ENGL 3653: English Literature II

John M. Mercer, Professor of English

Northeastern State University, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

Study Guide 4: Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley

Revised 2-4-10


Canon of English Romantic Poets

Pre-Romantic Poets: Blake, Burns

First Generation of English Romantic Poets: Wordsworth, Coleridge

Second Generation of English Romantic Poets: Byron, Shelley, Keats



Today, both Shelley and Keats are considered to be better poets than Byron, but Shelley and Keats were hardly known in their own lifetime.  Byron, however, was an international star.  Byron’s poetry (in translation) had many devotees on the Continent both before and after his death.  His poetry translates better than most poetry does; it is not highly “poetic” or ornamented.  Interest in Byron’s sensational, scandalous LIFE, though, exceeded interest in his poetry. He was “tabloid material.”


Byron’s nature or personality was strangely contradictory or self-divided:

·         Byron had incredible physical beauty, but he was half lame and tended to be fat.

·         Byron was a great athlete, but he was physically lazy.  His SPIRIT, however, was restless.

·         Byron had the reputation for being a great lover and ladies’ man, but he was pursued by women rather than their pursuer, and he was primarily homosexual or bisexual.  Right before his death in Greece, he had a relationship with his servant boy. It is said that the only other person he ever truly loved was his half-sister.

·         Byron was a brilliant conversationalist (the best of all the great Romantic writers except Coleridge), but he loved and glorified solitude.

·         In his lifetime Byron was celebrated as the greatest Romantic poet, but he hated Romanticism and most of the work of other Romantic poets.  Rather, he loved the poems of the neoclassical Alexander Pope (from the first half of the 18th century).  Byron’s own poems are “un-Romantic” in that they use 17th- or 18th-century poetic forms, contain little description of nature, and rarely refer to common folk or rural life.

·         Byron was a political radical who died in service of the Greek revolution, but he was skeptical of reform or revolution, and he despised the modern Greeks.

·         Byron was a freethinker in religion, but he never escaped the influence of the Calvinism of his youth, and he secretly leaned toward Catholicism.


Textbook’s Introduction to Byron

  1. What are the traits of a “Byronic hero”?
  2. In what sense is Byron’s character Childe Harold a Byronic hero?
  3. In what sense is Manfred a Byronic hero?  How was Byron himself like Manfred?


Byron’s Poems

“Written after Swimming from Sestos to Abydos,” 611

  1. In classical mythology, what is the story of Hero and Leander?
  2. What contrasts does the speaker identify between his own story and Leander’s?
  3. What is the tone of this poem (the writer or speaker’s attitude toward what he’s writing)?  What lines especially reveal the tone?


“She Walks in Beauty,” 612

This poem is in what the NAEL calls the “Cavalier [17th-century] tradition of the elaborate development of a compliment to a lady.”  I have heard this poem quoted on 1980s sit-coms such as The Cosby Show and Who’s the Boss?.

  1. What specific aspect of the woman is praised in each of the three stanzas?


“They say that Hope is happiness,” 613

  1. What does the disillusioned speaker say that shows he devalues the past, the present, AND the future?


“When We Two Parted,” 613

1.      The meter of this poem is unusual. How many ACCENTED syllables are in each line?  The poem makes frequent use of the dactylic foot, which consists of one accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables.  What specific examples of dactylic feet can you find?

2.      This lyric poem describes the speaker’s past and present feelings for a woman.  When the two previously parted, how did the speaker feel about the woman?  What was the reason for their “silence and tears”?

3.      According to lines 13-24, what has happened since the speaker parted from the woman?  What has he heard about her?  How does he feel about her now?  What is the definition of “rue” (line 23)?

4.      If the speaker should ever see the woman again, what would be the reason for his greeting her with “silence and tears”? 


“Stanzas for Music,” 614

Like “She Walks in Beauty,” this poem is reminiscent of 17th-century Cavalier love poetry in using beautiful imagery and a flowing meter to lavish praise on a woman.

1.      This poem makes use of the anapestic foot, which consists of two unaccented syllables followed by one accented syllable.  What specific examples can you find of the use of this foot?  What effect does this rhythm have on the poem?


“Darkness,” 614

  1. What is the verse form of this poem?  What other poems in this unit use the same verse form?  What other narrative poem in this unit uses the same verse form?
  2. This poem is a disturbing fantasy about the last people left living on earth.  Identify the main steps in the plot of this story.  For extra credit, with a group of your classmates, act out (pantomime) this story in class while one person (or more) reads the poem aloud. 


“So We’ll Go No More A-Roving,” 616

  1. According to the footnote in the textbook, how does this poem reflect Byron’s own experience?
  2. Which of the two metrical feet introduced in this study guide does Byron use frequently in this poem?  What is the effect of this rhythm?
  3. What is the speaker’s attitude toward life?  Why does he feel this way? 
  4. What is the tone of the poem?


“Stanzas Written on the Road between Florence and Pisa,” 734

  1. Like the 17th-cen. Cavalier poets, the speaker of this poem asserts that there is a direct connection between love and fame. Explain this connection.


“Jan. 22nd. Missolonghi,” 735

1.      According to the textbook’s introduction to the life of Byron, what and where is Missolonghi?  It is said that, after Byron’s death, the mere mention of Missolonghi was enough to bring women all over Europe to tears.  Why?


Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Only the textbook’s introduction to this poem is assigned reading.

  • In 1809, Byron took a Grand Tour of the Continent of Europe, including Greece and Turkey. 
  • In 1812, he wrote CHP, cantos I-II, a poetic travelogue in Spenserian stanza. 
  • Romantic traits of CHP: description of nature; expression of emotions, including enthusiasm and melancholy.
  • Merits of CHP: it is racy, never dull, not highly “poetical” but oratorical.
  • Publication of cantos I-II earned Byron instant fame.  Poetically, however, cantos III-IV are better than I-II.
  • Childe Harold was the first Byronic hero.


Don Juan

Only the textbook’s introduction to this poem is assigned reading.

  • The rhymes in this poem make it clear that Byron intends “Juan” to be pronounced “JEW-un.”
  • Written in the verse form called ottava rima, this poem is Byron’s masterpiece.
  • It is the longest satire in the English language and one of the longest poems in the language. 
  • In this satire, Byron criticizes Wordsworth and Coleridge for abandoning the radicalism of their youth, and he ridicules the mature Coleridge for “explaining metaphysics to the nation.”
    1. What poem by Shelley in today’s assignment criticizes Wordsworth for the same reason?


Shelley’s Poems

“To Wordsworth,” 744

  1. To what famous Wordsworth poems does the speaker allude? 
  2. What does the speaker say he used to admire about Wordsworth?
  3. What does the speaker now regret about Wordsworth?
  4.  Both this poem and “Ozymandias” are sonnets—14-line poems written in iambic pentameter—but neither poem follows the traditional rhyme scheme of an English (or Shakespearean) sonnet OR of an Italian (or Petrarchan) sonnet.  What is the rhyme scheme of each of these sonnets by Shelley?  Are these rhyme schemes closer to that of an English or Italian sonnet?  How?


Ozymandias,” 768

  1. Who is the speaker of the words NOT inside quotation marks?  Who is the speaker of the words inside quotation marks?
  2. In line 8:  

a.       Whose “hand” is being referred to?

b.      To what noun does the pronoun “them” refer? 

c.       Whose “heart” is being referred to?

  1. Which lines record the words inscribed on the pedestal of the ancient statue?  (These lines could be placed inside single quotation marks.)
  2. The end of this poem is an excellent example of situational irony.  What is ironic about the situation described here?


“Hymn to Intellectual Beauty,” 766

This is a great early poem by Shelley.  Some critics believe the poem is based on the Platonic concept of Beauty as a spiritual abstraction, “the quality to which all beautiful objects aspire.”  Like Shelley’s skylark in “To a Skylark,” Beauty in this poem is an unseen but felt power.  “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” describes how as a boy the poet sought Intellectual Beauty, felt the “extasy” of its presence, and dedicated his powers to her.


1.      In stanza 1, Intellectual Beauty is compared in six (6) different similes (expressed comparisons between unlike things, using “like,” “as,” or other words that make the comparisons explicit).  To what six (6) things is Intellectual Beauty compared?  What do these things have in common with each other and with Intellectual Beauty?

2.      In stanza 2, lines 15-17, what does the speaker ask Intellectual Beauty?

3.      How does the speaker’s questioning of Intellectual Beauty fit the definition of the figure of speech called apostrophe? 

4.      What is the relevance of the questions the speaker asks in lines 18-24?  (The answer is explained in lines 25-26.)

5.      According to lines 27-28, what is the reason for human ideas about “God and ghosts and Heaven”?

6.      In line 32, to whom does “Thy” refer?  In the simile in lines 32-35, to what three (3) things is Intellectual Beauty compared?  What do these three (3) things have in common with each other and with Intellectual Beauty?  What poem contains an image similar to the second comparison (lines 33-34)?

7.      According to lines 36-38, what benefits does Intellectual Beauty bring to human life?

8.      In stanza 4, what request does the speaker make of Intellectual Beauty?

9.      Stanza 5 recounts an experience the speaker says he had with Intellectual Beauty in his youth.  In your own words, what was this experience?  This stanza reminds me of the experiences of the boys in the film The Dead Poets’ Society.  For extra credit, watch (or watch again) this film and relate it to this poem (and/or other aspects of the Romanticism).

10.  According to stanza 6, what was the result of the speaker’s boyhood experience described in stanza 5?

11.  In line 71, who or what is said to possess “awful loveliness”?  What definition of “awful” is relevant here? 

12.  How does the phrase “awful loveliness” fit the definition of an oxymoron?

13.  In stanza 7, to what circumstances in the speaker’s life do the references to afternoon (the last half of the day) and autumn (the end of the year) relate?

14.  In lines 78-84, what does the speaker ask Intellectual Beauty to do? 


“Mount Blanc”

This poem is not assigned, but you might want to read and respond to it for extra credit.  This poem concerns the new Romantic phenomenon of climbing a mountain just to look at the view.

(Similarly, Wordsworth climbed Mount Snowden in Wales and wrote about this experience in The Prelude, the long poem describing his development as a poet.)


“Ode to the West Wind,” 772

  • This is a great lyric poem of NATURE.  It has been compared to parts of the Bible, such as the Psalms, Old Testament prophecies, and the Book of Job.
  • The poetic form of this poem is a modified version of the terza rima Dante uses in The Divine Comedy, with interlocking tercets rhyming aba, bcb, etc. 
  • The speaker (in Italy, like Shelley himself) observes the west wind marking the end of summer.  As he points out in lines 9-12 and in the last line of the poem, another west wind will mark the end of winter. Each of the first three numbered sections of the poem (1-3) is an apostrophe addressing the west wind. Each section describes the action of the wind in a different place (section 1, in the forest; section 2, in the sky; section 3, on the sea), followed in the last line by an imperative (command) to the wind, “O hear!” (lines 14, 28, 42).
  1. What is the definition of “apostrophe” as a figure of speech (not as a mark of punctuation)?  Apostrophe is a typically Shelleyan device. In what other assigned poems does he use it?
  2. Where in the poem does the speaker, who feels he has lost his inspiration to write poetry, ask the wind to make him an eolian harp?  What does the eolian harp symbolize here?
  3. Going beyond the theme of the speaker’s own poetic inspiration, the end of the poem has a revolutionary, political theme.  Written in 1819, the poem prophesies political revolution in Europe after the Congress of Vienna of 1815.   The role of the wind in the cycle of seasons is a symbol of Shelley’s revolutionary hopes for mankind.  What specific lines and phrases indicate these revolutionary hopes?


“To a Skylark,” 817

Written in 1820, one year after “Ode to the West Wind,” this poem is Shelley’s final treatment of the poets relationship to the Power hidden behind Nature.  The narrator feels cut off from the joy this Power can bring.


Since many of the following questions refer to the poem by stanza number, please number the stanzas in your book.

  1. What figure of speech is found in line 1?  What other poems in this unit begin with the same figure of speech?
  2. Line 2 has been said to sound like the song of a bird.  What sounds especially help to achieve this effect? 
  3. Which dictionary definition of blithe is relevant in line 1?  In the context of the poem as a whole, why is it appropriate for the speaker to address the skylark as a “blithe Spirit”?
  4. In stanza 1, where is the bird, and what is it doing?  In stanza 2, what two things does the bird keep doing?
  5. According to stanzas 3 and 4, what time of day is it?
  6. In the similes in stanzas 4 and 5, to what does the speaker compare the disappearance of the bird?
  7. In stanza 6, how does the speaker know the bird is still there?
  8. In the similes in stanzas 7-11, to what things are the skylark and its song compared?
  9. In stanzas 12-13, what is the speaker’s opinion of the bird’s singing?
  10. What is a “Sprite” (line 61)?  What is a “Chorus Hymeneal” (line 66)?  What is an “empty vaunt” (line 69)?
  11. In your own words, what does the speaker ask the skylark in stanza 15?
  12. According to stanza 16, what (human) states of mind has the bird never experienced? What is the definition of “languor” (line 77)?   What is “satiety” (line 80)? 
  13. In stanza 17, what is the connection between death and beauty? 
  14. In your own words, what generalization does the speaker make about the human condition in stanza 18?  What stanza from a poem by Burns says essentially the same thing?  Do you agree or disagree with this generalization about the human condition? 
  15. Extra credit: Memorize stanza 18 (lines 86-90), and recite it to me (or to the class).
  16. According to stanza 19, what aspects of the human experience are necessary for humans to experience joy?  How is this insight ironic? 
  17. According to stanza 20, what group of people could especially learn from the skylark?
  18. In stanza 21, what request does the speaker make of the skylark?  Why?
  19. All 21 stanzas have the same rhyme scheme.  What is it?
  20. What is the meter of the fifth line of each stanza?  What is the effect of having this meter at the end of each stanza?
  21. Throughout the poem, the bird can be heard but not seen.  In this respect, how is the poet Shelley like the bird?  According to the poem, how is the poet different from the bird?


 “To Percy Bysshe Shelley”: Byron’s letter to Shelley about Keats’s death, 740

  1. How is the content of this letter from Byron to Shelley reflected in Shelley’s Adonais?


Adonais, 823

Milton’s Lycidas and Shelley’s Adonais are the greatest pastoral elegies in English.  Both are modeled after Lament for Bion by the ancient Greek poet Moschus. Bion had written a poem entitled Lament for Adonis.  In classical mythology, Adonis, a beautiful young boy beloved of Venus, is killed by a wild boar.

  1. Extra-credit research: What can you learn about the myth of Venus and Adonis?  (Shakespeare’s narrative poem Venus and Adonis is based on this myth.)  How is  Shelley’s character Adonais similar to and different from that of the mythological Adonis?
  2. According to the textbook, what is a pastoral elegy?  What conventional features of pastoral elegy are found in Shelley’s Adonais, and where are they found?  (See the introduction to the poem (822b-23t) and the footnotes throughout the potem.)
  3. What is the pathetic fallacy?  How is it used in Adonais?
  4. The verse form of Shelley’s Adonais is Spenserian stanza, created by Edmund Spenser for The Faerie Queene.  How many lines are in each stanza of Adonais?  What is the meter of the first eight (8) lines in each stanza?  What is the meter of the last line of each stanza?  What is the rhyme scheme of each stanza?


It is conventional for a pastoral elegy to mourn the death of a poet.  Shelley’s Adonais is unusual, however, in that both its writer and the poet mourned have a high reputation as poets.  Although Shelley and Keats were only acquaintances, not close friends, Shelley financed publication of a volume of Keats’s poetry and invited the ill Keats to stay with him in Pisa, Italy.  Although Keats and Shelley did not strongly admire each other’s poetry, Shelley convinced himself, after Keats’s death, that Keats was a great poet.  Adonais reflects Shelley’s mistaken belief that Keats died because of a critic’s negative review.  Shelley’s poem is not only an elegy mourning Keats’s death but also an attack on the critic who supposedly caused it.

  1. What lines of Adonais refer to this critic and his supposed responsibility for Keats’s death?
  2. The last 17 stanzas of Adonais are quite original in that they transcend the mourning that is the main subject of the poem.  Shelley goes on to struggle with the imminence of his own death.  What specific details of the circumstances of Shelley’s own death does this poem capture? 


A Defence of Poetry

  1. Is this work written in prose or in poetry?  More specifically, what is its genre?  
  2. What is the content of this work?


Mary Shelley

  1. Who were the parents of Mary Shelley?  What was her middle name?  What was her maiden name?
  2. Who was her husband? How did she support herself and her son after the death of her husband?
  3. What is the genre of Frankenstein?