“Dracula”: Book Review

I first read Dracula when I was studying towards my A-Levels; I wrote a paper comparing certain aspects of Robert Browning’s poems, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. During this time, I did enjoy reading the prolific gothic novel, yet, as I was studying it, I felt as though I might not have appreciated it as much as I could have done. So, I decided that it was time for a reread.

A Bit of Context

Dracula by Bram Stoker.jpg

TitleDracula.
Author: Bram Stoker.
Publication: 1897, ‎Archibald Constable and Company.
My Edition: 2008, Oneworld Classics.
Length: 354 pages.
Genre: Classic, Horror.

Abraham “Bram” Stoker was an Irish writer born in the mid-nineteenth century. His life was not particularly noteworthy until he moved to London to take over the management of Henry Irving’s theatre. This brought him into the midst of a growing literary society, home to writers such as Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Stoker’s first novel, The Snake’s Pass, was published in 1890, yet this, along with his earlier works, which consisted of short stories and children’s fiction, was very unsuccessful. His next novel was Dracula, yet this, too, was unpopular when it was first published. Then, towards the end of Stoker’s lifetime, the novel resurfaced in the literary world and, finally, Stoker was awarded the success that he deserved.

Since then, Dracula has never once been out of print, and is responsible for countless adaptations. It is one of the forefathers of the gothic genre and, as well as providing significant insights into contemporary attitudes towards sex, religion and globalisation, it makes a fantastic story.

Plot Overview

Dracula is an epistolary novel, which means that, rather than consisting of one, long narrative, it is told through various letters and diary entries. This also means that the narrator of the story is constantly changing, which helps to break up this rather long novel. The story follows the experiences of seven primary characters: Jonathan Harker, John Seward, Professor Van Helsing, Quincey Morris, Lord Godalming, Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra.

It begins with Jonathan Harker, a legal clerk who has been sent to visit a foreign Count who is planning on moving to England. This Count, Dracula, is a very mysterious man, but Harker does not suspect him of anything sinister until he realises that Dracula has locked him inside of the castle – he is a prisoner. The Count, meanwhile, is crawling up and down the building wearing Harker’s clothes and pretending to be him as he sends letters and makes himself known in town.

There is a poison in my blood, in my soul, which may destroy me; which must destroy me, unless some relief comes to us  –  Dracula.

From this point onwards, the story follows the mysterious story of Count Dracula. He moves to England, as he planned, and, once there, he produces pure chaos. Wolves escape from zoos and mysterious bite marks begin to appear on sleeping women. I don’t want to give too much more away here, because, if you haven’t already read Dracula, I strongly recommend that you do read it, even if you do not ordinarily like the classics. It has become a strong influence for many modern books, from vampire-based books such as Twilight to the Harry Potter series. What I will say, though, is that the band of characters who I mentioned earlier form a sort of defence team who work together as they attempt to vanquish the vampire.

*** THE NEXT SECTION OF THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS. IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A SPOILER-FREE REVIEW, THEN I SUGGEST THAT YOU SKIP TO THE “MY CONCLUSION” SECTION OF THIS POST! ***

Going Deeper into the Novel…

In this section of my reviews, I like to choose a couple of themes from the book that I can discuss a little more thoroughly. This time, I would like to talk about women, and I would like to talk about life.

Women

There are two female characters in Dracula: Mina and Lucy. They are friends, but are very different kinds of women. Mina is obedient and loyal, always thinking of ways in which she can aid her husband. Lucy, meanwhile, is much more flirtatious; she receives three marriage proposals in one day, suggesting that she has led each man on, two of them under false pretences. She holds this power over her suitors, which reflects contemporary fears regarding ‘the new woman’, a powerful, independent woman who was not reliant on men.

Dracula - Annotations.jpgThese allusions to ‘the new woman’ are emphasised when Lucy is given vampiric powers. With these powers, she attacks young children, which demonstrates a clear rejection of her maternal instincts and the only role that was traditionally considered suitable for women – childcare.

Interestingly, though, it is not only Lucy who demonstrates these characteristics. From early on in Dracula, it is revealed that Mina is a very intelligent woman. She knows the train tables off by heart and even knows shorthand. This is not a threat to masculinity until later on, when Professor Van Helsing suggests that she has a “man-brain”. Both Lucy and Mina thus reflect the growing contemporary fear of female power. Whether women reject their maternal instincts and abuse men, or whether they find a way to outwit men, this is a new kind of woman.

Life

Dracula poses many questions about life, death and life after death. After all, we meet Renfield, one of the patients in Doctor Seward’s asylum, who is desperate to “consume” life. He begins by luring a large number of flies into his room, and then feeds them to his collection of spiders. He uses the spiders to tempt birds inside, and then he eats the birds (only because Seward refused him a cat).

It’s a brutal process that is repeated many times throughout the course of the novel. Yet it represents more than mere brutality; it represents the vampire race, and the idea of attacking people for their souls, blood or, in Renfield’s terms, “life”.

I don’t care for the pale people, I like them with lots of blood in them, and hers had all seemed to have run out. I didn’t think of it at the time, but when she went away I began to think, and it made me mad to know that He had been taking the life out of her  –  Dracula.

In contextual terms, this idea of stealing life relates both to science and religion. This is due to the links to euthanasia, which are emphasised when Mina asks the men if they will – if it comes to it – kill her. Science was progressing quite quickly during this period, and euthanasia had begun to be discussed more openly. It was a moral dilemma, and is one that is debated throughout Dracula. It must be said, though, that although Mina pleads for this action to be carried out, Stoker does seem to present euthanasia as a negative thing. After all, the Count causes his victims to want to be bitten, and perhaps to want to die, too. This may suggest that those seeking euthanasia can be easily manipulated. You see, we would not call Dracula’s actions euthanasia; we would call them murder.

My Conclusion

I could not be happier with my decision to reread Dracula. I enjoyed the novel the first time around when I had to read it, but, this time, I enjoyed it even more. The characters are so distinct that, what with their layered narratives, this novel feels much longer than it actually is. I also need to mention Stoker’s incredible descriptions. Dracula’s castle was made so real to me through his language; it was easy to see how a nineteenth-century reader would be afraid of the Count.

Dracula - Annotations2.jpgWhilst I personally did not feel this fear, the novel did evoke some strong emotions in me. I became excited as the tension grew, and disappointed whenever the group fighting Dracula met a pitfall. More than anything else, though, I was intrigued. Stoker’s world is so mesmerising – so distinct. Perhaps the two most interesting aspects of it are (a) the way that Mina is able to see into the mind of Dracula, which reminded me pointedly of the way, in the Harry Potter books, that Harry is able to look into the mind of Lord Voldemort, and (b) the vampire women, who are both sensual and destructive.

I could honestly continue to talk about Dracula for hours, but I have already written an essay about it, so I’ll hold off. Truly though, I can’t hide how special this book is, and how desperate I am to recommend it to anyone and everyone. If I had one critique, it would be that the book does seem a little slow at times, but I never really felt that this stopped me from enjoying the story. If anything, it made me love it all the more!


Thank you so much for reading this review! This book was a part of my July 2018 reading challenge; if you have been wondering why I haven’t written any reviews for the books in this challenge (before this), it is because I am seriously behind with my reading. It has taken me a long time to finish Dracula, not because of the novel, but because of how busy I have been recently. Nevertheless, I hope to fit in a few more books before the end of the month, so stay tuned for more reviews!

You can click here for an A-Z list of all my reviews (so far)!

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“A Christmas Carol”: Book Review

I have only really read one book by Charles Dickens before, this being the famous Great Expectations. Even this was a fair while ago, though, so I decided that this summer, even if it is a little out of season, I would finally get around to reading A Christmas Carol.

Cover.jpgA Bit of Context

Title: A Christmas Carol.
Author: Charles Dickens.
Publication: 1843, Chapman & Hall.
My Edition: 2003, Penguin.
Length: 
92 pages.
Genre(s): Classic, Christmas, Fantasy.

A Christmas Carol was written towards the middle of Dickens’ career. He had already published works such as Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers, but was yet to write the majority of his great works, which include Great ExpectationsDavid Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities. The majority of these novels were published as serials, which meant that a chapter or two would be released in a weekly or monthly magazine. They were, in a sense, the Victorian Period’s Eastenders. Yet A Christmas Carol is a novella, and, as it is much shorter, it didn’t need to be broken down into this serialised form. It was therefore published in 1843 alongside some of Dickens’ other Christmas writings, such as The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton.

It reflects an interesting view of Christmas as, during this period, old traditions, such as the Christmas carol, were combined with new ones, such as the Christmas tree. In fact, many of our principles of modern-day Christmas derive from the Victorian Period, and these changes that were taking place are glorified in A Christmas Carol.

Plot Overview

The story of A Christmas Carol may be better known than any other classic novel, but, in case you’ve been living as a hermit for all of your life (which is by no means a bad thing), allow me to give you a brief overview of the main events taking place in this novella.

*** If you want to avoid plot spoilers, I suggest skipping this section entirely as I give pretty much everything away! ***

The story begins by following Ebenezer Scrooge as he busies himself in his counting house. He is portrayed as an exceptionally self-centred man, turning away charity workers and ignoring his nephew when he comes to wish him a merry Christmas. Scrooge also introduces us to that extraordinarily famous phrase, “Bah, humbug!”

We also learn that, quite a few years ago, Scrooge lost his business partner, Jacob Marley. We are reminded of this fact when, after returning home from work, Scrooge is visited by Marley’s ghost. Marley carries with him a large, heavy chain that is essentially made of his own selfishness. He warns Scrooge that, if he does not change his ways, he will have to spend his afterlife lugging around a chain that is just as heavy as Marley’s is.

The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.
–  A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.

Yet Marley also tells Scrooge that it is not too late. Over the next few nights, he will have three visitors, one representing past Christmasses, one representing present Christmasses, and the last representing future Christmasses. So, Scrooge is visited by these three Spirits, and with each visit, he seems to learn a lesson that makes him into a slightly better (or at least more moral) person.

1.jpgTo begin with, he is shown the Christmasses he experienced growing up. He remembers his sister, and how kind she was, and then reflects on how rude he always is to her only child, his nephew. He is also shown a Christmas spent with a woman he once loved. He is too distracted by his pursuit of money to realise that he has lost her and then, all too soon, he is too late, and she is gone.

He is then shown present-day Christmasses. All around the country, even in the poorest places and on ships in the middle of the sea, people are celebrating. They are being kind, wishing each other happy Christmasses. The Spirit also takes him to the house of his clerk, Bob Cratchit, and Scrooge sees how little his family has. He feels sorry for Tiny Tim whom, the Spirit reveals, is sure to die if he does not recieve proper care and food.

Scrooge is, at this point, feeling extremely remorseful, but the Spirits are not done with him. His final visitor shows him a glimpse of one possible future. He watches Bob Cratchit’s pain as he weeps over the body of Tiny Tim, and listens in as his business colleagues, as well as strangers, discuss the death of an unpleasant man. They sell his things, even stripping the shirt off of his dead corpse, not at all sad that he is dead. Scrooge cannot think who this man can possibly be, but then the Spirit takes him to a graveyard and points at a tomb that reads ‘Ebinizer Scrooge’.

So, Scrooge decides to change his ways. Back in the present day, he takes instant action. He sends the Cratchit family (ananoymously) the largest turkey there is and goes to visit his nephew, having dinner with his family. It is clear that Scrooge has learnt his lesson and, in a heartwarming ending, we realise that he has become a good man. He gives his money to charity, thinks of other people and, best of all, he finds happiness.

Going Deeper into the Novel…

A Christmas Carol is an interesting story, for although it is extremely uplifting, it is also, to some extents, a ghost story. As a result of this, there are some serious issues underpinning its festive narrative, including comments regarding the working classes and also questions regarding life after death.

The Working Classes

First published in the early Victorian period, A Christmas Carol was written during a time of extreme social turbulance. This was a period where the rich were only getting richer, and the poor were only getting hungrier. Dickens constantly draws attention to these differences, and demonises his protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, because he constantly fails to consider them. This is particularly important as the 1840s are often called the ‘hungry forties’. During this time, people often found themselves out of employment. A move towards capitalism also meant that it was now also possible for employers to exploit their workers (just as Scrooge exploits Bob Cratchit). There was no one (except for the ocassional writer, such as Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell) who were defending the poor, and many thousands died of disease and starvation.

Life after Death

As I mentioned before, A Christmas Carol is, to an extent, a ghost story. The story has become so ingrained in our culture that it is easy to forget just how supernatural it is, but remember, Marley is being punished in the afterlife for how he acted in life. To an extent, the story could therefore be seen as a Christian allegory. The chains binding Marley to the earth could be interpreted to be a version of the Christian Hell. The same fate awaits Scrooge, unless he can repent and do some good in the world.

I also found the Spirits themselves very interesting, particularly due to my interest in dualism (if you’ve been following me for any period of time, I’m sure that you will have heard me mention this before. Well, it’s always interested me and I am now basing my dissertation around this theological concept. It’s explained quite well in this fun video).

My thoughts in relation to A Christmas Carol concern the Spirit’s bodies. Basically, none of them seem very constant. Whether their bodies are fading in and out of view or shrinking and growing taller, they always seem to be changing. For me, this suggests that the body has very little value in the Spirit’s world. They are perhaps intangible beings, and their forms are there only so that they can converse with Scrooge. In the true afterlife, which is suggested to be entirely separate from the human world, they may not have bodies at all, which supports Plato’s original notion of dualism.

[T]he figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away.
–  A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.

My Conclusion

My first surprise when reading A Christmas Carol was how short it is! I am used to Dickens’ very elaborate style of writing, and can accept that his stories have a lot of length due to how they were originally published as serials. Yet I had never imagined that this novella was under one hundred pages; if I had known this, I would have read it much earlier! Moreover, the actual writing style of A Christmas Carol seems much more accessible than some of Dickens’ other works, perhaps purely because he has cut down on his descriptive language. I can therefore understand why it is as well known as it is; it really is a great story, not just in terms of the events, but in terms of the writing, too.

2.jpgI also found reading this story all the more interesting because of how many adaptations I have been exposed to over the years. I have certainly read a children’s version of the story, and have seen quite a few of the films (including the muppet version). It’s interesting to think about which parts of the story have been drawn attention to, and which parts have simply been forgotten. For example, I seem to remember one version of this story that exaggerated Scrooge’s romance revealed by the first Spirit. In the book, this is only a very brief feature, and is only really there to demonstrate how much Scrooge has lost in his pursuit of wealth. On the other hand, there were some parts of this story that were completely new to me, as they had been ignored in adaptations.

It was certainly an interesting read, and the simplistic style of writing meant that it didn’t take me too long to get through. At the beginning it did seem a little slow, and I did, at one point, feel as though I was reading a full-length Dickens novel. It quickly picked up in terms of pace, though, and there is some fantastic terror and gore that I had never really appreciated before. It’s exciting, quirky, and has such a strong moral message that never seems to undermine the actual story. So, I can see why it’s famous, and I can’t complain. I really enjoyed reading A Christmas Carol and can agree that it’s a must-read for pretty much everyone, regardless of how you normally feel about the classics.


Thank you so much for reading this review. This book was a part of my June 2018 reading challenge which means, for those of you keeping up with my progress, that I only have two more books to go!

You can click here to view an A-Z list of all of my reviews (so far)! On another note, if you’re interested in learning more about the infamous Charles Dickens, you can find my author spotlight on him here. Thanks for reading!

The Chamber #2

After ending my response to this week’s #writephoto prompt on a bit of a cliffhanger, I decided to turn the story into a little mini-series. You can check out part one here, and I will be posting the third and final part of the story within the next few days.


Alice’s eyes were half closed as she curled up on the stone floor, cocooned by the dead. She could see Danny’s blurred back disappearing up the tunnel that led outside and, for the hundredth time, she tried to call out to him. A small croaking sound slipped from her throat, but he was too far away now. He would never hear her.

Even as she watched his silhouette disappear from sight, Alice felt the little energy that she had left slip slowly away from her, as though it was following Danny out of the chamber. She allowed her eyelids to fall shut over her eyes and welcomed the darkness that flooded out to meet her.

When she next awoke, she knew that something was different. She was still trapped under the pile of bones in the centre of the chamber, and blood still coated her neck and shoulders, but the darkness in the chamber seemed to have lessened slightly.

A torch was being shone around the chamber walls and, from somewhere behind its light, Alice could hear footsteps.

She tensed her body, listening hard. The footsteps were heavy – too heavy to match Danny’s light tread. Yet if they didn’t belong to him, and they were too confident to belong to either of her parents, then surely there was only one other option.

Her kidnapper had returned.

Just as that thought reached her mind, a hand plunged into her rotting cocoon and grabbed her by the collar of her dress. It then dragged her through the sharp bones, throwing her into an empty space on the hard floor.

Her hand flew instinctively to her neck, as a sharp pain told her that the wound that the kidnapper’s blade had made in her flesh had been torn open once more.

He bent down to her level and shoved the back of a smartphone into her face. Then there was a white flash of light, and she was hurled back into her skeleton prison.

There was a sound of receding footsteps, and then her kidnapper was gone.

Alice was left sitting alone in the dark, her hand still pressed against her neck as tears began to stream down her cheeks.


Word Count: 367

The Chamber #writephoto

An unwelcome breeze whipped past his hair, cold and intrusive, as though invisible hands were brushing through it. He allowed himself a glance back up the tunnel, his eyes searching for the square of light through which he had come, and which was now far, far behind him.

He had not wanted to go anywhere near this tunnel. Every shadowy movement made his skin crawl and he kept jumping at the silence, its ringing depth seeming deeply unnatural.

Yet how could he not step into the shadows? How could he not make this long, dark journey, after discovering what he had done at the tunnel’s entrance? No person alive could have just walked away… well he couldn’t, anyway, because he’d seen her feather.

It had been in her hair. It had always in her hair, tied up with a long, red ribbon, ever since the day that she had first found it. She had been so delighted, picking it up out of the grass with a broad smile stretched across her face.

“Look! Look, Danny,” she’d cooed. “It’s blue… a blue feather, how pretty.”

He had only smiled dryly at her, wanting to whirl her around in his arms, but knowing his place. She knew him only as Danny, and that was all she would ever call him. Yet that other man – the one with the tight suits and the slicked back hair – it was he who she called Daddy.

Daddy bought all her presents, of course, but he hadn’t paid her enough attention. He hadn’t been watching her as closely as he should have done, or he would have noticed when she had wandered off, out of the garden and into the nothingness.

They had all been searching for her since the early hours of the morning. There had been no sign – nothing – and then Danny had thought to look around the old burial grounds. He had ignored them at first because she had always been afraid of them, but then he had gotten desperate… and then he had found the feather.

He had never before been into this particular tunnel. It was the longest, supposedly leading to a mass burial site set underneath the church in the centre of their little town. He never would have believed that she would have gone anywhere near it if it had not been for that feather.

The darkness was growing thicker. He was beginning to wish that he had brought a torch with him; he had his phone, but it was old, and the backlight was cracked. He was instead pointing the unlocked screen in front of him as he walked, using it to direct his cautious footsteps as he finally felt the floor levelling out.

He moved towards the nearest wall as the chamber opened outwards, feeling his way forwards. He was starting to see things now – dead things. They were all stacked up against the wall, propped against shelves and hanging onto the ground, twisted into gruesome shapes.

His eyes were beginning to adjust now, and he could make out a large pile of them in the centre of the chamber. They belonged to the poor souls who had been executed in the town. Some had been burned, whilst others had been hanged. Then they’d all been carted off to the graveyard where the trapdoor had been opened and their remains had been thrown through it unceremoniously.

No one had thought to move them since. No one seemed to care.

Danny hated to think about what the sight of these things would do to her. He didn’t want to think about it… yet he couldn’t not. Surely, surely, she hadn’t come down here? She was usually a timid child, never able to sleep without the light on in the corner of her room. Danny shivered. He knew that he should call out to her, but it was as if his throat had been blocked. He tried to clear his throat, but he was afraid of breaking the silence.

It was as if the dead were listening to him.

“A-Alice?” he croaked, his eyes on the tunnel, from which a distant glint of light still shone.

The silence was still ringing in his ears and his head was starting to spin. He staggered towards the tunnel. She was not down here. Of course she was not down here. She never would have come down here. The feather must have blown across the fields from somewhere else, or perhaps it wasn’t even the same feather; what did he know?

He felt angry with himself – furious, in fact. He was now certain that, by the time he had trudged back to the house, her Daddy would have found her.

He threw back his head and, as he stormed back up the tunnel to the outside world, he failed, once more, to shine his light on the ground. If he had done, he would have seen the long, red ribbon that was stretched across the grey slabs, its end pointing towards the very centre of the chamber.


Word Count: 829.

This (admittedly rather dark) tale was inspired by the weekly #writephoto prompt challenge hosted by Sue Vincent. I feel like it could have a second part, but I’m not quite decided about that, so let me know if you want to hear more of the story!

Edit: I decided to turn this story into a three-part mini-series! Click here to read part two.

“Vertue”: Analysis

The Poem

Vertue

By George Herbert

Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,
The bridall of the earth and skie:
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;
For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angrie and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,
Thy root is ever in its grave,
And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet dayes and roses,
A box where sweets compacted lie,
My musick shows ye have your closes,
And all must die.

Onely a sweet and vertuous soul,
Like season’d timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,
Then chiefly lives.

The Message

“Vertue”, modernly referred to as ‘Virtue’, is a deceptive poem. Although it is, to an extent, about the importance of virtue, it spends a lot of time considering death and the temporarily of the physical world. The first three stanzas don’t actually consider the concept of virtue at all. Instead, they describe how all things and, in particular, nature, are shadowed by the constant presence of death. Then, in the final stanza, Herbert suggests that the only thing not to be limited by death is the virtuous soul. Such religious individuals are made eternal through their relationship with God.

The Analysis

Metre & Structure

This poem is written in a very constant iambic tetrameter that only deviates from this rhythm a few times, including the switch to iambic dimeter at the end of each stanza. These shorter lines arguably emphasise the theme of death in this poem as the long lines are brought to a short, abrupt halt. There is also the occasional switch to trochaic meter in this poem that helps emphasise certain words and lines.

The rhyme pattern in this poem is even more constant. It is made up of alternating rhymes, yet its more interesting feature is the repeated rhyme for “skie”, made throughout the various stanzas. This emphasises the “die”, making it sound more effective, and also making its absence in the final stanza all the more noticeable. There are also a lot of oppositions in this poem that can be linked through their rhymes. For example, “bright” rhymes with “night”, an opposite that emphasises the sense of darkening and growing loss and sadness as the poem progresses.

Line by Line

  • “Sweet”, “so” – The constant sibilance in this poem is emphasised through the repeated word, “Sweet”. This sibilance creates a relaxed, melancholy tone.
  • “The bridall of the earth and skie” – This allusion to marriage relates to the sense of harmony within the poem. At the same time, however, it indicates a link between “earth” and “skie” that is indicative of death. The “earth” represents the mortal human world while the “skie” indicates the Christian heaven that Herbert, as a devout Christian and priest, valued.
  • “The dew shall weep” – The personification here indicates the power of nature as well as emphasising the poem’s sense of melancholy.
  • “Thy fall” – This alludes not only to a physical fall or even a death, but also to humankind’s Fall through the Original Sin and thus suggests that Herbert’s audience has committed a sin – as if they are somehow at fault.
  • “To-night” – The plentitude of natural imagery in this opening stanza hints towards the sublime (the idea of being overwhelmed and overpowered by nature). The darkness of night gives a similar impression of powerlessness.
  • “For thou must die” / “And thou must die” / “And all must die” – There is a sense of an imperative command within this final, rather ominous line of the stanza. It is almost as though Herbert is telling his audience that they have no choice but to die. This point is emphasised by the abrupt nature of the monosyllabic “die”, as well as by the shorter line that forms the conclusion to this stanza. The repetition of this line throughout the poem reminds us that death is a constant theme, overshadowing the natural beauty Herbert describes. It also progresses from “thou must die” to “all must die”, this progression revealing the power of death.
  • “Angrie and brave” – The harsh sounds and meanings of these words contradict with the relaxed, melancholy tone of the poem. This indicates a change of the poem’s mood as its relaxed tone becomes more aggressive.
  • “Bids” – The change of tone in the poem is emphasised by this plosive “Bids” which also causes a break in the iambic meter (it momentarily switches to a trochaic meter at the start of this line).
  • “Rash” – This again hints to the theme of sin as Herbert suggests that his audience is somehow at fault for staring at the “rose”. This is perhaps due to their ignorance as they didn’t expect to find any “angrie” tones within the natural world that is ordinarily associated, as in the first stanza, with peace and tranquility.
  • “Root” / “Grave” – This earthly imagery emphasises the theme of death and suggests that the reason the “rose” is “angrie” is because the natural peace of nature is continually disturbed by the knowledge that its beauty is only temporary; the “rose”, like humanity, “must die”.
  • “A box” – This “box” may indicate a collection of flowers, yet it also alludes to coffins and death; in this poem, the positives are always shadowed by the ominous and constant presence of death.
  • “Sweets compacted lie” – Again, “compacted” may allude to the beauty of flowers all growing close together, yet it may also be a reference to the multitude of dead flowers nourishing the ground from which they grow. In the same way, “lie” may refer to the physical action of lying down, or to deception, and thus also the double meanings alluded to throughout this poem.
  • “Musick” – This probably alludes to Herbert’s own poetry but also indicates the beauty that is at least conveyed on the surface of this poem. It is also possible that the “box” from the previous line may be referring to a music box, which highlights this sense of beauty through its connection to a melodic charm.
  • “A sweet and vertuous soul” – Like the natural world, the soul Herbert considers is “sweet”. Yet what separates it from the temporality of nature is that it is “vertuous”. This is Herbert’s main point as he finally refers to the poem’s title.
  • “Season’d timber” – Nature is again being presented as temporary, yet here it is made temporary through purposeful destruction. The wood is not dying naturally, but being converted to timber, cut down by human hands for the sake of industry.
  • “The whole world turns to coal” – This again hints towards humankind’s purposeful destruction of nature. Herbert thus emphasises a political message within this poem as industry is polarised to virtue. This presents it as in some way immoral, which comes back to the “angrie” references made earlier. Herbert may be indicating that he does not agree with this destruction of nature, perhaps due to the Christian concept of human stewardship over nature.
  • “Then chiefly lives” – It is only really in this final line that the primary message of this poem is conveyed. Herbert is saying that whilst most things, such as the average person and much of the natural world, are temporary, the virtuous person will live forever through their connection to God and the idea of an afterlife.

Overview

Vertue, Herbert.jpg“Vertue” is all about the importance of Christian values. It promotes Christianity through the idea that a true, virtuous Christian will be made eternal in God’s afterlife. Yet even as an atheist, I am able to appreciate the message in this poem. There’s something really quite beautiful about Herbert’s descriptions of the natural world, contrasted to the ever-constant presence of the death that works to reveal Herbert’s main point in this poem. This is that there are many beautiful or “sweet” things in this world, and we can appreciate that beauty, yet no matter how beautiful they are, they cannot champion virtue, which allows such “sweet” things to be preserved eternally. So, whilst it is a Christian poem, it’s not inaccessible to the average reader. I often find religious poems quite difficult to appreciate as they are packed with biblical allusions, yet this poem isn’t like that. It is complex, but not in the sense that you need an in-depth understanding of the Bible to access it. In fact, if it wasn’t for the last stanza, this poem couldn’t be called a religious poem at all.

Pryon #15 – The Passage

This serial-based story is one that I have been writing across a series of blog posts. You can read the first part here. Thanks for reading and enjoy!


“I don’t agree with my father,” Dorian was saying bitterly. “I don’t want hundreds of people to suffer for one man’s actions, but he’s past reason.”

“You’re still his son,” Linyeve said, coming to stand in front of him. “Whether he’s denounced you or not, you’re his son. Doesn’t that mean anything?” Dorian looked a little surprised at her courage. He took a few deep breaths, seeming to calm himself.

“Not anymore,” he muttered, and then straightened up. “It’s time we got you out of here,” he added. “My father will be sending guards to check on you.” He gave her a sly smile and pushed open the door of the nearest prison cell.

IMG_1108.JPGLinyeve tried not to look at the man pinned to the wall as she followed Dorian inside. She wanted to ask what his crime had been; what could he have done to warrant being abandoned down here in the dark? She kept her mouth shut, though; after everything that she had heard and seen, she decided that it was better not to know the truth.

Dorian was bent down low, brushing away a thick layer of dust that coated the stone floor. Then he seemed to reach down in between two stones, pulling up a small, metal handle. With a deafening creak, a trapdoor swung open.

“In you go,” he smirked.

Linyeve stared at him, her heart racing.

“What’s down there?”

Dorian laughed, pushing his long hair out of his face.

“I don’t want to kill you, Linyeve. I think I’ve just explained that. This passage will lead you right outside the Kingdom. Don’t try to go back to the villages. That’s no use, but you can try your best to make your way in a city. Westbreen might be best – where we were before – people don’t ask too many questions there.” He made a strange movement in the air and then, from nowhere, produced a rickety lantern with a small flame flickering inside. “You’ll need this,” he added, handing it to her. She clutched it in her good hand, still not confident about using the one which had been burnt at Wrenstead.

Then she swallowed, and nodded. It was no use thinking of what could be lurking in that passage; if she stayed in the Kingdom, she was going to be murdered.

She shifted herself over the hole and began to lower herself down, but then she stopped, looking at Dorian.

“You’re still the prince,” she said. “Even if your father won’t listen to you, the people might. They have no idea what their King has been doing in the villages, but they could do, and it would terrify them. No one wants a king like that ruling them.”

Dorian stared at her blankly. It looked as though he wanted to say something more, but Linyeve couldn’t hold herself up anymore. Her arms gave way and she spiralled into the darkness beyond, watching the square of light, partially concealed by Dorian’s face, grow smaller and fainter. Then, with a splash, she hit water.

There was a clunking sound, and then the square of light was gone: Dorian had closed the trapdoor.

She gasped, kicking her legs furiously and holding her lantern high above her. She didn’t want to think about what would happen if her one source of light went out. There wasn’t enough light as there was: all she could feel was a pressing darkness and numbing cold from the water. She kicked harder, pushing herself forwards, and then hit a bank. She scrambled up, breathing rather heavily. She was cold, drenched and thoroughly confused, but to her relief, the lantern was still lit. She held it up.

There were more bodies down here – lots of them.

Some were floating eerily in the water, their eyes fixed blankly above them, whilst others had been stacked against the banks, their arms flayed out in every direction.

19533686_242015476315832_6942166162641780736_nLinyeve had to cover her nose and mouth, retching as she picked a direction and ran. The flies were everywhere, swarming about her and tangling in her hair, but she kept on running. She didn’t care where she ended up anymore; she just couldn’t bear to see just how many people had been cast down here to rot. Not a single one of them seemed to have been buried, and there were hundreds of them – maybe even thousands – Linyeve had no idea how far the passage stretched.

Just as she was thinking that she would never escape the tunnels, however, she saw that the darkness in front of her was beginning to lessen. She charged onwards, and then, quite suddenly, she was outside again.

She fell to her knees, her head spinning wildly. She tried to stand up again, but then she keeled over and was violently sick on the grass. She didn’t think that she would ever be able to clear the image of that passage from her memory – what remained of the King’s victims would stay with her forever.


Thank you so much for reading! Click this link for the final part of “Pryon”!

“On Melancholy”: Analysis

The Poem

On Melancholy

By John Keats

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.

But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.

She dwells with Beauty – Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.

The Message

Keats’ “On Melancholy” is all about (you guessed it) melancholy. It begins by suggesting how people should cope with misery, listing the things that a person shouldn’t do, and then what they should do, instead. This is more than just a self-help poem, though; Keats goes on to consider the advantages of melancholy, encouraging his readers to make use of their sadness and turn it into inspiration for their writing. After all, as Keats suggests, misery is a part of being human and, without it, there can be no joy.

The Analysis

Metre & Structure

“On Melancholy” is written in a roughly iambic pentameter with a few deviances from the rhythm (particularly in the third stanza). What is perhaps more interesting, though, is the poem’s rhyme scheme: in the first two stanzas, it follows an ABABCDECDE pattern. This (along with the iambic pentameter) forms the rhythm of the Keatsian Ode. Yet this rhyme is broken in the final stanza of the poem, where it follows the pattern: ABABCDEDCE. This is only a small change, but it does demonstrate a disruption of this common form, suggesting that Keats’ poetry is perhaps altered by his own misery.

Line by Line

  • “No, no,” – The ode begins in mid-conversation, sounding as though Keats is denying something that has already been said. This is because there was actually a stanza preceding this first one in earlier drafts of the ode. It took me a fair while to track down this missing stanza, but you can read more about it here. Regardless, its removal emphasises the passion in the poem; in a way, it is as though Keats is rejecting his own melancholy.
  • “Lethe” – This is the first of many classical references in this ode. As we learn from his “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”, Keats was very passionate about classical mythology. This river is also known as ‘the river of forgetfulness’; a person was supposed to touch the water, and then forget all of their earthly troubles.
  • “Tight-rooted” – It is interesting that the wolfsbane is described as “tight-rooted” and therefore difficult to remove from the ground, because Keats may be perhaps suggesting that melancholy is also difficult to remove.
  • “Poisonous wine” – When the wolfsbane flower is used in small quantities, it acts as a painkiller, but when it is used in larger quantities, it becomes extremely poisonous. It is not clear which use of the flower Keats is talking about here, but considering his warning against going to Lethe, it is likely that he is also asking people not to suppress their pain through painkillers.
  • “Kiss’d” / “Prosperine” – There is a certain amount of romantic/sexual imagery here, as Proserpine was the goddess of fertility. She was also kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld, and Greek mythology suggested that an arrangement was eventually settled between Hades and Demeter, Proserpine’s mother. Proserpine would spend half of each year in the underworld, and half of it with her mother. This reference presents ideas of death and sadness, but also new life, which links to the inspiration Keats believes can be had from being melancholy.
  • “Nightshade” / “Yew-berries” – Nightshade is very similar to wolfsbane; in small doses, it is a painkiller, but it can also be lethal. The same can also be said about yew-berries; Keats is really emphasising the need to endure pain without trying to escape it, even if that escape is through death.
  • “The beetle” / “The death-moth” – As with the link to Proserpine, these insects have multiple meanings. In one respect, it is interesting that Kears is using insects to make his point, as it reveals an appreciation for nature and all its (small) details. Both the beetle (think of the scarab-beetles used in Egyptian tombs) and the death-moth are associated with both death and new life (the beetle appeared to come from nothing as they hatch inside dunghills, whilst the both appears to die when it is a caterpillar, but then is born again).
  • “Mournful Psyche” – Psyche is synonymous with ‘soul’, but this is also another classical reference. Psyche was a human who married the immortal Apollo under the condition that she never looked at him. Obviously, she did, and had to endure terrible trials for her crime. Eventually, however, Psyche is reunited with Apollo, emphasising ideas of resurrection and how happiness comes from grief.
  • “The downy owl” – The owl is another symbol of death – one which Keats thinks we should not dwell on, just as we should not dwell on the beetle or death-moth.
  • “For shade to shade” – Note the hushing sound here; this links to death and explores notions of misery (whilst repetition emphasises the double meanings running throughout this first stanza).
  • “Drown the wakeful anguish of the soul” – Here, at last, is the reason why we should not be suppressing our sadness: because this would be to “drown” a part of the soul, and thus limit our humanity and imagination. Remember, the soul is a part of what makes us human and, according to Keats, so is our sadness.
  • “From heaven” – Melancholy is presented as a gift “from heaven”; no wonder we shouldn’t suppress it if it’s a gift from God (even though Keats was an atheist…).
  • “A weeping cloud” – This sounds more like Wordsworth than Keats! Why is the “cloud” “weeping”? It is because it sent down misery to the earth “from heaven”.
  • “Fosters the droop-headed flowers” – Here Keats suggests that our sadness somehow affects nature and makes nature sad, too (it “fosters” the flowers that resemble melancholy) – because human beings are a part of nature?
  • “Hides the green hill in an April shroud” – Whilst our sadness “fosters” the flowers associated with sadness, it “shroud[s]” the greenery that may have raised our spirits; in other words, when someone is depressed, they fail to notice the good things in life, seeing only the bad (and miserable).
  • “Glut” – his is a harsh-sounding word, but it basically means ‘feed’. As both words are one syllable, it is worth asking why Keats opted to use “glut”. To me, it seems more negative: it is associated with gluttony and, as I already noted, sounds a little harsh. Perhaps Keats is suggesting that we should overfeed our sorrow in order to find it more inspiring (we should gorge on sadness while we can).
  • “Morning rose” / “Rainbow” / “Globed peonies” – These beautiful things are what Keats thinks we should be focussing on (not on death omens), yet these things aren’t entirely positive. None of them will last for very long: flowers wilt and die and the “rainbow” is only visible when the spray from the waves is in front of the sun. Keats thus draws attention to the impermanence of beauty, which actually relates more to melancholy than it does to anything happy.
  • “Thy mistress” – Keats makes two assumptions here: firstly, he assumes that his readers are male, and secondly, he assumes they have a wife or lover. This lover is the man’s “mistress”, though, providing an interesting comment on gender.
  • “Emprison” – Although the man’s lover is his “mistress”, he is able to “emprison” her, indicating a gender and power reversal.
  • Let her rave, / And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes” – Keats suggests that when a man’s lover is angry, he should let her “rave” and he should “feed” upon her anguish. The repetition of the word “deep” makes this seem a little sinister, almost as though he is taking the misery from his lover, as though sadness is a limited resource that passes from person to person.
  • “She swells with Beauty – Beauty that must die” – Keats is still talking about the impermanence of beauty now, but it is interesting that he chooses to personify “Beauty”. Instead of simply saying “thy mistress” is beautiful, Keats uses the word “dwells” to make her beauty seem even more fleeting.
  • “Joy” / “Pleasure” – Keats also personifies “Joy” and “Pleasure”. These personification allegories were a traditional way of describing abstract concepts, and Keats appears to be drawing on this tradition in this ode.
  • “Hand is ever at his lips / Bidding adieu” – Keats is basically saying that Joy is blowing kisses and saying goodbye (joy leaves as sadness takes precedence), but this isn’t necessarily presented as a negative. Joy leaves on a high, leaving behind him room for sorrow to be better appreciated?
  • “Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips” – “Pleasure” turns “to poison”, this juxtaposition of happiness and sadness emphasising how both experiences are a part of being human. The “bee” again reveals how Keats pays attention to nature’s details and also indicates that once “Pleasure” has become “poison”, it cannot return to a point of “Pleasure”. This reflects how, once a bee stings, it must die, and demonstrates the power of Melancholy over Pleasure.
  • “Temple of Delight” – Keats suggests that “Delight” is a thing to be worshipped. He may be indicating that happiness is given an unfair amount of attention compared to misery thinking that Melancholy should be glorified.
  • “Veil’d” – This “veil’d” reflects the “shroud” in the second stanza, but whilst the veil is associated with marriage and new beginnings, the shroud is associated with death. This emphasises the binary between happiness and misery.
  • “Melancholy has her sovran shrine” – Firstly, “sovran” is an abbreviation of ‘sovereign’ that was used commonly in the seventeenth century. It turns out that “Melancholy” exists within the “temple of Delight”, emphasising this binary.
  • “Seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue / Can burst Joy’s grape – The only ones able to see the “Melancholy” within “Delight” are those who actively search for it with “strenuous tongue[s]”. It is important to note that this reference to the “grape” reflects the references to wine in the ode’s first stanza, as alcohol may be being presented as another way of suppressing pain/misery.
  • “His palate fine” – Keats is still talking about those capable of seeing sadness within “Delight” and by suggesting that they have a “palate fine”, he is essentially glorifying them, implying that they have good taste for appreciating sadness.
  • “Soul” – Ideas regarding the soul link to the concept of dualism (this is the theory that suggests the soul can exist outside of the body). The soul is “hung” as one of Melancholy’s “trophies” even after the body has died.
  • “Taste the sadness” – Much of this stanza considers the mouth and taste, suggesting that, in a way, we consume feelings such as joy and melancholy.
  • “Her cloudy trophies hung” – This is a very ominous end to the poem, but it does help to demonstrate the power of Melancholy. The souls or “trophies” of Melancholy have accepted sadness and thus been conquered (which is here presented as a positive thing – Keats wants us to succumb to our sadness).

Overview

“Ode on Melancholy” is a complicated poem, but it’s much easier if you break it down into its separate stanzas. The first stanza is advising against becoming trapped in misery and associating yourself with death omens. At the same time, though, there is a constant theme of new life and regeneration running through this stanza.

Ode on Melancholy, Keats.jpgThe second stanza begins to describe the actual qualities of melancholy and suggests that we should focus on the impermanence of beauty and, if a lover becomes angry, we should not try to calm her; rather, we should take her hand and appreciate her anger.

The final stanza is a little more complicated as it personifies Beauty, Pleasure and Melancholy. It is basically demonstrating the importance of melancholy, as it exists within delight and is something to be admired, rather than rejected.

It’s an interesting poem and tends to make misery seem a little better. Perhaps this would be a good one to read when you’re feeling down? The double meanings in the first stanza are particularly inspiring, whilst there are some fascinating comments on gender; why is that melancholy is a “she” and delight is a “he”?


Thank you so much for reading this post! If you’re interested in looking at more of Keats’ poems, I have also written analyses for “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer“, “Bright Star” and “On Fame“. Thank you again; if you have any thoughts or questions, there is a comments section at the bottom of this page. I’d love to hear from you!