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Comparison Of The Old Cumberland Beggar And Holy Thursday

1634 words - 7 pages

Comparison of The Old Cumberland Beggar and Holy Thursday

Compare Wordsworth’s ‘The Old Cumberland Beggar. A Description’ (Romantic
Writings: An Anthology, pp.78-82) with Blake’s two ‘Holy Thursday
poems (Romantic Writings: An Anthology, pp.17 and 32). How do the
three poems differ in their treatment of the theme of poverty?

The title ‘The Old Cumberland Beggar’ (hereafter TOCB) immediately
gives us the concept that the poem relates in some way to poverty.
The words ‘old’ and ‘beggar’, conjuring up an image of an old man
wandering the streets. It is written in blank verse, creating an
informal tone, as in storytelling. With 3 stanzas of differing lengths
and no rhyme scheme, it comes across as a narrative rather than a
piece of poetry. This lack of rhyme and the use of enjambements all
the way through, makes it quite difficult to read as poetry. The
rhythm is of Iambic Pentameter, which does help it flow to a certain
extent, but this is hampered by the occasional awkward syntax. In
contrast, the ‘Holy Thursday’ from Blake’s Song of Innocence,
(hereafter HTSI), written in the form of 3 quatrains, or 4-lined
stanzas, has a rhyme scheme of aabb throughout, with a rhythm similar
to that of a hymn or nursery rhyme. This rhythm and the fact that the
language is very straightforward, creates a lively and easy to read
poem. Blake’s other ‘Holy Thursday’ poem, from Songs of Experience,
(hereafter HTSE), is written in simple language and is in the form of
4 quatrains/4-lined stanzas. The first has a rhyme scheme of abab,
but the remaining 3 stanzas have no rhyme pattern to them. However,
as the rhythm is fairly constant, being of iambic metre, it is quite
an easy read, having also a good syntax.

TOCB follows the wanderings of an old beggar, as he goes where he
pleases, a free man, as ‘he was seated by the highway side’ (L 2) and
‘He sate, and eat his food in Solitude;’(L 15). In contrast, the two
Holy Thursday poems relate to the poor children who are
institutionalised or in workhouses, the title originating from the
‘religious service held on the first Thursday in May for children of
the London charity schools’ (p.411- notes in Romantic Writings: An
Anthology). HTSI contains a sense of optimism, with statements such
as ‘their innocent faces clean’ (L1), ‘these flowers of London town’
(L5) and ‘with radiance all their own’ (L6). HTSE on the other hand,
represents the malevolence of the institutions, with ‘Babes reduced to
misery’ (L3), ‘so many children poor’ (L7) and ‘It is eternal winter
there’ (L12). They are in fact contradicting each other with their
differing attitudes to poverty. HTSI painting a rosy picture, with
‘behind them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor’ (L11),
giving the impression that these organised institutions are the best
way to help the poor. On the other hand, HTSE is showing that the
people who run these institutions, are doing it to satisfy
themselves. The poet is...

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