ENG2206 Troy University Equiano, Wordsworth, and Keats Discussion Students will read Equiano’s “From The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself,” Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” and “The World is Too Much With Us,” Keats’ “Bright Star” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” and read the textual notes posted in the Week #3 module (“Notes for Week #3”). The weekly assignments will include posting an initial post to the Week #3 discussion and responses to two classmate postings.
the student should be able to:
understand Equiano’s “From The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself”
understand Wordsworth’s “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” and “The World is Too Much With Us”
understand Keats’ “Bright Star” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
improve their ability to express their written ideas about what they read by responding to and interacting with topics in the weekly course discussion
The texts by Equiano, Wordsworth, and Keats are all very different in form as well as in focus, but they all address ideas and emotions related to change. Using at least one specific example from a work on the syllabus by each author, what kind of change do we see in their work and what do they suggest about change based on the discussion or portrayal of it? Can we learn anything from their writing that might help us to understand how to approach or cope with change today?
In addition, your initial post needs to be at least 350 words in length.The discussion instructions state that these responses are to be your own original responses to the readings and are not to use any outside sources. English 2206 Kosiba
Notes for Week #3
Keep in mind throughout this course that the notes I provide for each of the readings are
intended as a supplement and guide to the reading itself and should never be used solely as a
substitute for reading the story.
Equiano”From The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa,
the African, Written by Himself p. 72-97 (Vol. E)
Equianos narrative, published in 1789, was the first to be written by a freed slave. As the
introduction to the text points out, it combined elements of the travelogue, spiritual
autobiography, and antislavery argument (74). That mix of perspectives made it attractive to a
wide variety of readers (went through 36 editions before 1857).
Equiano was born in what is present day Nigeria around 1745. He was kidnapped and sold into
slavery around age 11.
He was one of around 12 million slaves transported from Africa to North and South America
and the Caribbean between the 16th and 19th centuries. Eventually he was able to buy his
Keep in mind were reading excerpts from his narrativenot the whole text.
In addition to being an interesting personal story, for our purposes, as students of world
literature, Equianos narrative provides perspective on how the slave trade was relevant to
many countries. The segments in your textbook also reinforce what one regional African
culture was like as Equiano speaks about Ibo culture in the 1700s: Recent anthropologists have
authenticated his account, praising Equiano for his meticulous depiction of a whole way of life
Like many narratives of this time, Equiano begins with a letter to his readers on pages 74-75,
humbling himself before his audience, professing his Christianity, and pointing out his primary
aim in writing the narrative: the chief design of which is to excite in your august assemblies a
sense of compassion for the miseries which the Slave-Trade has entailed on my unfortunate
Most of the key elements to take away from Chapter I involve Equianos description of rural
African life. Despite the uncivilized label often applied to many African cultures of the time (a
hierarchical label applied by those who saw European culture as the only way things should be),
English 2206 Week #3 2
his description of Ibo society contains many of the same basic constructs we would see in
For example, on page 76-77, when Equiano discusses the custom of Embrenche, that may
sound very different from what westernized cultures are used to. However, the system of
justice meted out by those who bear the mark of Embrenche is similar to a sense of justice
elsewhere, with people being held to account for kidnapping or adultery.
There is clearly art in Equianos native culture, as he mentions on page 77 that We are almost
a nation of dancers, musicians, and poets.
There is an emphasis on cleanliness, as Equiano comments on page 78 that folks in his society
always wash their hands before eating.
He also discusses the types of agriculture in the community, the types of food consumed,
marriage customs, religion, and other details about Ibo life.
Slavery exists in the culture, but it only applies to prisoners of war and those who commit
crimes (again, implying at least a sense of justice and limits to a practice that was often
conducted by Europeans and Americans without any humanity or restrictions). On the middle
of page 81, Equiano makes sure to clarify that the slavery that existed within his culture was
much more humane than what he experienced elsewhere. Just prior to that, on page 80,
Equiano highlights how the drive for European goods led many chiefs to actively capture and
enslave other tribes in order to barter those slaves in exchange for goods from local traders.
Equiano makes many parallels to the Jewish people in an attempt to show that his own people
are not as different as they may seem. He also finishes the chapter with a strong argument
regarding prejudice due to skin color by pointing out that other people, such as Spaniards, can
be dark skinned and that people do not think less of their abilities. He also highlights how all
people can seem ignorant of certain ideas or customs when not educated about them: Let the
haughty European recollect that his ancestors were once, like the Africans, uncivilized, and
even barbarous. Did Nature make them inferior to their sons? and should they too have been
made slaves? (85).
Chapter II mainly details the conditions of Equianos kidnapping and his early months in
captivity. It would have been notable at the time (and still is today) for its description of the
slave ship and his passage from Africa to Barbados. Your textbook notes in the introduction to
Equianos narrative that this was often referred to as the Middle Passage, and the horrific
conditions on those ships has been well documented.
Chapter II is also notable for the focus on what slavery or enslavement does to families. Not
only is Equiano taken away from his tribe and his larger family, but in being kidnapped with his
English 2206 Week #3 3
sister, we see their separation in great detail. It is made even more poignant by their brief
reunion in Chapter II, only to be separated yet again. Equiano would never see her again.
Equiano also calls attention to the harm slavery imposes on families when he notes the sale of
slaves in Barbados as the end of the chapter: In this manner, without scruple, are relations and
friends separated, most of them never to see each other again (94).
As a convert to Christianity, Equiano, like many other converted slaves, calls out the hypocritical
practice of Christianity by so many who claim adherence to the religion and yet condone the
practice of slavery: O, ye nominal Christians! might not an African ask you, learned you this
from your God, who says unto you, Do unto all men as you would men should do unto you?
(94). Many slave holders considered themselves strong Christians and the Bible became a
contested space for finding scripture that would either condone or argue against slavery.
Abolitionists such as Equiano saw the arguments for justice and mercy within Christianity as
favoring their cause.
From Chapter III
We are reading a much smaller excerpt of Chapter IIIit is not a complete chapter in our
Equiano is shipped from Barbados to a plantation in Virginia. He continues to be amazed at the
new things he is exposed to, everything from the innocuous (the clock on the wall, the artwork)
to the increasingly cruel (the woman wearing the iron muzzle).
He undergoes various forms of renaming while enslaved, with the purchase by Michael Henry
Pascal resulting in the name Gustavus Vassa.
With Pascal, Equiano sails for England. He continues to be amazed by new things, such as
seeing snow for the first time, encountering religion, and trying to understand books. Through
stories such as these, Equiano does a great job of showing what it might be like to see someone
discover these things for the first time.
Wordsworth Ode on Intimations of Immortality and The World is too Much With Us p.
320-323, 328-333 (Vol. E)
Wordsworth and Keats take us into the realm of a literary period known as Romanticism.
Previously, we were dealing with texts from the period of the Enlightenment. In the
Enlightenment, we were dealing with texts that looked at aspects of humanity as a whole and
that often focused on trying to find a rational order or sense to the universe. In Romanticism,
the literature takes much more of a turn inward.
English 2206 Week #3 4
In particular, Romantic texts (and we use Romantic with a capital R to signify the literary
classification as opposed to the use of the word romantic to describe something associated
with love) often focused on several elements:
An emphasis on the power of imagination
An emphasis on the individual and on individual feeling and experience
A sense of the value in the primitive or uneducated
During the Romantic era, literature took on a more personal viewpoint. One traditional way
that this has been marked is in the assertion by Wordsworth in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads
that poetry should be written as a man speaking to men and that it should emphasize
emotion and feeling. (These days we would probably read that quote more as men AND
women, but Wordsworth was speaking in language common to the time.)
Nature also took on a greater role among Romantic writers. While weve seen nature in earlier
readings (particularly in The Narrow Road to the Deep North), for Romantic writers nature
became a much more symbolic space. The natural world, particularly that unspoiled or
untouched by humans, became an ideal that demonstrated a true state of being.
This emphasis on the untouched or unaffected also contributes to the Romantic preference for
the period of childhood over all other states of human growth. Romantic writers saw birth as
the purest, most unspoiled moment a human being could have and saw each day or year after
that as something that moved an individual further and further from that true state of being.
Children are, therefore, often idealized as being the best at perceiving the world or being most
aware of their surroundings and that is a perspective lost as people age.
William Wordsworth is an important British Romantic poet. Much of his poetry would have
been considered innovative at the time it was written. His poetry breaks away from the
classical structures that characterized his predecessors.
Ode on Intimations of Immortality
The information provided just after the title on page 354, that this poem comes from
Wordsworths work Recollections of Early Childhood, is helpful in putting this poem in context.
The speaker in the poem (as we cant always assume it to be the author) is clearly establishing a
loss of perspective or insight.
The speaker notes all the beauty in nature, and yet describes in those last two lines that there is
still clearly something missing.
English 2206 Week #3 5
Within the beauty of nature, the speaker of the poem experiences a sense of grief for what is
lost. The speaker is focused on trying to put the grief behind them and focus on happiness
Again, the speaker is trying to embrace the vibrancy and happiness around him (particularly in
the bit I feelI feel it all in line 42). However, despite all this happiness, elements of nature
also continue to remind the speaker of something lost. Lines like But theres a Tree, of many,
one, / A single Field which I have looked upon, / Both of them speak of something that is gone
(lines 52-54) emphasize that loss. The stanza (section) finishes with the ultimate question for
the speaker: Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
(lines 57-58). The speaker wants to know where they lost the deeper feeling and awareness of
The speaker starts to explore what happens as a person grows. The fact that Our birth is but a
sleep and a forgetting (line 59) implies that when we are born we start to move away from our
truest sense of beingour most aware moment of nature and creation. Before we are born we
know more about nature, creation, and the universe than we ever will again. As we age
Shades of the prison-house begin to close / Upon the growing Boy (lines 68-69). Wordsworth
is not talking about a literal prison, but the sense that as we age we are imprisoned by more
adult concerns. We still maintain some sense of the light, as Wordsworth notes, until At
length the Man perceives it die away, / And fade into the light of common day (lines 76-77).
We move further and further from that sense of awareness and true insight (as represented by
nature) as we become adults and take on other concerns.
Wordsworth implies that even those who mother us or nurse [raise] us as children
encourage this move away from the glories or insights we have as children. He notes that
this isnt done with any kind of malice, but is just part of what happens as they help us grow.
Wordsworth talks about how the child, as it grows, beings to take on other concerns. As he
notes in the last line, most of these are imitations of what the child sees happening in the
adult world. So again, these concerns wipe away aspects of that truer foundation to nature
that we have when we are born.
Wordsworth tries to call attention to the value of that childhood innocence and perspective. In
the first few lines, the speaker is trying to remind the children that they are blessed with the
truths that they possess: Mighty Prophet! Seer blest! / On whom those truths do rest, / Which
we are toiling all our lives to find. He continues that observation with an appeal:
Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might
English 2206 Week #3 6
Of heaven-born freedom on thy beings height
Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke
The years to bring the inevitable yoke,
Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife?
Fool soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life!
This passage is very similar to when parents or adults tell children not to grow up too fast.
Wordsworth is a bit more concerned about children preserving their access to the truth and
insight they have at those younger stages, but he is in essence saying Why spend your time
wishing you were grown up and working at it so hard?
Wordsworth notes that as much as we have lost that insight as we grow, we do contain
glimmers of it (embers as he mentions in the first line of the stanza). We move away from
seeing it clearly, but it reappears in shadowy recollections. He finishes by emphasizing,
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be, [using space to imply advancing age]
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
In essence, every now and then when we have a calm or quiet moment, we gain a glimpse back
to those early memories or insights that allows us to see that essential truth.
In this stanza, Wordsworth takes some comfort in the fact that even though we cannot go back
in time and regain that original state, we can gain some comfort in these moments we have
that remind us of it. The key passage here (amidst the signs of happiness) is
What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
So we take comfort in what we can. This becomes comfort in a sense of adult awareness, as
noted in the last few lines of the stanza, as with age we gain broader perspectives. We are able
to take comfort in the sympathy of being able to contrast past with present, in the fact that we
are able to find some comfort amidst suffering, and that we are able to face death and other
ideas with a philosophical perspective that comes with age.
English 2206 Week #3 7
In closing, Wordsworth embraces that final perspective that we have indeed lost something as
we age and yet we perhaps have gained a bit of perspective in the process of aging. He
embraces the images of nature that represent some of that youth and yet mark the passing of
time (Another race hath been, and other palms are wontime moves one, people die). He
focuses on the good that comes out of life overall, even when things might seem sad:
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give [meanest can mean plain/basic]
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
Every aspect of life, even though we feel the loss of youth, still has some qualities that are
worthwhile and bear reflection and value.
The World is Too Much with Us
The first two lines of this poem set the stage for what follows: The world is too much with us;
late and soon, / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers. Wordsworth is calling
attention to the idea that society or humanity is out of sync with the world. He suggests that
we are perhaps concerned too much with the wrong things. He continues to say that we
have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! implying that we have gained very little in the
exchange for our hearts.
The images in lines 5-6 that imply that nature is up-gathered now like sleeping flowers show
that we are disconnected from nature. This is confirmed in the next lines For this, for
everything, we are out of tune; / It moves us not. He is implying that we are out of tune with
nature, and that we are out of tune with everything else as a result. The phrase It moves us
not describes that we are not bothered by this disconnect as we should be.
The final lines are there to try and shock a reader into thinking beyond that apathy and
indifference. The images that Wordsworth closes with are passionate ones. He turns to images
of Greek gods to show grand images of a much more inspired, turbulent sea than the one that
people are ignoring or no longer able to comprehend.
Keats Bright Star and Ode on a Grecian Urn p. 358-61, 362, 364-365 (Vol. E)
Keats is another poet who worked who used similar Romantic elements as Wordsworth. In
particular, Keats was noted for the sense of longing and the discussion of beauty within his
poems. He is also known for his incredibly short career as a poet (only about 5 years), as he
died tragically at the age of 25 of tuberculosis.
As much as this is one continuous stanza, one of the important keys to understanding it lies in
noting that it really does move through two parts. There is a shift in the poem right after line 8.
English 2206 Week #3 8
The first half is focused on the speaker admiring a star in the sky. The star has the capacity to
see all of nature from its position high in the sky.
The speaker acknowledges in line 9 that he cannot have that capability, and yet he is still
steadfast, still unchangeable. While he cant have the perspective of hovering over nature like
the star, the speaker can find the beauty and security in love. In the process of spending time
with his loved one, the speaker can so live everor else swoon to death. In essence, there is
a sense of the same immortality and beauty that the star possesses in the love possessed by the
Ode on a Grecian Urn
This is a great poem that examines ideas related to beauty and how it translates throughout
history. (And you should perhaps feel lucky youre spared my awful artistic skills, as in a
classroom setting I often try a sketched out visual of the urn on the whiteboard to help the
discussion.) No one has ever clearly determined what exact urn Keats was looking at, but this
image will give you an idea of the type of object. Keep in mind that the urn he is focused on is
decorativewhile an urn today is most often associated with funerals, that is not his intent.
In this first section, Keats is focused on the urn itself and examining its age and history. The urn
is a Sylvan historian that perfectly preserves a moment of time. He finishes this section by
posing many questions about what the urn represents.
Keats moves on to reflecting on the eternal beauty of youth as reflected by the urn. The urn
contains images of musicians, which is why Keats mentions that Heard melodies are sweet, but
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