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The main theme of the poem is expressed in the narrative of Sir Launfal's dream, and its consequences. This whole story is introduced by means of another narrative (that of the musing organist building "a bridge from Dreamland for his lay") so slight that it slips away from the reader completely as he goes on. The organist is conceived by the poet as improvising the story of the poem; he approaches his theme gradually, by means of a prelude or introduction, which foreshadows and reflects it.
The prelude may be regarded as an abstract treatment,
a generalization, of the concrete incidents of the story that follows. The spiritual mood of the opening stanzas of the prelude expresses the noble discontent of the poet with the sluggish soul of humanity. Note how he spurs and pricks our cowardice in these phrases-"souls that cringe and plot"; "fallen and traitor lives"; "faint hearts"; our age's drowsy blood"; how, too, he shows nature and God striving with our weaknesses, and how, in spite of ourselves, we Sinais climb and know it not." The poet, in his lofty indignation, conceives that this sordid, bartering humanity values and desires everything but heaven and God, because, forsooth,
""T is only heaven that is given away,
'Tis only God may be had for the asking."
In showing us what we may possess for nothing, the poet passes to a description of June, the season of beauty, of youth, of happiness, and of "upward striving."
""T is as easy now for the heart to be true
Thus, at length, we accept his suggestion that from the divine influences in nature, and the tender beauty of June, came the impulse to the heart of Sir Launfal to remember the keeping of his vow. "The bridge from dreamland " has led us to the opening of the story. The generalization is dropped, and a concrete example of the great truth the poet has tried to phrase, is substituted. We follow the story of
how nature, and his own heart and many varied experiences spoke to Sir Launfal, albeit in his vision, and- compelled him along the upward way, until, after a weary interval, the light shone around him, and he found that unwittingly he had climbed his Sinai and found the Lord. Read the poem slowly and carefully, holding in mind its general purpose, and noting the various steps and the skilful artistry by which the poet fulfils his design. Note the beauty of the description of June, and try to extract its deeper meanings. Notice the correspondences in thought between various portions of the poem. For instance, in Part Second, what do you find that corresponds to and illustrates exactly the line in the Prelude to Part First, "We Sinais climb and know it not"? Be on the alert for those parallels in mood and incidents between various portions which help to reinforce the poem as a work of art. For instance, compare the incident of the leper in Part Second with the former one.
Of what is the castle the symbol?
Under what conditions did Sir Launfal set out in search of his quest? Setting out with all the promise of youth in search of the Holy Grail, and returning old and frail with the badge of "the suffering and the poor," what does Sir Launfal symbolize?
Who was the leper? How treated by Sir Launfal in each account for the difference.
What was the effect of the dream on Sir Launfal, and what was its result in his life?
Explain the meaning of the following:
"Faint auroral flushes." (1. 7.)
"We Sinais climb and know it not." (1. 12.)
"With our faint hearts the mountain strives." (1. 16.)
"... the druid wood
Waits with its benedicite." (lines 17-18.)
"Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold." (1. 26.)
"Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune." (1. 35.)
"Himself the Gate whereby men can
Enter the temple of God in Man." (lines 308-309.)
"The Summer's long siege at last is o'er." (1. 338.)
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF BRYANT
1. Give the dates of Bryant's birth and death, and the facts of his early life and education.
2. How old was Bryant when two of his finest poems were published, and what does this prove regarding his poetic genius?
3. What position in American literature did Bryant rapidly win?
4. Why, however, did he find it impossible to live by literature alone?
5. How did Bryant throughout his life-work show his possession of lofty ideals?
6. What spiritual debt did Bryant owe to Wordsworth? 7. What great work of translation did Bryant accomplish, and with what success?
To teach that the lesson of life may be learned by a right view of death. (a) There is unity in all nature, and every soul and body is an integral part of the universe. (b) Rightly viewed, death is not terrible; but the fulfilment of God's purpose. (c) We may so live as to meet death not with fear and aversion, but with "an unfaltering trust."
Bryant draws a vivid picture of the cosmic Method.
world as a manifestation of God's thought, and shows that nature teaches a great lesson regarding the majesty and fitness of death.
(a) The individual destiny:-Though the individual
must die, he does not perish: he is received back into nature's bosom, to become a part of the great universe. (b) The universal destiny: "All that tread the globe are but a handful to the tribes that slumber in its bosom." Death being the universal destiny, the individual should not fear it. He will be in the noble company of the dead of all ages; and those he leaves behind will follow him; all nature is the "great tomb of man," "nor couldst thou wish couch more magnificent." (c) The call to right living is found in the final stanza beginning, "so live.”
Note the rhythm and beauty of expression throughout the poem.
Study carefully the following passages, and explain their meaning:
(a) "She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
To be a brother to the insensible rock
Explain the following:
"The wings of morning"; "Barcan wilderness" (locate it); "lose thyself"; "continuous woods"; "where rolls the Oregon" (the Columbia).
Why choose the Columbia River for this illustration? In the last stanza, explain "innumerable caravan"; "mysterious realm"; "silent halls of death."
"... The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould."
TO A WATERFOWL
To show the guidance of human life by divine providence, and the inference of immortality.
Bryant sees his own life in that of the waterfowl, "pursuing its solitary way,” “lone wander
ing but not lost." The Power that protects the waterfowl will protect him. In the lines: "And soon that toil shall end," "The abyss of heaven hath swallowed up thy form," and "Will lead my steps aright," the promise of immortality is given.
Notice particularly the beauty of the following Remarks. phrases and their spiritual significance: "Last steps of day "; " rosy depths"; "chafed ocean-side"; "pathless coast"; "thin atmosphere"; "welcome land"; "abyss of heaven"; "swallowed up"; "boundless sky"; "certain flight"; "long way"; "tread alone."
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF HOLMES
1. Describe the historic associations amidst which Holmes was born and bred, and their inevitable effect upon his
2. When did his writing of poetry begin?
3. Describe briefly his career from his abandonment of the law to 1882.
4. For what reasons was Holmes invited to become a regular contributor to the Atlantic Monthly?
5. Name his most famous contributions to the magazine. 6. What were his leading traits as a writer? 7. Give the dates of his birth and death.
GRANDMOTHER'S STORY OF THE BATTLE OF
(a) The author's direct purpose was to make vivid one of the opening conflicts in America's struggle for independence. (b) But we may likewise draw a lesson of the universal love of freedom in the human race, and of their heroic struggles to attain it.
A graphic description of the battle of Bunker Hill is given by "grandmother." The story gains in interest, reality, and artistic completeness by the addition of a touch of romance.