Assigned: "Down, Wanton, Down!" (2445); "Love Without Hope" (2446); "The Cool Web" (2446); "The Reader Over My Shoulder" (2446); "To Juan at Winter Solstice" (2447); "The White Goddess" (2448); "The Blue-Fly" (2449); "A Slice of Wedding-Cake" (2450).
"Down, Wanton, Down!"
1. What immemorial conventions of love sonneteers does the speaker make fun of in this stanzaic address to a certain male body part? Does the poem equate "love" with sexuality, or does it try to do something else? Explain.
"Love Without Hope"
2. Love without hope of success is of course an unhappy theme in the obvious sense, but how does the figure of the bird-catcher offer another way to view that kind of love?
"The Cool Web"
3. What is the function of language, according to the speaker? How does the speaker's view challenge or modify the commonly accepted "instrumental" notion of language? (By "instrumental," I mean we usually say that words are tools we use to get things done in the everyday world, or that we use words to point to real things in the world and thereby understand them.)
4. Why, according to the speaker, would we "go mad" if we were to cast off language before the point of death? Why couldn't we face things without it?
"The Reader Over My Shoulder"
5. Who or what is the "reader over my shoulder"? What does the speaker — or rather writer, in the context of this poem — have against that reader, and why? How does the writer here conceive of the act of composing poetry — how much is expression, and how much is formal and related to editing and craft?
"To Juan at the Winter Solstice"
6. In his book The White Goddess, Graves offers his view of myth and its continuing value. Here his speaker says that there is only one true story for the poet. What is that story, and, in particular, why might it be appropriate to dedicate a poem about the story to the poet's newborn son?
"The White Goddess"
7. Who are the seekers identified in this poem? Why do they go in search of the White Goddess? What seems to be the speaker's own attitude towards her? Explain this last question with reference especially to the poem's final stanza.
8. What is the speaker's complaint about the way modern humans think about and behave towards their fellow creatures? Why do you suppose Graves chose to make the blue-fly the subject of such a poem, and why the provocative reference to our fear of epidemics?
"A Slice of Wedding-Cake"
9. What makes the speaker question the persistent chivalric attitude towards women even in modern times? Does he himself seem to have abandoned that attitude? Explain.
10. What does the speaker suggest about the capacity we often attribute to love of transforming individuals into something more extraordinary than their limited everyday selves? How much value (in your own view) should we invest in such idealistic notions?
Edition: Abrams, M. H. et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vols. 2A-C. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2000. ISBN 2A = 0393975681, 2B = 039397569X, 2C = 0393975703.