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Tradition and dissent in poetry.

Updated on March 31, 2016

What is a poetry ?

Poetry is a form of literature that uses aesthetic and rhythmic qualities of language—such as phonaesthetics, sound symbolism, and metre—to evoke meanings in addition to, or in place of, the prosaic ostensible meaning.

Poetry has a long history. Poetry uses forms and conventions to suggest differential interpretation to words, or to evoke emotive responses. Devices such as assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia and rhythm are sometimes used to achieve musical or incantatory effects. The use of ambiguity, symbolism, irony and other stylistic elements of poetic diction often leaves a poem open to multiple interpretations. Similarly figures of speech such as metaphor, simile and metonymy create a resonance between otherwise disparate images—a layering of meanings, forming connections previously not perceived. Kindred forms of resonance may exist, between individual verses, in their patterns of rhyme or rhythm.

Simple Definition of dissent

Dissent mean: To publicly disagree with an official opinion, decision, or set of beliefs. Although, dissenting could be found in any field of life, in art, science, policy and even religions.

Dissenting in poetry.

Poets do not automatically dissent from traditions. New poems often have a reflection of older poems; this is could imitation. Yet no art could exist solely, there has to be some innovation, a connection between the old and the new to keep the form alive. Tradition is important to poetry but poetry cannot survive by tradition alone.

I would discuss some poems which were written by dissenter poets. They are (Miroslav Holub), (William Blake), (John Donne) and (D.H.Lawrence).

Miroslav Holub (13 September 1923 – 14 July 1998) was a Czech poet and immunologist.
Miroslav Holub (13 September 1923 – 14 July 1998) was a Czech poet and immunologist.

Well let’s start with Miroslav Holub. He is a Czech poet. He wrote a very famous poem called (The fly). We should bear in mind that what I am going to discuss is the translation of the poem and not a first-written poem in English.

The fly

She sat on a willow-trunk
watching
part of the battle of Crecy,
the shouts,
the gasps,
the groans,
the tramping and the tumbling.

During the fourteenth charge
of the French cavalry
she mated
with a brown-eyed male fly
from Vadincourt.

She rubbed her legs together
as she sat on a disembowelled horse
meditating
on the immortality of flies.

With relief she alighted
on the blue tongue
of the Duke of Clervaux.

When silence settled
and only the whisper of decay
softly circled the bodies

and only
a few arms and legs
still twitched jerkily under the trees,

she began to lay her eggs

On the single eye
of Johann Uhr,
the Royal Armourer.

And thus it was
that she was eaten by a swift
fleeing
from the fires of Estrees.

Czech; trans. George Theiner

Holub’s poem lacks any rhyme scheme and the lines are radically different in lengths. It seems that he does not following any traditional design. Although, the poem is much more scientific; it describe the fly’s behavior in the middle of the battle. Nevertheless, there is no-person voice that the reader can identify, objective argues. The fly is a modern poem in both form and content. Also it had been written in free verse. It’s not as the traditional poems forms. The content of the poem also shows dissent. Holub does not show the glory of war but describes the differences between humans and animals lives.


William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and print maker.
William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and print maker.

Moving to William Blake’s poem which also called (The fly).

The fly

William Blake, 1757 - 1827

Little fly,

Thy summer’s play

My thoughtless hand

Has brushed away.

Am not I

A fly like thee?

Or art not thou

A man like me?

For I dance

And drink and sing,

Till some blind hand

Shall brush my wing.

If thought is life

And strength and breath,

And the want

Of thought is death,

Then am I

A happy fly,

If I live,

Or if I die.

There’s an obvious difference between Blake and Holub’s poem. Blake uses insects to make a poetic analogy. The knowledge of Blake’s life and work enriches our understanding even of a poem as brief as (The fly). Most of the words in the poem are monosyllabic and they are very simple as if the speaker is a child. Blake repeat words, he is flyifying himself. Blake used figurative language as “My thoughtless hand” or “Some blind hand” they are a kind of personification. The fly is made of short lines as well.

John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and a cleric in the Church of England.
John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet and a cleric in the Church of England.

The Flea

Mark but this flea, and mark in this,

How little that which thou deniest me is;

It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,

And in this flea our two bloods mingled be;

Thou know’st that this cannot be said

A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,

Yet this enjoys before it woo,

And pampered swells with one blood made of two,

And this, alas, is more than we would do.

Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare,

Where we almost, nay more than married are.

This flea is you and I, and this

Our mariage bed, and marriage temple is;

Though parents grudge, and you, w'are met,

And cloistered in these living walls of jet.

Though use make you apt to kill me,

Let not to that, self-murder added be,

And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since

Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?

Wherein could this flea guilty be,

Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?

Yet thou triumph’st, and say'st that thou

Find’st not thy self, nor me the weaker now;

’Tis true; then learn how false, fears be:

Just so much honor, when thou yield’st to me,

Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

Source: The Norton Anthology of Poetry (1996)

If you compared John Donne’s poem (The flea) with William Blake’s poem (The fly) you would notice the difference between them. The fly is very simple with short lines whereas (The flea) is very complicated in both form and syntax. It’s very traditional in form, which make it different is the subject. It seems that it talks about love but it is not, it’s a sexual one. The man in the poem is trying to force the girl to do things that she does not want to do because of her morals and religion. So, the speaker is standing against religion and society. Although, Donne used figurative language referring to Christianity as the idea that talk about the triangle of love, which is usually ends with tragedy.

David Herbert Richards Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and a painter.
David Herbert Richards Lawrence (11 September 1885 – 2 March 1930) was an English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and a painter.

D.H.Lawerence is different a little bit. He was born in Nottingham, and shaped by a conflict between his parents. Some of his novels were felt by critics to be dangerously sexually explicit. He also wrote many stories and poems. For Lawrence everything is considered as a natural response such as Christian ideas of guilt and sin. For some, he is a prophet and for others he privileges men over women. Although, his paintings embody polemical thinking, for that he is considered as an outsider and a poetic dissident. Some believed that he’s an “apostle” for that his works are wholly untraditional.

Some poems of Lawrence like (Mountain Lion), (Baby Tortoise), (The Bear), (The Mouse’s Nest) and (Snake) should remind us of Holub’s poem (The fly) they are written in free verse with no rhyme. The poems focus on how animals differ from the people who look at them. In each poem, the protagonist seems to be curious or fascinated by the creature. Lawrence’s poems exhibit the same characters and attitudes. Lawrence sometimes repeats lines in the poem. Although, he stuck in the same patterns of words and images make you feel that he’s repeating himself. His poems lack rhymes and lengths. Lawrence captures the actions of creatures to create a simile; like of bats sleeping “Like an old rag”. To sum up, Lawrence was considered as a dogmatic message particularly in relation to sexuality. He also characterized as an “outsider” and as a prophet for that his work is untraditional and outstanding.

© 2016 Rola Maher Abboud

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