Category Archives: Literature After 1550 (Year 1)

1st Year Course

Carol Ann Duffy and The Daily Mail

As for the idea of a classroom of unruly schoolboys being stilled and thrilled to hear such stuff read aloud — as they must have once been by Tennyson — forget it. Poets don’t write for schoolboys any more. They seem to write mainly for each other.

First-year students were recently studying the work of the current British poet laureate. This article from The Daily Mail may make it all clearer.


Photo: Lancaster Litfest

A New Odyssey

During the age when The Odyssey took form, near the end of the eighth century b.c., the Greeks were voyaging into the world once again after a period of dark decline. They were setting up colonies and resuming the trade that had been interrupted by whatever cataclysmic forces—invasions, rebellions, pestilence, natural disasters—brought down the Bronze Age civilizations of Minoa and Mycenae. Yet the spirit of the second Homeric epic is wary. Unlike The Iliad, which sings of the glorious feats of godlike warriors in a legendary heroic age, The Odyssey tells of a weary man’s fight for survival in the face of threatening Others who can never share his view of the world or take his interests to heart. This besieged sense of a realm seething with social hostilities and deep divisions, in which the very possibility of dialogue seems out of reach, may well strike a chord.

Poetry & Politics: A Minister Reads Kipling

The British ambassador to Burma was forced to stop Boris Johnson mid-sentence as he recited a colonial poem in the country’s most sacred temple… Rudyard Kipling’s Mandalay is written through the eyes of a retired British serviceman in Burma and also references kissing a local girl.

from The Independent

The Guardian

Students will know Kipling from the first year syllabus where his poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’ appears.


By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

‘Er petticoat was yaller an’ ‘er little cap was green,
An’ ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat-jes’ [Burmese queen] the same as Theebaw’s Queen,
An’ I seed her first a-smokin’ of a whackin’ white cheroot,
An’ a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd [i.e. Buddha]
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay…

When the mist was on the rice-fields an’ the sun was droppin’ slow,
She’d git ‘er little banjo an’ she’d sing Kulla-lo-lo!
With ‘er arm upon my shoulder an’ ‘er cheek agin my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an’ the hathis [elephants] pilin’ teak.
Elephints a-pilin’ teak
In the sludgy, squidgy creek,
Where the silence ‘ung that ‘eavy you was ‘arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay…

But that’s all shove be’ind me – long ago an’ fur away
An’ there ain’t no ‘busses runnin’ from the Bank to Mandalay;
An’ I’m learnin’ ‘ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
“If you’ve ‘eard the East a-callin’, you won’t never ‘eed naught else.”
No! you won’t ‘eed nothin’ else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An’ the sunshine an’ the palm-trees an’ the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay…

I am sick o’ wastin’ leather on these gritty pavin’-stones,
An’ the blasted English drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho’ I walks with fifty ‘ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An’ they talks a lot o’ lovin’, but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an’ grubby ‘and –
Law! wot do they understand?
I’ve a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay…

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would be
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
O the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

Bob Dylan and Homer

Bob Dylan has delivered his Nobel Prize speech just in time to collect the prize money. He has conveniently (for our first year course on literary contexts) demonstrated the ongoing influence of Classical literature in his references to The Odyssey. He also refers to Moby Dick and John Donne.

For coverage of links to a text file or an audio file of the speech see

Ulysses 2nd cent BC


Emily Dickinson

Photograph of Emily Dickinson, seated, at the age of 16

She was less like a recluse, more like a bomb going off.

An excerpt from A Loaded Gun, by Jerome Charyn, who writes that Emily Dickinson was not just “one more madwoman in the attic,” but rather a messianic modernist, a performance artist, a seductress, and “a woman maddened with rage—against a culture that had no place for a woman with her own fiercely independent mind and will.”

Read Excerpt Here

Yeats’s Bones Picked Over Again

W. B. Yeats, one of Ireland’s most celebrated authors died in France in 1939. His body was buried in the Roquebrune cemetery and a few years later his bones were dug up and scattered in an ossuary where they were mixed with the bones of many others. In 1948 the Yeats family and the Irish government requested the poet’s body and a French coroner was dispatched to gather his remains together. The bones were escorted by the French army to an Irish navy vessel and they were reburied with national ceremony in Yeats’s beloved County Sligo.

Since then there has been some scepticism about the possibility that French officials could have reassembled Yeats’s skeleton. Recently, more documents that have come to light lend force to this. See the report in The Irish Times which includes photos of the reburial of Yeats:

As the article points out, one scholar has noted that a DNA test would put an end to the question but there is resistance to this. It is argued that the symbolic is more important than the prosaic truth. Actually, this is quite fitting in Yeats’s case and the location of his bones does not take from or add to his literary achievement. With any luck, there might be Yeats bones both in Sligo and in France and then there could be two sites for pilgrims to visit. The Yeats family may well be fed up with people interfering with Yeats’s bones, and that is their unquestionable prerogative. For others to prefer a romance to reality is less acceptable as this is the sort of fantasy that appears in myths of nationhood and religion that can turn out to be all too powerful and pernicious.

Yeats is not the only corpse to have been repatriated to Ireland. In the 1960s Roger Casement (once Sir Roger, and a possible influence on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) was exhumed from Pentonville Prison in London where he had been executed for treason for his part in the 1916 Irish Rising. His body was returned to Dublin where it was interred with full military honours: part of making the nation is possessing the bones of its heroes. These bones are probably authentic but the controversy about Casement is whether his ‘Black diaries’ are since these included extensive accounts of his homosexual liaisons. The diaries have been the subject of forensic examination and much debate. In this instance, historical facts have clearly been more important than pious legend and if there was a test as simple as a DNA one that would resolve the question of the diaries’ authenticity it’s unlikely that it would not be administered.