Showing posts with label Literary Terms. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Literary Terms. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

What is a Dramatic Monologue?

A poem in which there is one imaginary speaker addressing an imaginary audience. In most dramatic monologues, some attempt is made to imitate natural speech. In a successful example of the genre, the persona will not be confused with the poet.
In its most fully developed form, the dramatic monologue is a Victorian genre, eeectively created by Tennyson and Browsing, yet the idea of a lyric in the voice of an imagined persona seems to be very ancient. Its origins are obscure. The idylls of Theocritus, written in the 3rd C. BC and acknowledged by Tennyson as a primary source, are dramatic in form and include long speeches; these tend to be self-revelatory and are conversational in idiom. Ovid’s Heroides (1st C. BC) is a collection of letters or speeches ascribed to various figures from myth and literature. Very often they are female characters, who look at the actions of their heroic men from an emotional or domestic viewpoint; they are theefore among the first works of literature to focus on interiority at the expense of action. The same talent for dramatizing emotion is apparent in Ovid’s love lyrics, as also in those of his contemporary Propertius.
Such poems, especially Ovid’s, were influential throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The influence is to be noted in the tradition of complaint , so prominent in those eras; and many complaints, though written by men, purport to be spoken by women. In English, the carliest example of this phenomenon is an OE poem, The Wife’s Lament, written down in the 10th c. Other important examples of the sub-genre were composed by Chaucer, Robert Henrysoun, the Earl of Surrey, George Gascoigne, Spenser and Sumual Daniel.

What is an Epic?

An epic is a long narrative poem, on a grand scale, about the deeds of warriors and heroes. It is a polygonal, ‘heroc’ story incorporating myth, legend, folk tale and history. Epics are often of national significance in the sense that they embody the history and aspirations of a nation in a lofty or grandiose manner.
Basically, there are two kinds of epic: (a) primary- also known as oral or primitive; (b) secondary- also known as literary. The first belongs to the oral tradition and is thus composed orally and  recited; only much later, in some cases, is it written down. The second is written down at the start.
In category (a) we may place, for example, Gilgamesh, Iliad and Odyssey, Beowulf, the lays of the Elder Edda and the epic cycles or narodne pesme of the South Slavs. In category (b) we may put Virgil’s Aeneid, LUcan’s Pharsalia, the anonymous Song of Roland, Camoens’s Lost and Victor Hugo’s La Legende des siecles.
There is also a very large number of other poems which might be put into one or other category. The majority belong approximately to category (b).
Gilgamesh, the Sumerian epic (c. 3000 BC), is the earliest extant work in the oral tradition. It recounts the adventures of the king of that name, his travels with Dnkidu the wild man, Enkidu’s death and then the journey of Gilgamesh to the Babylonian Noah, Utnapishtim- the only man known to have discovered the secret of immortality. Utnapishtim shows him the plant of life. On his return a snake robs Gilgamesh of the plant, but the king consoles himself with the fame he has gained as the builder of the walls of Erech. The poem, which is in twelve books, is an account of a man’s search for glory and eternal life.

What is an Elegy ?

In classical literature an elegy was any poem composed of elegiac distichs , also known as elegiacs, and the subjects were various; death, war, love and similar themes. The elegy was also used for epitaphs  and commemorative verses, and very often there was a mourning strain in them. However, it is only since the 16th c. that an elegy has come to mean a poem of mourning for an individual, or a lament for some tragic event. In England there were few attempts in the 16th c. to imitate elegiacs because the language is unsuited to prolonged series of dactylic hexameters and pentameters. 16th c. French writers like Doublet and Ronsard had the same problem.
Near the turn of the 16th c., the term elegie still covered a variety of subject matter. For example, Donne wrote Elegie. His Picture, and Elegie. On his Mistris. Later the term came to be applied more and more to a serious meditative poem, the kind that Coleridge was hinting at when he spoke of elegy as the form of poetry ‘natural to a reflective mind’. English literature is especially rich in this kind of poetry, which, at times, is closely akin to the lament and the dirge . For instance, the OE poems The Wanderer, The Seafarer and Deor’s Lament, several medieval yrics, Thomas Nashe’s song ‘Adieu, farewell earth’s bliss’, Johnson’s Vanity of Human Wishes, Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village, Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, Young’s Night Thoughts, Keats’s Ode to Melanoholy and Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed- to name only a handful of the scores that exist.

What is a Sonnet?

The term derives from the Italian sonetto, a ‘little sound’ or ‘song’. Except for the curtal sonnet the ordinary sonnet consists of fourteen lines, usually in iambic pentameters with considerable variations in rhyme scheme. The three basic sonnet forms are: (a) the Petrarchan, which comprises an octave rhyming abbaabba and a sestet , rhyming edecde or cdedcd. or in any combination except a rhyming couplet ; (b) the Spenserian of three quatrains and a couplet, rhyming abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee; (c) the Shakespearean, again with three quatrains and a couplet, rhyming abab, eded, efef, gg.
The Italian form is the commonest. The octave develops one thought; there is then a ‘turn’ or volta, and the sestet grows out of the octave, varies it and completes it.
In the other two forms a different idea is expressed in each quatrain; each grows out of the one preceding it; and the argument, theme and dialect are concluded, ‘tied up’ in the binding end-couplet.
The Petrarchan sonnet probably developed from the Sicilian strambotto. It consisted of two quatrains to which were added two tercets . The earliest sonnets are attributed to Giacomo da Lentino (c. 1215-33) of the Sicilian School. But the form may have been invented by another poet at the court of the Emperor Frederick II in Sicily. At any rate, throughout the later Middle Ages, the form was used by all the Italian lyric poets, notably Guinicelli, Cavalcanti asnd Dante. They usually used it for love poetry and more particularly for that semi-Platonic and semi-religious devotion to the Lady or Donna which subsequently became a cliche of love pertry.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What is a Ballad?

The word ballad derives from the late Latin and Italian ballare, ‘to dance’. Fundamentally a ballad is a song that tells a story and originally was a musical accompaniment to a dance. We can distinguish certain basic characteristics common to large numbers of ballads: (a) the beginning is often abrupt; (b) the language is simple: (c) the story is told through dialogue and action; (d) the theme is often tragic (though there are a number of comic ballads); (e) there is often a refrain (q.v). To these features we may add: a ballad usually deals with a single episode; the events leading to the crisis are related swiftly; there is minimal detail of surroundings; there is a strong dramatic element; there is considerable intensity and immediacy in the narration; the narrator is impersonal; stock, well-tried epithets are used in the oral tradition  of kennings and Homeric epithets ; there is frequently incremental repetition ; the single line of action and the speed of the story preclude much attempt at delineation of character; imagery is sparse and simple.
We may distinguish further between two basic kinds of ballad: the folk or traditional ballad and the literary ballad. The former is anomymous and is transmitted from singer to singer by word of mouth. It thus belongs to oral tradition . In this manner ballads have been passed down from generation to generation over centuries. Inevitably, this has led to many variations of one particular story. The folk ballad has tended to flourish among illiterate or semi-literate people in rural environments, and is still a living tradition in northern Greece, in parts of the Central Balkans (e.g. Bosinia-Hercegovina, Montenegro and Serbia) and in Sicily.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What is an Ode?

The main features are an elaborate stanza-structure, a marked formality and stateliness in tone and style (which make it ceremonious), and lofty sentiments and thoughts. In short, an ode is rather a grand poem; full-dress poem. However, this said, we can distinguish two basic kinds; the public and the private. The public is used for ceremonial occasions, like funerals, birthdays, state events; the private often celebrates rather intense, personal, and subjective occasions; it is inclined to be meditative, reflective. Tennyson’s Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington is an example of the former; Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale, an example of the latter.
The earliest odes of any note- or any rate poems which could be put into the ode category- were written by Sappho (fl. c. 600 BC) and Alcaeus (fl. c. 611-580 BC). Fragments of Sappho’s Ode to Aphrodite and Alcaeus’s Ode to Castor and Polydeuces wtill survive.
Next, and more important, was Pindar (522-442 BC), a native of Thebes, whose odes were written for public occasions, especially in honour of victors in the Greek games. Modelled on the choric songs of Greek drama, they consisted of strophe, antistrophe and epode ; a patterned stanza movement intended for choral song and dance.
Pindar’s Latin counterpart was Horace (65-8 BC), but his odes were private and personal. They were stanzaically regular and based on limited metrical patterns, especially Alcaics and Sapphics. Between them Pindar and Horace were the begetters of the ode and both influenced the development of the form in Renaissance Europe. Meantime, the Provencal canso and the Italian canzone came near to the ode. Dante described the canzone as a composition ‘in the tragic style, of equal stanzas without choral interludes, with reference to one subject’.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What is a lyric ?

The Greeks defined a lyric as a song to be sung to the accompaniment of a lyre (lyra). A song is still called a lyric (the songs in a musical are known as lyrics) but we also use the term loosely to describe a particular kind of poem in order to distinguish it from narrative or dramatic verse of any kind.
A lyric is usually fairly short, not often longer than fifty or sixty lines, and often only between a dozen and thirty lines; and it usually expresses the feelings and thoughts of a single speaker (not necessarily the poet himself) in a personal and subjective fashion. The range and variety of lyric verse is immense, and lyric poetry, which is to be found in most literatures, comprises the bulk of all poetry.
Probably the earliest lyric poetry is Egyptian (c. 2600 BC). The Pyramid texts of this period reveal examples of the funeral song (a kind of elegy), the song of praise to the king (a type of ode), and an invocation to the gods (a form of hymn). Inscriptions on tombs of the same period include the songs of shepherds and fishermen. Later works (C. 1550 BC) include a love-song and an epitaph .
Apart from some Hebrew lyric poetry, the most memorable contribution in ancient times came from the Greeks. Like the Egyptian and Hebrew, the Greek lyric originated in religious ceremonial. Greek lyrics were sung or chanted, sometimes to the accompaniment of a dance. The dithyramb was originally sung and then took on the shape of a formal dance. These dithyrambic rhythms were probably the prototypes of the ode , or song of celebration (with divisions of strophe and antistrophe), which Pindar and Sophocles, among others, were to write.