Practical Criticism: Class 1

They flee from me, that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild, and do not remember
That sometime they put themselves in danger,
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once, in special,
In thin array, after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small,
Therwith all sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said: 'Dear heart, how like you this?'

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned, thorough my gentleness,
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served:
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

Developing Your Thoughts

So far we have considered technical aspects of the poem. We have noticed several oddities in its metre, and some unsual usages of particular words. We have also noticed that it is very difficult to establish a precise factual framework within which to locate it.

This is a point to take stock: practical criticism is best performed by stages. Begin by noticing formal features and words which puzzle you. It is important not simply to stop there, however. What we need to do now is to think about unifying our miscellaneous observations into a critical argument about the poem.

The next page gives a model critical account of the poem for you to compare with your own thoughts. Be prepared to disagree with it, and argue against it. Test it against the poem and your views of the poem. Practical criticism is a democratic skill: any reader confronted with a poem can put forward his or her own reading, and has all the information which he or she needs to defend and develop their argument.

©Colin Burrow 1999