Thematic Guide to British Poetry

By Ruth Glancy | Go to book overview

Rebellion and
Conformity

Rebellion and conformity is a theme usually associated with youth, especially the transitional years between childhood and adulthood when children typically challenge the restrictions of adult life, perhaps in the knowledge that soon the pressures of earning a living and taking on adult responsibilities will be inevitable. It is also a theme more commonly associated with the novel, which lends itself to following the progress of a child to adulthood in the Bildungsroman. Poets have approached it with a variety of attitudes, however, and have not restricted the discussion to young people.

George Crabbe (1754–1832) is not well known now, except for his long poem “The Village” (c. 1815), but one of his lyrics, “The Whistling Boy” (c. 1815), neatly confronts the question of rebellion in youth. The first stanza tells the story of the whistling boy, a young plowman who yearns to break free from his dull life and become a soldier, but “he knows not how/To leave the land he loves so well.” In the second stanza, a village girl who loves him decides not to follow her dream of a different, more exciting life in London. The third stanza compares the speaker's fear of rebellion to that of the boy and the maid. Vacillating between resolve to go and reluctance to leave familiar scenes, which “to minds disturbed … appear/In melancholy charms arrayed,” the speaker fails to make up his mind, a dilemma that was probably Crabbe's own. As a boy he worked as a day laborer in the country while studying to be a doctor. Eventually someone paid for him to go to London, where he went into the ministry rather than the medical profession.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson's “Locksley Hall” also drew on the poet's own experience. Written in 1837–1838, the poem was influenced by Tennyson's bitter discovery that the young woman with whom he had fallen in love, the wealthy Rosa Baring, was a shallow flirt. The speaker of this

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Thematic Guide to British Poetry
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Anthologies of British Poetry and Abbreviations Used xi
  • Active and Contemplative Lives 1
  • Art, Imagination, and Inspiration 15
  • Beauty 31
  • Carpe Diem 43
  • Christmas Poems 47
  • Death 53
  • Death of the Young 65
  • Duty 77
  • Fame and Ambition 81
  • Family Relations 85
  • Freedom and Captivity 89
  • The Golden Mean 93
  • Immortality 97
  • Industrialism and the City 105
  • Innocence and Experience 111
  • Love 119
  • Marriage 141
  • Music 153
  • Nature and Country Life 159
  • Old Age 187
  • Patriotism 193
  • Politics and Human Rights 197
  • Pride and Vanity 205
  • Rebellion and Conformity 215
  • Regret, Consolation, and Melancholy 221
  • Religion 229
  • Sleep 243
  • Time and Change 251
  • War 257
  • Biographical Sketches 269
  • Further Reading 293
  • Index 295
  • About the Author 305
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