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William Blake.

1757–1827

The Tiger

TIGER, tiger, burning bright


In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
5
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art


10
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?


In what furnace was thy brain?
15
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,


And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
20
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Tiger, tiger, burning bright


In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
Summary

The poem begins with the speaker asking a fearsome tiger what kind of divine being
could have created it: “What immortal hand or eye/ Could frame they fearful
symmetry?” Each subsequent stanza contains further questions, all of which refine
this first one. From what part of the cosmos could the tiger’s fiery eyes have come,
and who would have dared to handle that fire? What sort of physical presence, and
what kind of dark craftsmanship, would have been required to “twist the sinews” of
the tiger’s heart? The speaker wonders how, once that horrible heart “began to beat,”
its creator would have had the courage to continue the job. Comparing the creator to
a blacksmith, he ponders about the anvil and the furnace that the project would have
required and the smith who could have wielded them. And when the job was done,
the speaker wonders, how would the creator have felt? “Did he smile his work to
see?” Could this possibly be the same being who made the lamb?

The poem is comprised of six quatrains in rhymed couplets. The meter is regular and
rhythmic, its hammering beat suggestive of the smithy that is the poem’s central
image. The simplicity and neat proportions of the poems form perfectly suit its
regular structure, in which a string of questions all contribute to the articulation of a
single, central idea.

Commentary

The opening question enacts what will be the single dramatic gesture of the poem,
and each subsequent stanza elaborates on this conception. Blake is building on the
conventional idea that nature, like a work of art, must in some way contain a
reflection of its creator. The tiger is strikingly beautiful yet also horrific in its
capacity for violence. What kind of a God, then, could or would design such a
terrifying beast as the tiger? In more general terms, what does the undeniable
existence of evil and violence in the world tell us about the nature of God, and what
does it mean to live in a world where a being can at once contain both beauty and
horror?

The tiger initially appears as a strikingly sensuous image. However, as the poem
progresses, it takes on a symbolic character, and comes to embody the spiritual and
moral problem the poem explores: perfectly beautiful and yet perfectly destructive,
Blake’s tiger becomes the symbolic center for an investigation into the presence of
evil in the world. Since the tiger’s remarkable nature exists both in physical and
moral terms, the speaker’s questions about its origin must also encompass both
physical and moral dimensions. The poem’s series of questions repeatedly ask what
sort of physical creative capacity the “fearful symmetry” of the tiger bespeaks;
assumedly only a very strong and powerful being could be capable of such a
creation.

The smithy represents a traditional image of artistic creation; here Blake applies it to
the divine creation of the natural world. The “forging” of the tiger suggests a very
physical, laborious, and deliberate kind of making; it emphasizes the awesome
physical presence of the tiger and precludes the idea that such a creation could have
been in any way accidentally or haphazardly produced. It also continues from the
first description of the tiger the imagery of fire with its simultaneous connotations of
creation, purification, and destruction. The speaker stands in awe of the tiger as a
sheer physical and aesthetic achievement, even as he recoils in horror from the moral
implications of such a creation; for the poem addresses not only the question of who
could make such a creature as the tiger, but who would perform this act. This is a
question of creative responsibility and of will, and the poet carefully includes this
moral question with the consideration of physical power. Note, in the third stanza,
the parallelism of “shoulder” and “art,” as well as the fact that it is not just the body
but also the “heart” of the tiger that is being forged. The repeated use of word the
“dare” to replace the “could” of the first stanza introduces a dimension of aspiration
and willfulness into the sheer might of the creative act.

The reference to the lamb in the penultimate stanza reminds the reader that a tiger
and a lamb have been created by the same God, and raises questions about the
implications of this. It also invites a contrast between the perspectives of
“experience” and “innocence” represented here and in the poem “The Lamb.” “The
Tyger” consists entirely of unanswered questions, and the poet leaves us to awe at
the complexity of creation, the sheer magnitude of God’s power, and the
inscrutability of divine will. The perspective of experience in this poem involves a
sophisticated acknowledgment of what is unexplainable in the universe, presenting
evil as the prime example of something that cannot be denied, but will not withstand
facile explanation, either. The open awe of “The Tyger” contrasts with the easy
confidence, in “The Lamb,” of a child’s innocent faith in a benevolent universe.
The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Christopher Marlowe

Come live with me and be my love,


And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks,


Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses


And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool


Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and ivy buds,


With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The shepherds’ swains shall dance and sing


For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love Summary

The poem begins with a request from the speaker, "come live with me, and be my
love," pretty please with a cherry on top, and goes on to list a series of promises from
the speaker to the object of his affections about all the fun activities they'll do
together if the offer is accepted.

They'll explore valleys, groves, hills and fields, they'll sit on rocks and watch the
shepherds, and they'll listen to birds sing to the tune of waterfalls. But that's not all.
Fancy duds from the city won't do for all that time in the great outdoors, so the
speaker promises to make some clothes and accessories better suited for the
occasion: caps of flowers, straw belts, lambs' wool gowns, beds of roses, you get the
picture. And we're still not done. The speaker's final promises, gold buckles, coral
clasps, amber studs, and dancing shepherds, are loftier still.

As the promises continue to drift outside the realm of what the speaker can actually
guarantee, the speaker makes a crucial change of gears. The poem opened with a
general request—come live with me and be my love—but it closes with a conditional
one. The speaker now only wants the love to come if she is "move[d]" by the delights
and pleasures that were listed in the poem, delights that it seems increasingly
unlikely the speaker will be able to provide (we mean, who has a troupe of dancing
shepherds on retainer?). The poem ends with a cliffhanger, as we never get to hear
the love's reply.

Lines 1-2

Come live with me, and be my love,


And we will all the pleasures prove,

 This poem opens with one of the most famous and romantic-sounding lines ever:
come live with me, and be my love. Swoon.
 The format of the opening line sets up the two main figures in the poem: the
speaker, the one saying "come live with me," and the person being spoken to, or
the addressee.
 So far we have very little about confirming the logistics of this move, however. Who
is the addressee? Who is the speaker? Are they lovers now, or is the speaker's love
unrequited? Is this a marriage proposal? Where are they moving? Do they both
already live there, or is the speaker asking the addressee to pack up house and
move halfway across the country?
 The title, Shmoopers, would have you believe that the speaker is a man, a
"passionate shepherd" and that his love is presumably a woman. Since Marlowe
wasn't the one who gave the poem its title, though, we're going to hold off on
making any judgments until the text of the poem confirms this shepherd business.
 Now onto line 2. First, let's take care of the wording. To "prove" is Renaissance
speak for "experience", so the line is saying that if the speaker's love will come, the
two of them can experience the pleasures of their new home together.
 The word "And" is small, but very important; it attaches the second line to the
request in line 1 and means that those pleasures will be experienced if the
addressee does in fact decide to shack up with the speaker.
 But if the addressee doesn't accept the speaker's request, all deals are off the table.
At least, as far as we can tell.

Lines 3-4

That valleys, groves, hills and fields,


Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

 Valleys, groves, hills and fields, woods, steepy mountains. Now we're getting
somewhere as far as establishing a location goes. We now know that the pleasures
referenced in line 2 are the pleasures of the outdoors, more specifically the
countryside.
 Notice how the list sort of runs from one line to another? That, friends, is
enjambment, which means that one sentence, phrase, or clause is split between
two lines of verse. Here, running the two lines together draws attention to the
number of different places the countryside offers to explore in an effort to make
the scenery all the more appealing to this lady love.
 And now that we've got four lines under our collective belt, we've got to be looking
for a meter. It just so happens that this little ditty is written in iambic tetrameter
(for more info see the "Form and Meter" section). Do you hear that daDUM daDUM
daDUM daDUM in each of the lines? That's the meter at work.
 But line 3 marks an important deviation from what's otherwise a pretty cut and
dried pattern. If you scan the line, you get something like this: "That Valleys,
groves, hills, and fields."
 See how there's a missing unstressed syllable between "groves" and "hills"? That
makes the line sound a little heavy, which echoes the effect of the enjambment,
and draws even more attention to the number of places listed by the speaker. Just
like continuing one line to another forces the reader to hurry along to the next bit,
the heaviness of line 3 adds to its forward momentum, sort of like a rock rolling
down a hill.
 Line 4 marks the end of the first quatrain. In fact, the whole poem is composed of
six total quatrains just like the one above, all of which follow the rhyme scheme.
 And what rhyme scheme is that, you ask? Well love rhymes with prove (or at least it
does in Marlowe-speak), and field rhymes with yield. That means we've got a good
old fashioned AABB.

Lines 5-6

And we will sit upon the rocks,


Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,

 In lines 5 and 6, we find yet another promise from the speaker. The plan is pretty
self explanatory: they will sit on rocks, watching shepherds feed their sheep.
 While that might not sound romantic to us modern-day folks, we're guessing that
back then, sitting around watching sheep was a lot like a candlelit dinner. Or
something.
 Also, the plans the speaker details here don't put forth the most aggressive agenda.
Sitting on rocks? Watching sheep eat? These are not activities that require a lot of
energy, folks. In fact, they sound downright leisurely. Given the realities of country
life in the sixteenth century (no Wal-Marts, no electricity, self-sustaining farms,
etc.), does this lifestyle sound a little too good to be true? Maybe yes, maybe no.
But hold on to that thought, we'll come back to it soon.
 These two lines exhibit a poetic device that pops up in Marlowe's poetry all the
time: alliteration.
 Hear that S sound in "seeing the shepherds," or the F sound in "feed their flocks"?
That, dear Shmoopers, is alliteration, and Marlowe's a big fan, so keep an ear out
for more. And for the scoop on how this device works in the poem, take a look at
the "Sound Check" section.

Lines 7-8

By shallow rivers, to whose falls


Melodious birds sing madrigals

 Line 7 tells us that the shepherds from line 6 are feeding their sheep somewhere
near shallow rivers, and line 8 adds to this already scenic picture: birds are singing
songs (or madrigals) to the beat of some nearby waterfalls. We don't know about
you, but we're relaxed just thinking about this.
 But the birds singing in tune to the waterfalls is something more likely to be found
in a Disney movie than in the actual English countryside, lovely though it may be.
This is because "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" is what we call a pastoral
poem, which means that it glorifies the simple, rustic pleasures of the countryside
and of country life.
 These two lines introduce another poetic device called consonance, which is pretty
much exactly like alliteration, except the consonant sounds don't have to be at the
beginning of the word. The repeated L sound in "shallow", "falls", "melodious" and
"madrigals" is consonance, whereas the repeated M sound in "melodious" and
"madrigals" is alliteration.
 We're betting Marlowe's pulling all these tricks on purpose, but what exactly do we
think the guy's trying to accomplish? Some people might argue that his use of
poetic devices is an attempt to disguise the (lack of) meat in the speaker's offer and
somehow make it more appealing. Others think the sounds are recreating the
soothing sounds of the countryside.
 Take a second look at (or listen to) the poem, or hop over to Shmoop's "Form and
Meter" and "Sound Check" sections to see our spin on it.

Lines 9-10

And I will make thee beds of roses,


And a thousand fragrant posies,

 Now the speaker is talking about making things, beds of flowers in this case. Wait a
second—beds of flowers… flower beds… do we smell a pun in the oven?
 But wait. There's more. Marlowe is also making a pun on the phrase "a thousand
fragrant posies". Posey is a Renaissance-era word for bunches of flowers, but in
Marlowe's day, it was also another name for poetry, or posies. This double-meaning
allows line 10 to be read in several ways: the speaker is planting flower beds, the
speaker is making beds out of roses and bunches of flowers, the speaker is making
beds out of roses and poetry, or the speaker is making beds of roses and is also
composing thousands of "fragrant" poems.
 Yikes. That's a whole lot of meaning packed into one tiny line. Do these different
readings change what we think of our speaker? We'll let you decide.
 If you've ever used the phrase "no bed of roses" to describe a particularly nasty
homework assignment, congratulations—you are quoting Marlowe. In the poem,
Marlowe seems to be referring to an actual bed made of rose petals, but "bed of
roses" as an expression has come to mean something more like a super luxurious or
easy situation.
 Also, we have to say it: roses = sex. Okay not all the time, but it's a pretty safe bet
that if you're reading about roses, especially beds of roses, someone's got lovin' on
the brain.

Lines 11-12

A cap of flowers, and a kirtle,


Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.

 These lines reveal more promises from the speaker. We're starting to see a trend.
The speaker is clearly going to lots of trouble to promise nice things in an effort to
persuade the addressee to accept the whole "come live with me, and be my love"
offer.
 Why are so many promises necessary? You didn't hear it from us, but it sounds like
someone might be afraid of getting rejected.
 Our speaker is quite the sewing machine, now promising to make caps, or hats, of
flowers and a kirtle, or skirt, that is embroidered with myrtle leaves. The earthy,
floral material being used to make the clothes is in keeping with the pastoral theme
that was established in the previous quatrain.
 We're also picking up on some potential Garden of Eden vibes, what with the "trees
for clothes" talk going on.

Lines 13-14

A gown made of the finest wool


Which from our pretty lambs we pull,

 Our speaker is still going on about clothes; now he's making a gown from lambs'
wool, and not just any lambs' wool—the finest and best lambs' wool, freshly
plucked from all those lambs living the dream up by the river with the waterfalls in
stanza 2.
 Clothes are everywhere in this stanza and it's not because our speaker has gone on
a shopping spree. Instead, Marlowe has now started playing around with a poetic
device called blazon. Blazons are a kind of poetry in which the speaker of the poem
praises another person, usually a woman, by singling out different parts of her body
and using metaphors to describe how beautiful and awesome they are.
 Of course, this isn't a typical one, since we don't know anything at all about whom
he's speaking to, but it fits the general mold. For a famous and more traditional
example, check out Shakespeare's Sonnet 130.
Lines 15-16

Fair lined slippers for the cold:


With buckles of the purest gold.

 In lines 15 and 16, our speaker is still in blazon mode. We have fuzzy slippers to
keep toes warm and toasty in the winter, complete with snazzy gold buckles.
 Here, the idealism of the pastoral really starts to get away from our speaker. Sure,
it's feasible that a shepherd could make wool gowns, warm shoes, and hats of
flowers, but buckles of gold? Those don't exactly pop up at random in the
countryside.
 And frankly, they sound really impractical for a pair of slippers.

Lines 17-18

A belt of straw, and ivy buds,


With coral clasps and amber studs,

 Our speaker is really blazon-ing a trail here.


 We're also moving increasingly farther away from promises the speaker can
legitimately keep. Coral and amber were costly products in Marlowe's time.
 They certainly weren't up for grabs in the countryside, and we're willing to bet that
they were out of the price range of most shepherds.
 Is this a sign that our speaker is growing increasingly desperate? Is it a sign that the
speaker is untrustworthy? Are the promises we're reading even meant to be taken
literally?

Lines 19-20

And if these pleasures may thee move,


Come live with me, and be my love.

 Line 19 tells the speaker's love that if the awesome things described in the poem so
far "move" or win you over… then you should follow the instructions in line 20 and
high-tail it to the countryside.
 The use of the word "pleasures" here adds a sexual charge to the stanza. Could the
speaker's intention be more lust- and less love-oriented than we were led to
believe?
 It's also a call back to the first stanza of the poem, reminding us that at its heart,
this poem is an argument. He's attempting to persuade his audience—the object of
his affections—and he'll use a refrain to do it.
 The word "move" implies a feeling fueled by emotions or gut instincts. This gives us
a heads up as to what tactics the speaker is using to persuade the recipient of the
poem to do what he wants.
 The "if" in Line 19 also alters the "come live with me" request from the form in
which we first encounter it back in Line 1. The "if" makes it conditional, which tells
us that the speaker now wants the person to come if and only if the
aforementioned fun times are appealing to them.
 That's an interesting way to phrase it, since it seems less and less likely those
pleasures are within the speaker's ability to provide.

Lines 21-22

The shepherds's swains shall dance and sing,


For thy delight each May-morning,

 We've arrived. This, folks, is the speaker's final promise and, true to form, it's even
more difficult to ensure than the last.
 Lines 21 and 22 promise that shepherd swains, or young men, will dance and sing
for the beloved's delight every morning in the month of May. Unlike the expensive
clothes, which at least the speaker was trying to make, this is something completely
beyond the speaker's control: how can the speaker guarantee what other people
will do for his beloved?
 Now let's discuss this whole shepherd business. If you've got shepherds in a poem,
you'll probably have a pastoral. But if you've got shepherds in a poem from
Elizabethan England, you also have a potential reference to good old Queen Bess
herself.
 This is thanks to a guy named Edmund Spenser, who wrote a collection of poems
called The Shephearde's Calendar in which he compared Queen Elizabeth to a
shepherdess. (This might seem offensive, but back in the day you weren't exactly
allowed to come out and speak your mind about politics. Allegory and symbolism
were ways in which people could express discontent without getting their heads
chopped off.)
 References to May are also pretty typical of pastoral poetry. May is associated with
the countryside primarily because of the folk custom of celebrating May Day (May
1). These celebrations were of pagan origin, though, and usually involved lots of
debauchery in the form of drinking, canoodling, and so forth, so the Puritans were
really cranky about the fact that they still went on. Mentioning May, May Day, May
games or anything like that in a poem is often a sneaky jab at the Puritan church as
well as a reference to a frequently idealized country folk tradition.

Lines 23-24

If these delights thy mind may move;


Then live with me, and be my love.

 These lines seem pretty similar to lines 19 and 20, but there are some important
differences in the wording.
 First, the speaker is talking about "delights" instead of "pleasures," a switch that
reduces the sexual charge of the statement.
 The speaker has also introduced "the mind" into the picture. The word "move" is
still used, but here it is the addressee's mind that is being swayed, not, by contrast,
her body or emotions.
 The "live with me, and be my love" phrase is repeated three times in this poem,
which is a big heads up that it's probably important.
 It's possible that this guy wants to do more than just shack up. Maybe, if he's
interested in his love's mind as much as he's interested in her body and all the fancy
clothes he's going to put on it, he might want, you know, a life with her. In which
case this poem is quite swoony.
 It's your call Shmoopers. Just what, exactly, are this dude's intentions?

Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Form and Meter


Iambic TetrameterIf "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" was one of the earlier poems
you read in school, we're betting your teacher chose it because it's a great example of
regular rhyme and mete...

Speaker
The title tells us the speaker is a passionate shepherd trying to woo his lover, presumably a
woman, to live with him in the countryside. But Marlowe didn't title the poem, so even
though this coul...

Setting
The CountrysideWe've said it before, and we'll say it again: "The Passionate Shepherd to His
Love" is a poem set in the countryside, and not just any old countryside at that. This poem
is a pastora...

Sound Check
Running Through a MeadowYou know The Meadow Run? It's that thing in the movies,
where two lovers, long separated, suddenly spy each other across a large, open expanse of
grass and flowers and can't...

What's Up With the Title?


At first glance, not much. "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" seems to be a pretty bland
and unimaginative description of what goes on in the poem, particularly when you contrast
the straightfor...
Calling Card
Rhyming CoupletsChristopher Marlowe died at the ripe old age of twenty-nine years old,
which didn't give him a particularly lengthy career as an author. He was also more focused
on drama than on po...

Tough-o-Meter
(3) Base CampThere are lots of things that make this poem a walk in the park: it's relatively
short, the meter is regular, the phrasing is simple, and there aren't lots of fancy allusions,
obscure...

Trivia
A 1995 version of Shakespeare's Richard III (set in an alternative fascist England) "covered"
Marlowe's poem and turned it into a swanky nightclub tune. Christopher Marlowe was a
member of Corpus C...

Steaminess Rating
PGIt seems our frisky shepherd has nothing but honorable intentions: he just wants a little
company while he explores nature, listens to tunes, and pulls gold shoe buckles out of thin
air. But whil...

Bonnie James Campbell or Bonnie George Campbell is Child ballad 210. The
ballad tells of man who has gone off to fight, but only his horse returns. The name
differs across variants. Several names have been suggested as the inspiration of the
ballad: Archibald or James Campbell, in the Battle of Glenlivet, or Sir John
Campbell of Calder, who was murdered.[1][2]

Synopsis

Bonnie James (or George) Campbell rides out one day. His horse returns, but he does
not. His bride comes out, grieving, that the fields are still growing the harvest but he
will never return. In some variants, his mother or sisters also come out when his
horse returns. In one of the variants, Campbell laments that "my babe is unborn." [3]
Lyrics
Hie upone Highlands,

and lay upon tay.

Bonnie George Campbell

rode out on a day.

He saddled, and bridled,

so gallant rode he.

And hame cam his guid horse,

but never cam he.

Out cam his mother dear,

greeting fu sair.

Out cam his bonnie bryde,

riving her hair.

"The meadow lies green,

and the corn is unshorn.

The barn, it is empty,

the baby unborn!"

Saddled and bridled

and booted rode he,

A plume in his helmet,

a sword at his knee.

But toom cam his saddle

all bloody to see.

Oh, hame cam his guid horse,

but never cam he.[citation needed]


William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire and was


baptised a few days later on 26 April 1564. His father, John Shakespeare, was a
glove maker and wool merchant and his mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of a
well-to-do landowner from Wilmcote, South Warwickshire. It is likely Shakespeare
was educated at the local King Edward VI Grammar School in Stratford.

Marriage

The next documented event in Shakespeare’s life is his marriage at the age of 18 to
Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a local farmer, on November 28, 1582. She was
eight years older than him and their first child, Susanna, was born six months after
their wedding. Two years later, the couple had twins, Hamnet and Judith, but their
son died when he was 11 years old.

Again, a gap in the records leads some scholars to refer to Shakespeare’s life
between 1585 and 1592 as 'the lost years'. By the time he reappears again, mentioned
in a London pamphlet, Shakespeare has made his way to London without his family
and is already working in the theatre.

Acting career

Having gained recognition as an actor and playwright Shakespeare had clearly


ruffled a few feathers along the way – contemporary critic, Robert Green, described
him in the 1592 pamphlet as an, "upstart Crow".

As well as belonging to its pool of actors and playwrights, Shakespeare was one of
the managing partners of the Lord Chamberlain's Company (renamed the King's
Company when James succeeded to the throne), whose actors included the famous
Richard Burbage. The company acquired interests in two theatres in the Southwark
area of London near the banks of the Thames - the Globe and the Blackfriars.

In 1593 and 1594, Shakespeare’s first poems, 'Venus and Adonis' and 'The Rape of
Lucrece', were published and he dedicated them to his patron, Henry Wriothesley,
the Earl of Southampton. It is thought Shakespeare also wrote most of his sonnets at
this time.

Playwright

Shakespeare was prolific, with records of his first plays beginning to appear in 1594,
from which time he produced roughly two a year until around 1611. His hard work
quickly paid off, with signs that he was beginning to prosper emerging soon after the
publication of his first plays. By 1596 Shakespeare’s father, John had been granted a
coat of arms and it’s probable that Shakespeare had commissioned them, paying the
fees himself. A year later he bought New Place, a large house in Stratford.

His earlier plays were mainly histories and comedies such as 'Henry VI', 'Titus
Andronicus', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', 'The Merchant of Venice' and 'Richard
II'. The tragedy, 'Romeo and Juliet', was also published in this period. By the last
years of Elizabeth I's reign Shakespeare was well established as a famous poet and
playwright and was called upon to perform several of his plays before the Queen at
court. In 1598 the author Francis Meres described Shakespeare as England’s greatest
writer in comedy and tragedy.

In 1602 Shakespeare's continuing success enabled him to move to upmarket Silver


Street, near where the Barbican is now situated, and he was living here when he
wrote some of his greatest tragedies such as 'Hamlet', 'Othello', 'King Lear' and
'Macbeth'.

Final years

Shakespeare spent the last five years of his life in New Place in Stratford. He died on
23 April 1616 at the age of 52 and was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford.
He left his property to the male heirs of his eldest daughter, Susanna. He also
bequeathed his 'second-best bed' to his wife. It is not known what significance this
gesture had, although the couple had lived primarily apart for 20 years of their
marriage.

The first collected edition of his works was published in 1623 and is known as 'the
First Folio'.

William Blake

William Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757, to James, a hosier, and
Catherine Blake. Two of his six siblings died in infancy. From early childhood,
Blake spoke of having visions—at four he saw God “put his head to the window”;
around age nine, while walking dathrough the countryside, he saw a tree filled with
angels. Although his parents tried to discourage him from “lying," they did observe
that he was different from his peers and did not force him to attend conventional
school. He learned to read and write at home. At age ten, Blake expressed a wish to
become a painter, so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, Blake
began writing poetry. When he turned fourteen, he apprenticed with an engraver
because art school proved too costly. One of Blake’s assignments as apprentice was
to sketch the tombs at Westminster Abbey, exposing him to a variety of Gothic styles
from which he would draw inspiration throughout his career. After his seven-year
term ended, he studied briefly at the Royal Academy.

In 1782, he married an illiterate woman named Catherine Boucher. Blake taught her
to read and to write, and also instructed her in draftsmanship. Later, she helped him
print the illuminated poetry for which he is remembered today; the couple had no
children. In 1784 he set up a printshop with a friend and former fellow apprentice,
James Parker, but this venture failed after several years. For the remainder of his life,
Blake made a meager living as an engraver and illustrator for books and magazines.
In addition to his wife, Blake also began training his younger brother Robert in
drawing, painting, and engraving. Robert fell ill during the winter of 1787 and
succumbed, probably to consumption. As Robert died, Blake saw his brother’s spirit
rise up through the ceiling, “clapping its hands for joy.” He believed that Robert’s
spirit continued to visit him and later claimed that in a dream Robert taught him the
printing method that he used in Songs of Innocence and other “illuminated” works.

Blake’s first printed work, Poetical Sketches (1783), is a collection of apprentice


verse, mostly imitating classical models. The poems protest against war, tyranny, and
King George III’s treatment of the American colonies. He published his most popular
collection, Songs of Innocence, in 1789 and followed it, in 1794, with Songs of
Experience. Some readers interpret Songs of Innocence in a straightforward fashion,
considering it primarily a children’s book, but others have found hints at parody or
critique in its seemingly naive and simple lyrics. Both books of Songs were printed in
an illustrated format reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. The text and
illustrations were printed from copper plates, and each picture was finished by hand
in watercolors.

Blake was a nonconformist who associated with some of the leading radical thinkers
of his day, such as Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft. In defiance of 18th-
century neoclassical conventions, he privileged imagination over reason in the
creation of both his poetry and images, asserting that ideal forms should be
constructed not from observations of nature but from inner visions. He declared in
one poem, “I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.” Works such as
“The French Revolution” (1791), “America, a Prophecy” (1793), “Visions of the
Daughters of Albion” (1793), and “Europe, a Prophecy” (1794) express his
opposition to the English monarchy, and to 18th-century political and social tyranny
in general. Theological tyranny is the subject of The Book of Urizen (1794). In the
prose work The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790-93), he satirized oppressive
authority in church and state, as well as the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, a
Swedish philosopher whose ideas once attracted his interest.

In 1800 Blake moved to the seacoast town of Felpham, where he lived and worked
until 1803 under the patronage of William Hayley. He taught himself Greek, Latin,
Hebrew, and Italian, so that he could read classical works in their original language.
In Felpham he experienced profound spiritual insights that prepared him for his
mature work, the great visionary epics written and etched between about 1804 and
1820. Milton (1804-08), Vala, or The Four Zoas (1797; rewritten after 1800), and
Jerusalem (1804-20) have neither traditional plot, characters, rhyme, nor meter. They
envision a new and higher kind of innocence, the human spirit triumphant over
reason.
Blake believed that his poetry could be read and understood by common people, but
he was determined not to sacrifice his vision in order to become popular. In 1808 he
exhibited some of his watercolors at the Royal Academy, and in May of 1809 he
exhibited his works at his brother James’s house. Some of those who saw the exhibit
praised Blake’s artistry, but others thought the paintings “hideous” and more than a
few called him insane. Blake’s poetry was not well known by the general public, but
he was mentioned in A Biographical Dictionary of the Living Authors of Great
Britain and Ireland, published in 1816. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who had been lent
a copy of Songs of Innocence and of Experience, considered Blake a “man of
Genius," and Wordsworth made his own copies of several songs. Charles Lamb sent
a copy of “The Chimney Sweeper” from Songs of Innocence to James Montgomery
for his Chimney-Sweeper’s Friend, and Climbing Boys’ Album (1824), and Robert
Southey (who, like Wordsworth, considered Blake insane) attended Blake’s
exhibition and included the “Mad Song” from Poetical Sketches in his miscellany,
The Doctor (1834-1837).

Blake’s final years, spent in great poverty, were cheered by the admiring friendship
of a group of younger artists who called themselves “the Ancients.” In 1818 he met
John Linnell, a young artist who helped him financially and also helped to create new
interest in his work. It was Linnell who, in 1825, commissioned him to design
illustrations for Dante‘s Divine Comedy, the cycle of drawings that Blake worked on
until his death in 1827.

William Wordsworth

On April 7, 1770, William Wordsworth was born in Cockermouth, Cumbria,


England. Wordsworth’s mother died when he was eight—this experience shapes
much of his later work. Wordsworth attended Hawkshead Grammar School, where
his love of poetry was firmly established and, it is believed, he made his first
attempts at verse. While he was at Hawkshead, Wordsworth’s father died leaving
him and his four siblings orphans. After Hawkshead, Wordsworth studied at St.
John’s College in Cambridge and before his final semester, he set out on a walking
tour of Europe, an experience that influenced both his poetry and his political
sensibilities. While touring Europe, Wordsworth came into contact with the French
Revolution. This experience as well as a subsequent period living in France, brought
about Wordsworth’s interest and sympathy for the life, troubles, and speech of the
“common man.” These issues proved to be of the utmost importance to
Wordsworth’s work. Wordsworth’s earliest poetry was published in 1793 in the
collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. While living in France,
Wordsworth conceived a daughter, Caroline, out of wedlock; he left France,
however, before she was born. In 1802, he returned to France with his sister on a
four-week visit to meet Caroline. Later that year, he married Mary Hutchinson, a
childhood friend, and they had five children together. In 1812, while living in
Grasmere, two of their children— Catherine and John—died.

Equally important in the poetic life of Wordsworth was his 1795 meeting with the
poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was with Coleridge that Wordsworth published the
famous Lyrical Ballads in 1798. While the poems themselves are some of the most
influential in Western literature, it is the preface to the second edition that remains
one of the most important testaments to a poet’s views on both his craft and his place
in the world. In the preface Wordsworth writes on the need for “common speech”
within poems and argues against the hierarchy of the period which valued epic poetry
above the lyric.

Wordsworth’s most famous work, The Prelude (1850), is considered by many to be


the crowning achievement of English romanticism. The poem, revised numerous
times, chronicles the spiritual life of the poet and marks the birth of a new genre of
poetry. Although Wordsworth worked on The Prelude throughout his life, the poem
was published posthumously. Wordsworth spent his final years settled at Rydal
Mount in England, travelling and continuing his outdoor excursions. Devastated by
the death of his daughter Dora in 1847, Wordsworth seemingly lost his will to
compose poems. William Wordsworth died at Rydal Mount on April 23, 1850,
leaving his wife Mary to publish The Prelude three months later.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is much loved for his great contribution to classic English
literature. He was the quintessential Victorian author. His epic stories, vivid
characters and exhaustive depiction of contemporary life are unforgettable.

His own story is one of rags to riches. He was born in Portsmouth on 7 February
1812, to John and Elizabeth Dickens. The good fortune of being sent to school at the
age of nine was short-lived because his father, inspiration for the character of Mr
Micawber in 'David Copperfield', was imprisoned for bad debt. The entire family,
apart from Charles, were sent to Marshalsea along with their patriarch. Charles was
sent to work in Warren's blacking factory and endured appalling conditions as well as
loneliness and despair. After three years he was returned to school, but the
experience was never forgotten and became fictionalised in two of his better-known
novels 'David Copperfield' and 'Great Expectations'.

Like many others, he began his literary career as a journalist. His own father became
a reporter and Charles began with the journals 'The Mirror of Parliament' and 'The
True Sun'. Then in 1833 he became parliamentary journalist for The Morning
Chronicle. With new contacts in the press he was able to publish a series of sketches
under the pseudonym 'Boz'. In April 1836, he married Catherine Hogarth, daughter
of George Hogarth who edited 'Sketches by Boz'. Within the same month came the
publication of the highly successful 'Pickwick Papers', and from that point on there
was no looking back for Dickens.
As well as a huge list of novels he published autobiography, edited weekly
periodicals including 'Household Words' and 'All Year Round', wrote travel books
and administered charitable organisations. He was also a theatre enthusiast, wrote
plays and performed before Queen Victoria in 1851. His energy was inexhaustible
and he spent much time abroad - for example lecturing against slavery in the United
States and touring Italy with companions Augustus Egg and Wilkie Collins, a
contemporary writer who inspired Dickens' final unfinished novel 'The Mystery of
Edwin Drood'.

He was estranged from his wife in 1858 after the birth of their ten children, but
maintained relations with his mistress, the actress Ellen Ternan. He died of a stroke
in 1870. He is buried at Westminster Abbey.