I wanted to put “The Echoing Green” by William Blake and “The Haunted Beach” by Mary Robinson in conversation with one another. Although both poems’ themes and ideas differ greatly from one another– with “The Echoing Green” focusing on the contrast between youth and growing old, and “The Haunted Beach” focusing on a Fisherman’s guilt for committing a murder– both poems do have a key connection: the color green.
Both poems use the color green as sanctuary from loneliness. In “The Haunted Beach” we are brought through the journey of a Fisherman’s guilt. It is a chaotic guilt that is described in each stanza, but every stanza but one end with the line “Where the green billows played”. This line tells the readers that all of this guilt and turmoil – along with the actual murder itself– takes place in front of the sea. As the moon reflects of the Ocean’s waves, the water looks green. This green is the only consistent thought that the Fisherman has. The ocean is an aspect of nature that the Fisherman is dependant on guiding him in his guilt. The Fisherman is isolated in complete solitude as he deals with his guilt alone. The repetition of the “green billows” displays the fact that nature provides sanctuary from loneliness. Although he cannot grasp fully what he has done, the one thing he can grasp is that this big aspect of nature lies in front of him, almost alive, as it is radiating the color green. This personification of the Ocean in describing it as “playing” is similar to the personification of nature in “The Echoing Green”. Both poems utilize green as this anchor point, a sort of symbol of consistency. The only thing that is consistent in both of these poems, despite everything else changing in the poem, is the color green.
The echoing green is described as the land that the characters and animals are playing on. However, by putting both poems in conversation with one another, we can begin to understand this “echoing green” as nature as a whole. Similar to the Haunted Beach’s repetition of, “Where the green billows play!”, the Echoing Green’s repetition of “On the echoing green” at the end of each stanza produces the same affect of consistency and a sense of comfort for the speakers in the poems.
I think the most significant place that this conversation impacts “The Echoing Green” is in the very last line, when the speaker says, “On the darkening green” instead of “On the echoing green”. As an individual poem, this line is understood as describing the grass at the end of the day, after the children have finished playing and the sun is slowly setting to cause the green to become darker. However, in conversation the the green in “The Haunted Beach”, this line emphasizes the human connection to nature as they grow old. This is brought out by comparing the way that the Fisherman utilizes the human connection to nature to guide him through the chaos of his guilt. The echoing green speaker uses nature to find comfort in the chaos of growing old.
Viewing the “echoing green” as nature (as a whole) is saying that nature grows old with you. This emphasizes how the Earth is growing old alongside of the speaker. It represents the comfort by Nature against the loneliness of old age. This is shown by the lines, “Many sisters and brothers/ Like birds in their nest, / Are ready for rest,” Everyone around the speaker is ready to leave. Nature, although still growing old with the speaker, is still there. Despite Nature also growing old with you it will always remain green.
I wanted to look at the poem, “Sonnet (To an Octogenarian) by William Wordsworth through the lens of comparing it to Wordsworth’s earlier poem, “An Old Man Travelling”. There were several themes in both of these poems that related to one another. They are both, at the core of their messages, about the concept of time, and how one accepts this constant movement in time. I found this interesting because both of these poems have such developed ideas about time, that differ greatly from one another. It was interesting to see how wordsworth’s perception of time had evolved as he lived through it on his own.
“The Old Man Travelling” emphasizes the idea of re-envisioning the concept of age and growing old in time. This poem romanticizes the experience of an old man and explores the beauty of having been raisined with time. There is this idea that there is a physical pain that may be present through the withering of time, but the mind is at peace. There is a lack of a mental burden in comparing it to physical pain. A line that highlights this idea is, “A man who does not move with pain, but moves | With thought. He is insensibly subdued” (L 6-7). This line captures the theme of the entire poem by expressing how important the old man’s mental space is, despite his old age.
In contrast to this, “Sonnet (To an Octogenarian)” takes a different approach to the idea of time. This poem is a lot more fearful, and in this, a lot more lonely. There is an emptiness to the experience of time that is not present in “The Old Man Travelling”. “Affections lose their object; Time brings forth / No successors; and, lodged in memory, / If love exist no longer, it must die,” (L 1-3). In these lines, Wordsworth expresses how time is not worth experiencing when love no longer exists. In other words, loneliness burdens your experience with time so much that it is empty. There is a lack of motivation to continue on without “love”. Wordsworth also adds to this idea by expressing how mourful it is to be given the part of being the “sole survivor of thy race” (L 10). By this, he is saying that it is painful to feel like you are the last person alive who understands you. Time has not only withered away your body, but the love surrounding you as well. This concept is so different from “The Old Man Travelling”, who, although never explicitly said to be alone, has also gone through the trials of growing old in time. The Old man was never so burdened by age. He was at peace, insensibly subdued.
The contrast of the ideas of time support how much more brutal “Sonnet (To an Octogenarian)” is. Without looking at this lens of comparing this poem to “The Old Man Travelling”, the raw idea of this poem is just focusing on a person who is experiencing an empty loneliness at an old age. However, by comparing the two poems, the audience is given the perspective that this speaker is experiencing an empty loneliness at an old age, but this is so far from their expectations and views on being old, that they had decades ago. It is so morbid because in “The Old Man Travelling” there was a sense of hope for the future. An expectation that time would wither away your body, but your mind would be nourished and at peace. In “Sonnet (To an Octogenarian)”, it is revealed that this is not how things turned out. The hope that was in “The Old Man Travelling” was unfulfilled. Wordsworth is digging at this theme of Man vs. Time in a way that exploits the duality in the beauty and the burden of nature, and things in nature that are out of human control (time).
These ideas are important in understanding both poems because you cannot have it one way or the other. The message that the two poems are speaking together is that time is uncontrollable. The human relationship with time is something that is hopeful and beautiful, but in the same will also always be brutal and painful. The poems together highlight this idea by being in conversation with one another, as opposed to individually. We are only given one side of this conversation by reading these poems separately.
The title of “A Red Red Rose” by William Blake already gives an insight into the different levels of complexity in the rest of the poem. At first read, this poem is clearly about a deep love that is described in metaphor to a red rose. However, I think that the title “A Red Red Rose” indicates that this rose is not only red in its color, but it is also on fire. There are several parts of this poem that also support this idea of the rose burning. The themes of water in contrast to the dry, blazing temperatures of June indicate that this rose is existing in either the extremity of blazing heat or the vast sea. However, the line, “And I will love thee still my dear,| Till a’ the seas gang dry”(7-8) points to the idea of this vast ocean being drained and leaving us with the emptiness of dry sand. I think that this not only supports the idea that this rose is experiencing the extremity of the heat, but also the idea that this love (that the rose is representing) is so extreme that it will remain so long until even when the ocean no longer remains, this love will. This love is filled with such passion that is so burning that it is destructive.
Blake conveys an intensity that can only be shown through an imagery of a burning rose. A rose is often seen as gentle, delicate, and even sacred. To show a rose burning is to emphasize to the reader the dual emotion of pain and beauty in a love so deep. There is a pain in watching this sacred rose burn, yet the flame against the petals is also a rarely beautiful sight.
Blake uses this imagery of a burning red rose to convey the urgency and intensity of a love that is in turn self-destructive. Blake is drawing readers to the idea that similar to nature, love is uncontrollable and needs to be left alone to be tended to.
This idea takes us back to the uncontrollable complexity that is nature. Blake is telling us that love and nature go hand in hand. It is all in the same because both love and nature are things that cannot be controlled and should not be controlled.
The use of sarcasm and satire word choices in Sweet Meat Has Sour Sauce by William Cowper allows readers to view the poem through simpler ideas despite the underlying theme being such a societally heavy topic. This poem calls out society’s acceptance to slavery and more importantly, their ignorance in understanding the evil in slavery because of their choice to be oblivious to them. I want to hone in on the first stanza. The use of the word “trader” is used with double meaning. This word draws the reader into understanding the speaker’s occupation, but in reality, also is a note to the speaker’s character. “Trader” is also interpreted as “traitor”, showing how the reader is so disloyal to the African shore that they are harming it. The word “traitor” holds deeper levels of betrayal, especially because you can’t betray something without already having an established trust or responsibility to it. Although the speaker may not be from the African shore, the pre-established trust or responsibility there is to the people of the African shore. That pre-established responsibility is there because the speaker (a human) has the pre-established responsibility to other human beings.
There is also heavier irony in the third line, “I’ll sing you a song which you ne’er heard before.” (619). This line has elements of sarcasm that play into the intentional irony in this poem. The messages of this poem being reduced to the simple expression of a “song” conveys this childlike naivety. This feeling is significant because it exaggerates an assumed stupidity for the audience that the speaker is talking to, and by doing this, the speaker is also calling the audience (the society that accepts slavery) stupid (for lack of a better word).
The most recurring showcase of sarcasm/satire is the repetition at the end of each stanza that says, “Which nobody can deny, deny, | Which nobody can deny!” There is a tune to these lines that plays into the theme of childlike naivety, and similar to line 3, the concept of song being used as a tool to convey this childlike naivety. This use of repetition is also used to engrave this naivety into every section of the poem. This is important because it shows how the structure of this poem is set to express the contrast from childlike naivety to inhumane ignorance.
“The Old Man Travelling” embraces the themes of romantic poetry by emphasizing the idea of re-envisioning the concept of age and growing old and the sublime of this. This is similar to the way that the romantic movement focuses on the individual experience and compares it to nature and emphasizes the melancholy of the time. The enjambment of, “A man who does not move with pain but moves | With thought. He is insensibly subdued” (157), highlights the old man’s separation from his body. Because the enjambment separates “moves” and “with thought”, this causes a dive into the meaning of “movement”. He is able to move “with thought” as compared to “pain”, which could represent any kind of physical aging as a concept of pain. Instead, his ability to move “with thought” tells the reader of this idea of mind over body and the old man was able to achieve this. The movement that the man experiences in his life is primarily the movement of his mind. This re-envisions the typical image of old men, who are usually burdened by constant pain. Instead, this old man moves completely separate from it. The line, “He is insensibly subdued” following after “with thought” emphasizes that his movement in thought also does not carry any mental pain or burdens. He is one with his mind and his journey “travelling”. This brings me to my second point: even the title of the poem tells to the themes of it. The concept of an old man travelling is already seen as something out of the ordinary because old men would be seen as fragile and weak– in other words, incapable of “travelling” very far physically. Throughout the poem, the readers are pointed to the potential that maybe the old man is travelling through his experience. Maybe the way that the old man experiences his day-to-day life is in similar manner to the way a person travelling experiences the journey. The line, “To peace so perfect that the young behold | With envy what the old man hardly feels” (L 14-15), suggests that the old man is at a place in his mind– after a lifetime of age– where he travels through what is left of his life at peace. He does this in a way that feels enjoyable (or at least with content), similar to the joy of a journey as you travel.