Tag Archives: poetry

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore

Writer, Poet, Drama
(1861 – 1941)

Rabindranath TagoreRabindranath Tagore is India’s most celebrated modern author. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, the first non-European to be awarded this prize. Astonishingly prolific in practically every literary genre, he achieved his greatest renown as a lyric poet. His poetry is imbued with a deeply spiritual and devotional quality, while in his novels, plays, short stories, and essays, his social and moral concerns predominate.

Tagore was born into an upper-caste Hindu family in Calcutta on May 7, 1861. His grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore, was a key figure in what is known as the Bengal renaissance in the mid-nineteenth century. Tagore’s father, Debendranath, was a writer, religious leader, and practical businessman. Tagore was the fourteenth of his father’s fifteen children and his father’s favorite. From an early age, he embraced his father’s love of poetry, music, and mysticism, as well as his reformist outlook. Tagore was a precocious child who showed unmistakable poetic talent. As early as eight, he was urged by his brothers and cousins to express himself in poetry. This encouragement, which continued throughout his formative years, caused his talent to flourish. When Tagore was twelve, his father took him on a four-month journey to the Punjab and the Himalayas. This was Tagore’s first contact with rural Bengal, which he later celebrated in his songs.

Public Recognition of Poetry

After publishing his first poems at the age of thirteen, Tagore’s first public recitation of his poetry came when he was fourteen at a Bengali cultural and nationalistic festival organized by his brothers. His acclaimed poem was about the greatness of India’s past and the sorrow he felt for its state under British rule. India had been controlled by Great Britain in one form or another for some years. While the British had helped India develop economically and politically and expanded local self-rule, an Indian nationalist movement was growing in the late nineteenth century. This trend continued into the first decades of the twentieth, as well.

Rabindranath Tagore left India at age seventeen to continue his studies in England. During this time, he read extensively in English and other European literature, forming the universalist outlook he maintained throughout his life that included: a profound desire for freedom, both personal and national; an idea of the greatness of India’s contribution to the world of the spirit; and poetry expressing both of these. His stay in England was brief, and when he returned home, he published the first of nearly sixty volumes of verse. He also wrote and acted in verse dramas and began to compose devotional songs for the Brahmo Samaj, the Hindu reformist sect his father promoted. In 1883, he married Mrinalini Devi. He was twenty-two years old, and she was ten. The couple had five children.

Rabindranath TagoreTagore produced his first notable book of lyrics, Evening Songs, in 1882, followed by Morning Songs (1883). The latter work reflects Tagore’s new mood initiated by a mystical experience he had while looking at the sunrise one day. His devotion to Jivan devata (‘‘The Lord of His Life’’), a new conception of God as humanity’s intimate friend, lover, and beloved, played an important role in his subsequent work. Several poems in the volume Sharps and Flats (1886) boldly celebrate the human body, reflecting his sense of all-pervading joy in the universe. Creative Virility In 1890, Tagore took charge of his family’s far-flung estates, some of them in regions that are now part of Bangladesh.

The daily contact with peasants and farmers aroused his empathy for the plight of India’s poor. Coming in close touch with the people and geography of Bangladesh, Tagore was inspired to write his first major collection of verse, The Golden Boat (1894). The contemplative tone of his poetry gives his work the depth and serenity of his mature voice. In the 1880s and 1890s, Tagore’s creative output was tremendous, and his reputation steadily developed in his country as the author of poems, short stories, novels, plays, verse dramas, and essays. He moved through several phases at this time. If he began in the manner of the late Romantics, he soon became a writer of realistic fiction about everyday situations and people from all spheres of life. He frequently reinvented himself, creating new forms and introducing new genres and styles to Bengali literature—social realism, colloquial dialogue, light satire, and psychologically motivated plot development. Read the rest of this entry

Pierre de Ronsard

Pierre de Ronsard

Writer, Poet
(1524 – 1585)

Pierre de RonsardPierre de Ronsard is considered by many scholars to be the greatest poet of the French Renaissance. He founded and led a small group of like-minded writers known first as the Brigade and later as the Ple´iade who sought to create a French literature. Ronsard’s body of literary works shaped French poetry long after his death, giving direction to the idealistic voices of the nineteenth-century romantics.

Pierre de Ronsard was born at La Poissonnie`re on September 11, 1524, the youngest of the four surviving children of Jeanne Chaudrier and Louis de Ronsard. Jeanne was the daughter of a Poitevin family with ties to several prominent bloodlines of sixteenth-century France; Louis was a country gentleman whose distinction as a knight in the Italian campaigns of Charles VIII and Louis XII earned him the position of royal diplomat and maıˆtre d’hotel. As Louis was frequently absent, Ronsard was strongly influenced by his relation with his cleric uncle, Jean de Ronsard. Thought to have played an important role in his nephew’s earliest education,

Jean de Ronsard was a writer of verses, and he possessed a substantial library to which Ronsard became heir upon his uncle’s death. In 1533 Ronsard left his home to receive formal instruction in Paris at the academically and religiously conservative Colle`ge de Navarre. In spring 1534, after only one semester of study, the boy was peremptorily withdrawn from the school and returned to the paternal manor. This departure has been ascribed both to the young Ronsard’s homesickness and to his father’s fear that his son might become associated with the position taken by the college against the reformist leanings of the king’s sister, Marguerite de Navarre.

Cruel Fortune and the Inevitability of Death

Louis took advantage of his office in the royal household to secure his son a position as page to the dauphin Francis. A mere six days after joining Francis in the Rhoˆne Valley, the dauphin died, and Ronsard, not yet twelve years old, found himself attending the prince’s autopsy—an event he recalled, some thirty-nine years later, among the verses of his Le Tombeau de tres-illustre Princesse Marguerite de France, Duchesse de Savoye (1575; Tomb for the Most Illustrious Princess, Marguerite de France, Duchess of Savoie). This shocking experience was followed by others. While in Lyon on October 7, 1536, Ronsard was witness, on orders from a vengeful Charles V, to the quartering of the dauphin’s foreign-born squire, who was wrongly convicted of poisoning his master.

On July 2, 1537, barely a month and a half after arriving in Scotland as a page in the service of Madeleine de France, Ronsard watched as the ravaging effects of tuberculosis, a highly contagious and often deadly disease, extinguished the lady’s life before she reached her seventeenth birthday. Biographers and literary critics have speculated that these encounters with human mortality at an early age account for the themes of cruel fortune and the inevitability of death throughout Ronsard’s poetry. Read the rest of this entry

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann

Writer, Poet
(1875 – 1955)

Considered one of the foremost twentieth-century German novelists, Thomas Mann gained fame for ironic and philosophical works that reflected the doubts and fears of his era. Mann’s epic novels and short stories highlighted the struggles and psychology of intellectuals and artists, exploring philosophical issues as he investigated German national identity. Praised as the peer of writers like James Joyce, Mann won the 1929 Nobel Prize for Literature and achieved international acclaim during his lifetime.

Shared Interest in the Arts. 

Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann was born on June 6, 1875, in Lu¨beck, Germany. (Germany had only recently been unified by Otto von Bismarck in 1871.) Mann’s father, Thomas Johann Heinrich Mann, was a well-to-do merchant. His mother, Ju´ lia da Silva Bruhns, was born in Brazil and was the daughter of a German planter and a woman of Portuguese-Creole descent. Faced with Lu¨beck’s failing economy, Mann’s father wished that two of his sons, Thomas and Heinrich, would take over positions at the helm of the family business.

However, their father’s death in 1891, when Mann was sixteen years old, freed up the brothers to pursue their growing interest in the arts, though Mann would retain a suspicion of artists and nonbusiness pursuits for the rest of his life. Heinrich Mann went on to become an outstanding novelist and essayist, and even Mann’s younger brother, Viktor, made a name for himself with a 1948 family chronicle. Though Mann was bright, he hated school. He worked briefly in an insurance company, but, increasingly influenced by music and literature, he soon tried his hand at writing. He found inspiration in culture, philosophy, and opera. Mann was infatuated with the Romantic music of Richard Wagner as a teen, but became skeptical of Wagner’s power as he grew older. Thomas Mann also read the work of German philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, exploring the idea of free will and the individual’s relationship to society. These diverse influences would lead to a flexibility of style that would become Mann’s literary trademark.

After writing a short story when he should have been working, Mann found himself a published author. The story, which gained Mann a letter of appreciation from prominent poet Richard Dehmel, encouraged Mann so much that he quit his job and began auditing courses at the University of Munich. By the time his first book, Little Herr Friedemann, was published in 1895, Mann had gone to Italy with his brother Heinrich. Read the rest of this entry

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardywriter, poetry, drama
(1840 – 1928)

The works of the English novelist, poet, and dramatist Thomas Hardy (1840–1928) unite the Victorian and modern eras. His work revealed the strains that wide spread industrialization and urbanization placed on traditional English life. Major social changes took place during Hardy’s life. When he was a young man, England still had a largely agricultural economy and Queen Victoria presided over an ever-expanding worldwide empire. By the time he died, the forces of modernization had changed England forever.

Works in Biographical and Historical Context

Early Years During a Period of Rapid Industrialization in England Thomas Hardy was born on June 2, 1840, in Higher Bockhampton in Dorset, England, which later would form part of the ‘‘Wessex’’ of his novels and poems. During his early years, Hardy witnessed the changing of his landscape and rural community brought on by the Industrial Revolution. While the Industrial Revolution had begun at the turn of the nineteenth century, it was ongoing through the beginning of the twentieth century. Populations increasingly shifted from the country to the cities.Railroads linked towns and villages that were once remote to major urban centers. And with new mobility and new economic pressure, people faced new social issues, too, including a sharp spike in prostitution rates and infamous abuses of child labor in factories and mines.

After attending local schools, Hardy was apprenticed in 1856 to John Hicks, an architect in Dorchester. During his time as apprentice architect, Hardy read many of the influential works of the era, such as Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859), which was published when Hardy was nineteen. By the time he was twenty, Hardy had abandoned religion after being convinced of the intellectual truth of a godless universe.

Early Writing Experience: Failures, Then Success

Desperate RemediesIn 1862 Hardy began to write poems but was unable to get them published. Eventually, he accepted that he must become a novelist to succeed as an author. The novelist’s profession had by this time become well paid and well regarded. Hardy wrote his first novel, The Poor Man and the Lady, in 1867, but was advised not to publish it. His next novel Desperate Remedies (1871), was published but unsuccessful. On March 7, 1870, he met Emma Lavinia Gifford, with whom he fell in love. In spite of his continuing lack of success with literature, he decided to continue with it, hoping eventually to make enoughmoney to enable him to marry Emma.Hardy was paid thirty pounds for his next novel,Under the Greenwood Tree (1872). The following year it was published in New York by Holt and Williams.

The book was well received, and he was asked to write a novel for serialization in a magazine. In September 1872 A Pair of Blue Eyes began to appear, which records Hardy’s courtship with Gifford. Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), also serialized, was a financial and critical success, allowing Hardy to give up architecture and marry Emma in 1874. The Hand of Ethelberta (1876) also appeared as a serial but was not a ssuccessful. It did not have the country setting of Far fromthe Madding Crowd, which his audience had been previously responsive to. Hardy began to feel a sense of discontent as a novelist because his real desire was to succeed as a poet. He preferred his poetry to his prose and considered his novels to be merely a way to earn a living.

Mid-Career Work. His next novel, The Return of the Native (1878), received mixed attention. The novel’s theme of the collision of Old World and New World, of rural and modern, allowed Hardy to explore his growing sense that humans are driven by impulses that are no tunder rational control. Some reviewers praised the graphic descriptions, but others found Hardy’s writings trained and pretentious.The Trumpet-Major (1880), set in the Napoleonic period, represents Hardy’s attempt at historical fiction. It was followed by A Laodicean (1881), which Hardy dictatedto his wife while he was ill. In September 1881, while that novel was still running its course, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly invited Hardy to write a serial for his magazine. The result was Two on a Tower (1882).

the mayor of casterbridgeLater Fiction and Controversy over ‘‘Immoral’’ Content. During this time, Hardy decided to return to his native Dorset for good. This move initiated a major period of Hardy’s creative life as a novelist. The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), his next novel, presents Hardy’s belief that ‘‘character is fate.’’ Heralded as a turning point in the writer’s career, primarily for the skill with which he presents his male protagonist, The Mayor of Casterbridge is further acclaimed as a pivotal work in the development of the English novel, demonstrating that the genre could present a significant psychological history and still serve as an important social document. Hardy’s next novel, The Woodlanders (1887), a traditional pastoral, actually ends on a happy note. The same cannot be said, however, for Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), in which an innocent country girl falls victim to Victorian social hypocrisy.The Well-Beloved (1892) is thin by comparison.

Hardy described it in a letter to his American publishers as ‘‘short and slight, and written entirely with a view to serial publication.’’ It was followed in 1896 by what would be his final novel, Jude the Obscure, which follows the life and early death of Jude Fawley. More than any of Hardy’s other novels, Jude the Obscure was met with savage critical attacks, mainly for what was perceived as immoral content. Despite the controversy it inspired immediately after publication, the novel was eventually widely translated and recognized as a masterpiece before Hardy’s death. Apart from his fourteen novels, Hardy was a prolific writer of short stories, most of which were collected in four volumes. They were written for magazine publication and are of uneven quality. Most were written in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Read the rest of this entry

Pietro Aretino

Pietro Aretino

Pietro AretinoPietro Aretino the Italian author was born the son of a cobbler in Arezzo, a small town in Tuscany that was subject to the city of Florence. His mother grew estranged from Aretino’s father and moved in with a local nobleman, taking her children with her. At eighteen the young Aretino left Arezzo and moved to Perugia to become a servant in the home of the humanist Francesco Bontempi. Here he met the city’s circle of humanists, painters, and authors, and he acquired his taste for writing and painting. In Perugia he published a book of his poetry, in which he described himself as a painter, and he also became acquainted with Agostino Chigi, a prominent Sienese banker who kept a villa in Rome.

Chigi became Aretino’s patron, inviting him to move to the papal capital, where he broadened his circle of friends and acquaintances. At the time Rome was emerging as the capital of the High Renaissance. Long a dusty and dirty city when compared to Florence and the other Northern Italian centers of the time, Rome was in transformation, becoming the center of artistic and intellectual life at the time. In this brilliant atmosphere Aretino became constantly embroiled in scandals.

Political Involvements

In Rome, Aretino soon became known for his skills as a satirist when Giulio de’Medici hired him to write propaganda for him supporting his case for election to the papacy in 1521. Besides writing pamphlets praising the Medici candidate, Aretino also wrote a series of scathing satires that mocked Medici’s rivals, and when one of these candidates won election instead of Giulio, Aretino fled the city. Two years later, though, Giulio de’ Medici finally secured his election as pope and Aretino returned to Rome. However, he irritated his powerful friend when he wrote a seriesof pornographic sonnets that attacked Bishop Giberti, one of Giulio’s close advisers.

These sixteen Lascivious Sonnets recounted Giberti’s bizarre sexual tastes, and resulted in Aretino’s second banishment from the city. He made his way to the French court and tried to secure the patronage of Francis I, although his reconciliation with the pope soon allowed him to return to Rome. His taste for scandal, though, prompted him to write A Comedy about Court Life, a biting satire of thedebauched sexual lives of those in the papal court.Aretino fell out of favor again, and when he tried to seducethe wife of a powerful Roman citizen, an assassination attempt nearly ended his life. Although unsuccessful, the attack damaged Aretino’s hand and henever painted again. He traveled to Mantua in northern Italy where he continued to write satires and plays that attacked the papal court, but a second assassination attempt in 1527 forced him to flee yet again. He traveled to Venice, a more congenial place for his scathing wit, and he remained there for the rest of his life. Read the rest of this entry