to get clear answers to the question about the purpose and importance of existence.
The product that the consumer narrator tests, is life. He has completed the form given to him and was told that his response would be kept confidential. While using it, that is while going through life he did not look upon it as a gift from God; he found life rather dull, unexciting and uneventful. God lured man with the gift of life but did not warn him about the lurking dangers (the qualms of conscience when a person has had fun). God has played a trick on man like the advertisements and brochures of a product that promote it as consumer friendly and focus only on its positive features while shrewdly not mentioning its adverse side effects. Life’s challenges and difficulties make man use up more emotions and physical energy than he had ever expected. Though it has many attractive features, the product called life entails recurring expenditure and causes strain to the consumer. It is difficult to predict how long a person will live or what life has in store for him. He can only guess that he has covered half of the journey of life and hope to complete the journey without too many hurdles. This product is not child-friendly. Children are not aware of the fact that they would not get a second chance to live. So they get addicted to drugs, lead a loose life and hasten their end. If God created man for His own amusement it does not necessarily bring joy to him. Most often he has to pay a heavy price – his life will be ruined by his regrets over the mistakes he makes in life.
The pace of life is mind-boggling and man does not get time to experience life at a leisurely pace. The narrator wonders whether there is the need for man’s hectic life when the earth had gone about its unhurried ways for a thousand million years without man and his frenzied life. There are different races of human beings marked by varied sizes and colours. Human skin is water proof, it does not absorb water but it is not heat-resistant, the body will get burnt or destroyed by fire. Moreover the body does not remain unspoilt. Time will take its toll on man; he becomes old and ugly and eventually dies.
The narrator draws attention to the producers who use cheap material in order to reduce prices and attract more consumers. Likewise, life becomes cheap when the producers (the husband and wife) do not have mutual love, trust and respect. This will naturally deprive the child of an emotionally secure environment and he will become a problem to his parents and to society at large. Artists the world over have always praised the manifold virtues of life. People too support the cause of life and never advocate suicide or euthanasia; even religions forbid a person to take his own life. But the narrator feels that a person has the right to possess and utilize or misuse life.
The poet makes a dig at the usual tag – it is the best that money can buy – on every consumer article. The consumer can find out the true value of the product only after he gets another one and compares the two. In the same manner, the value of life can be judged only at the time of death. He realizes the advantages and disadvantages of life only after the experience of death.
Peter Porter has successfully dealt with a theme that is always the centre of religious and philosophical debates in his characteristic light tone and making use of simple diction.
KAMALA DAS’ AN INTRODUCTION
The foremost name among Malayali poets in English, Kamala Das is also known as Madhavikutty and Kamala Suraiya. She was an accomplished poet and short story writer. She is a confessional poet who writes of her personal, intimate feelings and experiences with remarkable frankness and psychological insight. She writes about aspects of women’s experience that no Indian writer had dared to write about. She expresses the pain and despair that the male-dominated world gifted her. Kamala Das is rightly regarded as the poet of the feminine sensibility.
An Introduction, her most famous poem, is in the confessional mode. It is a candid self-portrait. Here, traditionally private experiences are made public .The poem lays bare the neglect and injustice experienced by Indian women and women’s feelings of longing and loss.
Kamala Das narrates and examines her experience of growing up. She recounts landmarks in her life- adolescence, love for English, revolt against conventional feminine roles and the assertion of her individuality. She begins by confessing that she is not interested in politics, but claims to know the names of all in power beginning from Nehru. Then she comes down to her roots. She declares that she is a brown-skinned Indian from Malabar. She speaks three languages and defends her choice to write in English though several people advised her to write in her mother tongue. But she affirms that the language she uses though a distorted Indian version of English is her own. It comes to her as naturally as cawing to crows and roaring to lions. It is the genuine voice of her joys, sorrows and hopes, it is the speech of her mind. So she has every right to express herself in English. Here the poem becomes a championing of Indian writing in English.
Kamala Das goes on to describe the pain of growing up She frankly describes the bodily changes of adolescence .She was married at an early age and encountered only sexual exploitation and humiliation and not the love she longed for. The bitter sexual experience of marriage made her hate her womanliness. She cut her hair and started wearing men’s clothing. She was severely criticized by relatives and friends for her schizophrenic and nymphomaniac “poses” They told her to behave like a woman and to play the conventional roles – embroiderer, cook and so on. But she found these roles restrictive and lacking fulfilment. So she rejected the advice of the categorizers, refused to “belong” and chose to live as she pleased.
The poet revolted against the male-dominated conventional world. Her hunger for love led her into an affair with a man .She states that he can be regarded as every man who wanted a woman just as she was every woman who wanted love. The poet thus universalizes her experience. She calls man’s love a swift river and woman’s love an ocean. These apt metaphors bring out the urgent passion of men as compared to the more moderate longing of women. The supreme male ego, expressed by the pronoun “I”, is compared to a sword tightly packed in its sheath. Her encounter with the male ego makes her search for her own feminine identity. At the end of the poem she describes herself as both sinner and saint like all other human beings. Similarly, she has her share of joys and sorrows; she is sometimes loved, sometimes jilted. Kamala Das thus asserts her individuality and feminine sensibility.
The poem is simultaneously a deeply confessional statement, a defence of Indian writing in English, a protest against the restrictive lives of women in a male-centric society and an assertion of the feminine sensibility.
LOUIS MCNEICE’S PRAYER BEFORE BIRTH
Louis McNeice is one of the Poets of the Thirties who were socially committed with leftist leanings. Prayer before Birth is a fine example of MacNeice’s poetic work. It is a dramatic monologue that combines his favourite themes of man in society, of hatred of tyranny, regimentation and brutality. Written during g the Second World War, the poem through the persona of an unborn child voices the poet’s fear at what the world’s tyranny can do to the innocence and individuality of a child.
The poem is cast in the form of a prayer or plea by a child in its mother’s womb. The child expresses its fear at being born into a terrible world. It wants protection and help to live a good life but knows that it will be made to commit evil deeds. So it also asks for forgiveness in advance for all the sins it will soon be guilty of.
The first stanza is a request by the unborn speaker to free him from all physical and mental adversities of the world. These adversities are symbolically presented as carnivorous animals and ghosts that represent evil. Concentration camps and mass killings are introduced early in the poem reminding us that it was written at the height of Hitler’s atrocities.
Next he pleads for a life close to nature in a world filled with greenery and running water. This can be read as a plea for environmental conservation. He also prays for a guiding white light which can be interpreted as a clear conscience or the ability to distinguish between right and wrong.
In the fourth stanza the unborn child asks forgiveness for all the crimes or sins the world will force on him. Here the poet brings in the World War; young people were forced to join the army, to fight and kill in the name of peace. This was an agonizing experience of the time.
Life is next presented as a stage where each one is an actor playing several parts. The speaker seeks help in playing each part. He wants guidance or cues in painful or difficult situations. The situations listed are the dangerous lecturing of old men, the bullying by those in authority, the mockery of false lovers, misguided invitations to fight or conquer, humiliation and filial ingratitude.
The poem concludes with the child’s deep desire to be far from two kinds of people – those who are beasts in human shape and those who think they are God. This is clearly a reference to Hitler’s megalomania. The child pleads to be protected from mental subordination, loss of free will humanity and individuality. He does not want to become a cog in a wheel, a killing machine or a stone. His final request is chilling. He requests to be killed if his prayer cannot be answered. It is better to be killed than to live in a world that is hell.
The poem which is in free verse is dramatic and forceful. The poet’s use of repetition, alliteration and assonance adds to the force of the prayer. MacNeice paints a picture of a world devoid of compassion, love and remorse through the haunting appeal of the unborn infant. The poem is the poet’s comment on contemporary life. It is filled with apprehension, dejection and hopelessness. The poem is as relevant today as it was in 1944.
ROBERT BROWNING’S PORPHYRIA’S LOVER
Porphyria’s Lover was first published, along with another poem, under the title Madhouse Cells. It suggests that the conditions of the new “modern” world served to blur the line between “ordinary life”—for example, the domestic setting of this poem—and insanity—illustrated here by the speaker’s action.
Porphyria’s Lover is a dramatic monologue by Browning where he speaks of the hypocrisy of the society and religion through the relationship of two lovers. The decay of morality and the ebb of man’s interest in religion along with the inflexibility of set social norms that destroys human relationships is brought to the front.
A storm rages outside the lover’s cottage as he waits for his mistress. It is the lover waiting for the lady to come to him and not the lady waiting in her home. This indicates the foundation of the relationship where the lady has more social status than the man and may be the richer of the two. Presently Porphyria arrives and sails into the cottage. She does not pause or seem nervous which indicates that she is used to such meetings. They might have been lovers for some time. Porphyria is a sort of comfort blanket that shuts out the cold. All the same, there is a storm being waged within her breast even as she makes the cottage more cheerful and warm by lighting a fire in the neglected grate.
Thus, the societal image of a woman as nurturing, warm, comforting and home making is juxtaposed with the image of a mistress, the illicit and sinful woman that society condemns. Porphyria now undresses and takes off her wet garments, shedding with them, parts of the ‘mask’ that society dictates. She lets her golden hair down symbolically letting down her guard and comes to her lover. She is Victorian society’s perfect model for female beauty with blue eyes, rosy lips and yellow hair. But there is a certain sense of foreboding; there is something wrong with Porphyria’s lover for he seems to be disturbed in his mind. Porphyria bares her shoulder to rest her lover’s head and she murmurs how she loves him. Porphyria is weak in her lover’s eyes because she can’t give up her social status for him. He wants her to come to him without pride even though the truth is that by confessing her love and coming to him she has swallowed her pride.
The lover’s self -worth is inflated by the love he sees in her eyes. He is proud because he can excite an emotion of love in her; but there is some latent inferiority complex hidden there. “She worships him” just as a woman must worship the ground her husband trods on. And he is surprised she does so but though this discovery excites him, he is more concerned about what he should do. It is not enough that she loves him; a man must do something, he must either create or destroy while woman may be content with love; possession and that too sole possession, belongs to the male. Time is of consequence here. Now she is his but he wants her to be his eternally. She should be a part of ‘him’. She can have no self of her own. And so, he hits on the perfect solution which explains why the world has been thrown asunder by countless wars. The Rapunzel fairy tale is shattered. He strangles his mistress by winding her hair around her throat. Porphyria felt no pain and died a happy death in the eyes of her man. She could not feel pain because ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ decided she would not. She got what she wanted, her prayers of being with him forever were answered in the way ‘he’ thought was right.
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE’S KUBLA KHAN
Samuel Taylor Coleridge is one of the most gifted figures in English literature. His friendship with Wordsworth ushered in the Romantic Revival in English poetry. Great imaginative power, symbolism and the supernatural are the hallmarks of his poetic work. Kubla Khan the most magical of his poems was composed in a dream. The poet had taken opium and was reading a travelogue by Purchas titled Pilgrimage. He fell asleep and had a dream in which he composed about nearly 400 lines about the palace and surroundings of the Mongol emperor Kubla Khan that he had been reading about. When he woke up, he wrote down 54 lines .but was interrupted. This is the poem as we have it now.
The poem has an abrupt opening. It tells us how the great Emperor ordered the building of a magnificent pleasure palace in Xanadu. The landscape around the palace is described in detail. The sacred river Alph flowed through deep caves to a sunless sea. Here, ten miles of fertile ground encircled by walls and towers were filled with bright gardens, ancient forests and sunny spots of greenery.
The next stanza describes the source of the river Alph. The river arose from a deep chasm that slanted across a cedar forest on a hill. A suggestion of the supernatural enters the poem when Coleridge compares this terrifying chasm to a place where a desolate woman might wail for her demon lover. A turbulent fountain gushed at intervals from the chasm flinging boulders into the air. From this source, the Alph flowed through dark measureless caverns and then fell into the mysterious sea. In the tumult of the river falling into the sea, Kubla Khan heard the voices of his ancestors prophesying war.
The next short stanza describes the pleasure palace. It was a miracle of architecture as it was a sunny dome with caves of ice. The palace was so tall that its shadow fell midway on the Alph.
Finally, Coleridge introduces a different vision, another dream he had once. It was a dream of an Abyssinian maid singing and playing on a dulcimer. The poet wishes that he could recreate within him her symphony and song. This memory would fill him with such joy that he would be able to write marvellous poetry – build a dome in air. Seeing him in the throes of poetic creation, onlookers would be filled with awe. They would draw charmed circles around him and close their eyes in holy fear. They would regard him as no ordinary human but as one who has tasted the food and drink of Paradise. The poet suggests that true poetry is divinely inspired. The poem is highly symbolic. It can be viewed as a poem about the poetic process. The pleasure dome then becomes the symbol of a poem or of poetic creativity. The maiden with the dulcimer is yet another symbol of poetic creation.
Kubla Khan is Coleridge’s great triumph in the sphere of Romantic poetry, suffused with imagination, emotion, the supernatural and the personal element.
Images / similes / comparisons in the poem: Kubla Khan is noteworthy for its suggestive and apt images which are directed at all the senses. In addition to visual, auditory and kinetic images the poem has olfactory images – “incense bearing tree” and gustatory images – “honey-dew’, “milk of paradise”. There are three striking similes in the poem. The first occurs in the description of the deep chasm where the Alph originates. This terrifying chasm is compared to a magical, mysterious place where a desolate woman might wail for her demon lover who has made love to her and then deserted her. This fitting simile evokes supernatural dread. The next two similes are related to the source of the sacred river which is a turbulent fountain that gushes at intervals flinging boulders into the air. This activity is first compared to hailstones that hit the ground and rebound with force. Next it is compared to grain that rises and is scattered from the thresher’s flail. In these two visual and kinetic images, Coleridge uses familiar sights to help the reader grasp the awe-inspiring, strange place. The imagery in the poem shows the power of the Romantic imagination.
The symbolic meaning of the poem /Kubla Khan as a poem about the poetic process / The ending of the poem: Kubla Khan is a highly symbolic poem. It can be viewed as a poem about the poetic process. This is clear from the last stanza of the poem. Here he describes a vision he had of an Abyssinian maid singing and playing on a dulcimer. The poet feels that if he could revive her wonderful music it would give him great joy. From this great joy would arise the inspiration to give a wonderful description of the pleasure dome of Kubla Khan. This description would be so powerful that it would recreate the magical dome for his listeners. They would view the poet with wonder and fear, feeling he had attained supernatural powers. Coleridge gives a vivid description of a poet in the process of creation as a person with flashing eyes and floating hair who has fed on honey dew and the milk of paradise. What is meant is that the poetic process is divinely-inspired and magical. The pleasure dome and the maiden thus become symbols of poetic activity or of poetry itself.
T.S. ELIOT’S MACAVITY: THE MYSTERY CAT
Thomas Stearns Eliot is without doubt the greatest literary figure of the twentieth century. He was poet, critic and dramatist. Eliot pioneered the Modernist Movement in English poetry. Some of his famous poems are The Waste Land, Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and The Journey of the Magi. Eliot won the Nobel Prize in 1948.
Eliot was a cat lover. Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a collection of light poems dealing with different kinds of cats. Macavity: The Mystery Cat is the most popular of these humorous poems. Here Eliot describes a mysterious cat of extremely villainous nature. This cat is known by the name ‘Hidden Paw’ as he is the criminal mastermind who disregards law. He is an enigmatic figure to even the specialized detective agencies of England like Scotland Yard and the Flying Squad. These agencies had accepted their defeat by this clever cat and therefore he is considered as the ‘bafflement’ of the Scotland Yard.
Macavity is too clever to be caught and he is nowhere near the spot of a crime. We may search for him in the basement or we may look up in the air but Macavity is not there. The poet says that Macavity disobeys all human laws and also the law of gravity. His levitation is so powerful that it causes a fakir to stare bewildered. Fakirs are ascetics who possess supernatural powers and perform miracles and levitation. Eliot says that Macavity also possesses such powers which are greater than those of a fakir. The way he rises up in the air and escapes is beyond a fakir’s imagination.
T.S Eliot describes Macavity as a ginger cat who is both tall and thin. He can be recognized from his eyes which are deeply sunken in. This cat has lines on his forehead; he has a head that is highly domed.His coat is dusty and his whiskers uncombed. This is because he is more interested in plotting daring crimes than in grooming himself. Macavity moves his head like a snake. Whenever he seems to be asleep, he is wide awake. The poet says there is no one like Macavity. He is a devil in the disguise of a cat; he is a monster of wickedness. One may meet him in a by-street or in the square but when the crime is discovered, Macavity is not there. He is truly an enigma.
So, Macavity’s footprints are never to be found in any file of the Scotland Yard’s though the fingerprints of all notorious criminals are filed there. Here, the poet mentions some of his crimes. He says that Macavity is the one behind looting the larder, or the jewel-case. He is also behind the breaking of the greenhouse glass and the trellis. Also when the milk goes missing or a small dog like a Peke has been smothered; it is Macavity who is behind this. The most amazing thing about all these crimes is that when the crime is discovered, “Macavity is not there!”. When the Foreign Office’s Treaty is not found or the Admiralty loses some plans and drawings, it is useless to investigate as they all know that the mastermind behind this act is undoubtedly Macavity. But Macavity is a mile away from the scene of crime; he is either relaxing or licking his thumb or has occupied himself in solving complicated long division sums.
The final stanza of the poem states that there has never been a cat of such deceitfulness and cunning. Macavity is always ready with an alibi or two. The poet names other wicked cats like Mungojerrie and Griddlebone who are just agents of Macavity. Macavity is justly called the Emperor of Crime, “The Napoleon of Crime.” Eliot has written that his presentation of Macavity was inspired by the evil character, Professor Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes stories. The poem shows Eliot’s sense of humour, keen observation of cats and his imaginative power.
MYSTERY AND MIRACLE PLAYS: Drama in England began as the handmaid of religion. Like in Greek and other cultures English drama too was a distinct creation of the Church. In the Middle Ages most of the congregation did not understand the church services which were conducted in Latin. So the clergy often tried acting episodes from the Bible on occasions like Christmas and Easter. The actors were all priests or monks and these plays were usually enacted inside the church. The Latin dialogue was gradually replaced by English. The genre of mystery and miracle plays thus sprang from the dramatic representations of Biblical stories in order to make them accessible to a larger audience. The mystery plays dealt with themes taken from the Bible while the lives of saints were the themes of miracle plays. Starting from a brief four line play-let the performances included the entire story of the Bible in dramatic form. A Corpus Christi festival was held every year for the staging of these plays. Very soon the performances became more elaborate as more characters were introduced; and gradually these performances moved out of the church into the churchyard and also into the streets. In course of time they adopted secular themes and lay actors replaced priests. Sometimes the trade guilds, under the supervision of the church, produced a connected series or Cycle of plays dealing with Scriptural events from the creation of man to the Resurrection of Christ. Each guild had a mobile wagon and it would move to different parts and give performances. This enabled the audience to watch a whole cycle of mystery plays. There were four Cycles of miracle plays, York (48 plays), Chester (25 plays), Wakefield (32 plays) and Coventry (42 plays).
THE MORALITY PLAY: The morality play, which substituted moral teaching for purely religious instruction, was another kind of religious drama that became popular in England, France and Europe in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The Bible was not the focal point of this type of play; instead it was an allegorical representation of human life. The characters too were no longer Biblical figures; they were personified human traits and virtues and vices, with a stock figure, known as the Vice, who replaced Satan. These characters, who struggle for the soul of the protagonist, are universal in nature. Morality plays are not parts of larger cycles; they are separate entities. The Castle of Perseverance is the earliest complete morality play in which life is depicted as a struggle between virtue and vice. Everyman, a late fifteenth century work of unknown authorship, is the best- known morality play; the protagonist is Everyman whose journey of life is accompanied by characters who are personifications of abstract concepts like Fellowship, Good Deeds etc.
THE INTERLUDE: From the close of the 15th century the Interlude came into vogue. It was a short, humorous play performed by small companies of professional actors in the intervals of banquets and other entertainments in the households of noblemen and at court, especially during holidays. The Interlude dealt with the same moral problems in the same allegorical manner; but it was more realistic and dealt with current topics or topics of general interest. Occasionally it was used as a comic diversion between the more serious parts of a sacred play; it was also employed, during the period of religious strife, as a means of propaganda. It was essentially witty and full of action. The most famous of all the writers of the Interlude is John Heywood (1497-1580) under whose hand the form became satirical and entertaining.
Drama has been broadly divided into two kinds, Tragedy and Comedy. TRAGEDY is a serious play representing the disastrous downfall of the protagonist (central character). Tragedy deals with the dark side of life and aims at inspiring us with pity and awe. Moreover, the characters are involved in circumstances that impel them towards an unhappy fate. Tragedy, in Greek drama, dealt with the fate of characters of high birth and station, kings, princes and their households. In ancient Greece the tragic actor wore a thick-soled and high-heeled boot, called the buskin, to make him appear tall and majestic. From the works of the Greek tragedians, Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, the philosopher Aristotle formulated the most influential definition of tragedy: the imitation of an action that is serious and complete, achieving a catharsis (purification) through incidents arousing pity and terror. Nevertheless in English literature tragedy and comedy are frequently intermingled. There are comic interludes in many of the tragedies (e.g. the Porter scene in Macbeth) which heighten the tragic effect. Until the beginning of the 18th century tragedies were written in verse and they usually dealt with the fortunes of royal families or other political leaders. The 18th century saw the rise of a new type of tragedy called the DOMESTIC TRAGEDY, which attempted to use the characters and incidents of ordinary life as the subject of serious drama. Modern tragic drama combines the socially inferior protagonist of domestic tragedy with the use of prose as in the plays of Henrik Ibsen. Tragedy can be classified into Classical and Romantic with reference to its form or structure and with reference to its matter or theme. Classical Tragedy is characterized by its observance of the Three Unities of Time, Action and Place and also the employment of the device of the Chorus. Romantic Tragedy does not follow the Three Unities and except for an occasional introductory passage, it does not employ the Chorus. It is written in whatever form the writer finds best suited to his dramatic purpose.
COMEDY is a fictional work that interests and amuses us. The term ‘comedy’ is usually applied only to plays that deal with the light side of life and its chief aim is to amuse the audience. Fortune is unkind to the characters for a while but everything comes right in the end. In Greek drama, Comedy dealt with people of much less importance than kings and princes. The comic actor wore a light shoe, called the sock, to show his lower status. The atmosphere of Comedy is joyous and light; it explores the common human failings and moves us to laughter. For the Greeks the purpose of Comedy was to correct the social failings of the audience and thereby to refine conduct. The classical plays of Greece and Rome were either pure tragedies or pure comedies; there was no mingling of the one with the other. But in many English comedies there is a background of tragic possibilities that heightens the comic effect. Like Tragedy, Comedy is either Classical or Romantic depending on whether it observes or ignores the Classical rules. On the basis of themes Comedy can be classified into types such as Comedy of Humours, Comedy of Manners and Sentimental Comedy.
TRAGI-COMEDY is a type of Elizabethan drama that intermingled both the standard characters and subject matter and the standard plot-forms of tragedy and comedy. Tragi-comedy represented a serious action which threatened a tragic disaster to the protagonist; yet, by a sudden change of circumstance, turned out happily. The comic relief in a tragedy intensifies the tragic effect by contrast and does not materially affect the tone of the play. For example characters like the Fool in King Lear do nor evoke laughter but intensify the tragic theme. Similarly a tragic background makes a comedy more effective. Tragicomedy is a complete tragedy up to a certain point and a complete comedy after that. The Rising Action (or growth of the plot) is tragedy and the Falling Action (the downward course of the plot) is comedy; the Climax separates the two. Tragicomedy was unknown to the Greeks; it is the dramatic counterpart of the prose romance that was popular in England and other European countries at the time. Beaumont and Fletcher’s A King and No King established tragi-comedy on the English stage. Later Shakespeare and other dramatists created some of the greatest tragi-comedies of English literature.
MELODRAMA is a popular form of sensational drama that flourished in the nineteenth century theatre. In its early stages song had a prominent place in it for the term means ‘song-drama’ in Greek; but now the term is confined to a crudely sensational play which relied on physical action, purely theatrical language and behaviour, and naive sentiment for its effect. The characters are mere puppets in an extravagant story of crime, revenge, the evils of gambling, or missing heirs in which villainy is foiled and virtue triumphant (e.g. Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy). Melodrama came into prominence in the eighteenth century and was amazingly popular. These plays were notable for their wonderful scenic devices. They are rarely attempted in the theatre now that the cinema can show them much more convincingly.
MASQUE is a spectacular kind of dramatic entertainment that was a melody of music, elaborate scenic effects, and dancing, woven around a fairy tale, myth or allegory. It originated in Italy and was introduced into England in the sixteenth century. Vizars or masks, elaborate costumes and dancing were the features of the early masque. Later the Masque developed into something like a modern ballet characterized by the following traits: (a) the characters are deities of classical mythology and personified like Love, Delight etc.; (b) only six characters; (c) the scenes are laid in ideal regions such as Arcadia; (d) various dances are introduced at appropriate places; (e) elaborate scenery and costumes. Attention was paid to elaborate dresses and scenic effects and not to the literary qualities of the text. So the Masque had only a short period of glory; it is now only a historical curiosity. Shakespeare included a short masque scene in The Tempest (1611), and Milton’s play Comus (1634) is loosely related to the masque.
EPIC DRAMA / THEATRE is a revolutionary form of drama developed by the German playwright Bertolt Brecht from the late 1920’s. It rejected the Aristotelian models of dramatic unity and favoured a detached narrative (hence ‘epic’) presentation in a succession of loosely related episodes interspersed with songs and commentary by a chorus or narrator. He turned against the bourgeois tradition of theatre and aimed at an alienation effect by setting his plays in remote times and places and by preventing any sympathetic identification with the protagonists in order to encourage them to think critically about the meaning of the play. The
best examples of this drama are Brecht’s plays The Threepenny Opera (1928), Mother Courage (1941), and The Good Woman of Setzuan (1943).
ABSURDIST DRAMA is rooted in the existential philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. They viewed a human being as isolated in an alien universe that is devoid of inherent truth or meaning. In such a hostile universe that is suddenly divested of illusion and lights, man feels himself a stranger. This divide between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is the feeling of Absurdity. Samuel Beckett is the most significant dramatist of Absurdism. Absurdist drama is distinguished by an almost lack of exposition. The plot is not continuous; there is no closure either. Absurdist drama emphasizes the weakness of language as a means of communication and thus reflects the cultural-crisis of the post-modern era. The classic work of absurdist theatre is Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1952).
KITCHEN-SINK/ WORKING CLASS DRAMA was the post-war revolt against pre-war modes of the fifties. It was anti-intellectual and provided new content to drama; it depicted with energy and vitality the life and style of the new generation. John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger is the best example of this type of drama. It is about Jimmy Porter, the typical ‘angry young man’, a university graduate who runs a sweet shop and vents his frustration on himself, his wife and the system. The label ‘working class drama’ is applied to the plays that appeared between 1958 and 1961 because they focused on the aimless drifting of the young, the poor and the unemployed.
THE ONE-ACT PLAY is not a full-length play in miniature. It is a form by itself with laws of its own. The one-act play is brief and compact and imposes severe restrictions on the playwright. He has to present his characters and situations with a few strokes; each sentence of the dialogue must contribute something. Brevity — in plot, in characterisation and in dialogue — is the essence of the one-act play. It has a single main episode and is either pure comedy or pure tragedy and is confined to a single place. Hence it resembles classical drama.
DRAMATIC IRONY is a form of contrast. It happens when what is being said or done on the stage has one meaning for the characters and another for the spectators who know something that the characters do not know. If the irony arises out of what is said, it is Verbal Irony; if it is out of what is done, it is Irony of Situation.
SOLILOQUY is an actor’s secret thoughts uttered loud on stage to acquaint the audience with what is passing in his mind. It is not supposed to be heard by anyone and is spoken when no other actor is present. Soliloquy is not meant to be treated as speech. It is only a conventional way of conveying to an audience something that it could not get in any other way.
ASIDE is a passing thought uttered aloud by an actor in front other actors on the stage, who are not supposed to hear it. It is the shortest form of the Soliloquy and serves a similar purpose.
CHORUS is a group of singers distinct from the main actors in a dramatic or musical performance. In classical Greek tragedy a chorus of twelve or fifteen masked performers would sing, with dancing movements, commenting on the action of the play and interpreting its events from the standpoint of traditional wisdom. This practice was derived from the choral lyrics of religious festivals.
H.H.MUNRO’S THE DEATH TRAP
Saki was the pen name of H.H. Munro, a prolific British writer of short stories and plays. His work is characterized by wit, word-play and surprise endings. The Death Trap is one of his popular one-act plays. It captures the last minutes in the life of a courageous and clever young prince, Dimitri.
Dimitri, a young prince of seventeen, is the ruler of Kedaria. However, there is a faction that supports a rival, Prince Karl. When the curtain rises, three officers of the Kranitzki regiment are plotting the assassination of Prince Dimitri. The Kranitzki regiment is loyal to Prince Karl. They have found the perfect time to murder the prince – in the very brief interval between the marching out of the loyal Andrieff regiment and the arrival of the equally loyal Lonyadi regiment. Vontieff, unlike the other two cold-blooded officers, has feelings of guilt about the imminent murder and sympathy for the young prince. He wishes that “the finger of Heaven” would remove Dimitri.
Dimitri enters and the three officers leave. Dimitri is aware of the deadly plot as all his weapons have been taken from him on some pretext or the other. Stronetz, the loyal doctor comes to meet the prince. Dimitri tells the doctor that he knows he has very little time left. Stronetz is shocked to hear about the deadly plot and wonders how the prince can talk about his own death as if it were a game of chess. Dimitri’s self-control breaks and he speaks passionately about his desire to live and enjoy life. Stronetz offers to give him a quick-acting drug that will enable him to kill himself before the assassins reach him. Dimitri refuses the offer because he has never seen anyone being killed and this is his last chance! At this point they hear the Andrieff regiment marching out and know that there is very little time left.
Suddenly, Dr Stronetz has a brainwave. He rushes towards the prince and examines his heart. The three villains enter. The doctor tells them that his examination has resulted in a terrible diagnosis. The prince is fatally ill- he will live only for six more days. The officers are taken aback. They leave the room to discuss this new turn of events. The jubilant prince thanks the doctor for his trick. But he is aghast to hear from the doctor that the diagnosis was real- that he has only six days of life left. Being a true prince, Dimitri quickly accepts this cruel blow of fate with courage and says “Death has come for me twice in one evening…he must be in earnest” He asks for the bottle of poison to kill himself ; being a monarch he does not want to be kept waiting by death. Stronetz leaves, controlling his great sorrow.
The Prince gets a brilliant idea as he is about to add poison to the wine he plans to drink. He empties the poison into the bottle of wine instead and pours the poisoned wine into four goblets. The three officers enter; they have dropped their plan to murder the prince as “the finger of Heaven” will soon kill him. Dimitri offers them the wine; they drink without any suspicion. As they collapse, Dimitri tells them that they are about to die and that he will march into the next world at the head of his ‘loyal’ guards! Before he dies, he is able to ensure the death of the three wicked men. Thus Dimitri acts with courage and quick-wittedness and turns the tables on his disloyal guards.
Though the three officers had set a death trap for Dimitri, at the end of the play, they are caught in the death trap created by Dimitri. The title is therefore doubly significant.
SERAFIN AND JOAQUIN QUINTERO’S A SUNNY MORNING
Serafin and Joaquin Quintero are two brothers who have carved a place for themselves in Spanish drama. These two dramatists are masters of light plays that capture the spirit of Spanish life. A Sunny Morning is a very entertaining comedy that depicts an old romance in a humorous and totally unsentimental light.
The setting is a park in Madrid, the era is a by-gone age. The two main characters are Don Gonzalo and Dona Laura, a gentleman and a lady who are both over seventy years old. They meet by chance in the park. They are rude to each other at the beginning. They exchange nasty remarks about each other’s age, eyesight, hunting and so on. But Don Gonzalo is forced to share the lady’s bench as no other bench is vacant. They slowly give up their animosity. The ill-natured prelude gives way to friendly talk. As their conversation progresses they recognize each other. However, both refuse to reveal their identities. This is because of the sad change that time has caused in their appearance and vitality. We learn that these two had, decades ago, been madly in love with each other. They discuss their love story pretending that it was the story of Don Gonzalo’s cousin and Dona Laura’s friend.
The old romance unfolds as a beautiful story through their dialogue. Years and years ago, in a villa by the sea, there lived a beautiful woman. Her name was Laura Llorente. She had jet black hair, black eyes fair skin, an uncommonly sweet expression and a perfect figure. She was called “The Silver Maiden”. She was in love with a gallant young man called Gonzalo. He would pass by her house every morning on horseback; throw a bouquet of flowers onto her balcony. In the afternoon, he would return and she would throw him a bouquet. Sadly this romance was cut short. Laura’s parents wanted her to marry a merchant. One night when the lover was waiting under her balcony the merchant came there and insulted him. There was a quarrel followed by a duel on the beach. The merchant was seriously wounded and the lover had to flee. He wrote many letters to Laura but they were intercepted by her parents. Thus their love-affair ended.
At this point in the play, the two old people start fabricating noble and tragic ends for themselves Gonzalo says that his “cousin’ in despair joined the army, went to Africa and met his death with Laura’s name on his lips. Dona Laura who knows this is an atrocious lie promptly creates a suitably tragic end for her “friend’. According to her, Laura waited a year but there was no letter from her lover. So, one day she went to the beach wrote Gonzalo’s name on a rock and was washed away by the high tide. Gonzalo knows of course that this is an atrocious lie. The reality, told to us in asides, is that two months after the duel, Gonzalo ran off to Paris with a ballet dancer and two years after the event Laura married someone else.
As the play ends, the two are happy they have met again but still reluctant to confess their true identities. They would rather remember each other as the black-eyed beauty and the gallant horseman. But they promise to meet the next day and to sit on the same bench. The play ends on this sunny and hopeful note.
VINCENT GODEFROY’S FAIL NOT OUR FEAST
V G is a dramatist known for his plays centred on women. FNOF is one such play about three women, Joan Conway, Matilda Walters and Nora Blake. The three were schoolmates at St. Margaret’s School and their friendship continued through youth to maturity. Now, Joan is an M.P., and Matilda is the Headmistress –elect of their former school. Nora who never had any ambition has just drifted along. All three are unmarried. The play delineates a very unusual situation at one of their annual reunions.
The title is a phrase taken from Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth’. The speaker is Macbeth himself. He invites his friend Banquo to a feast and tells him to be sure to attend. However, he has arranged for the assassination of Banquo on the way to the feast. Banquo is killed but his ghost attends the feast. The situation has several parallels in the play. Here too there is a party, the annual reunion of the three friends. There is a false friend, Matilda and Nora as a ghost attends the party.
When the curtain rises, Joan and her maid , Mason, are seen. This year, the annual reunion of the three friends is at Joan’s house. Joan is very upset because Nora is in prison for stealing furs. She is also angry with her friend because Nora stole for gain and not out of need. From the dialogue, we learn that Mason is an exceptional maid. She is well-educated, she can quote from Shakespeare. She anticipates every need of her mistress. As the play progresses, we learn that she is also incredibly brave and cool-headed.
Soon Matilda enters. She has not heard about Nora’s plight. Matilda is full of pride and joy that she is going to be the Headmistress of St Margaret’s school. When Joan tells her about Nora, Matilda is full of sympathy. She rebukes Joan for being unsympathetic. She declares that when Nora comes out of jail, she will do all she can to help her. Unexpectedly, Mason announces the arrival of Nora. The two women are amazed. Nora tells them that she had to come as the three had never missed a reunion so far. They assume she has somehow escaped from her cell. Gradually, the real nature of Matilda surfaces. She is afraid that if Nora, an escaped prisoner, is seen in her company, it might affect her imminent appointment. All her sympathy and love turn out to be masks. Matilda goes to the extent of saying that Nora broke out of jail just to cause trouble for her two friends.
Joan now reveals herself as a true friend. She protects Nora and treats her normally. She is angry with Matilda for her ignoble behaviour. Matilda phones and informs the police that Nora, the escaped prisoner is at the M.P., Joan Conway’s house. Nora leaves at this point after thanking Joan. She says she has learnt one or two things about her friends. What she implies is that she has been able to distinguish between true and false friends. Joan is tough but sincere; Matilda is a selfish hypocrite without an ounce of decency in her.
Joan now turns her anger on Matilda and tells her to leave. This is the end of their friendship. Joan gets a call from the police station. She is stunned to learn that Nora is dead. She had hanged herself in the cell. Mason tells her that the news is in the evening paper and that she had known all along that it was the ghost of Nora that had visited them. Joan is close to collapse. She gets another call; this time it is Nora. She thanks Joan for everything. Joan realizes that Nora had proved that her love was stronger than prison locks. She killed herself in order to attend the reunion; it was the only way she could do so. The play is thus a study in friendship. It is a drawing back of illusion and a revealing of reality.