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The Theme of Change in Poetry

“Omnia mutabantur, mutantur, mutabuntur” as the Latin proverb has it. Antiquity has supplied us with perfect food for reflection since ancient literary sources are the treasury of wisdom, just as the sayings that have lived during centuries to supply humanity of the present with eternal wisdom. Everything changes. It is impossible to catch the moment, time flies fast, and one will never be same the next moment since our thoughts and feelings are constantly changing as well. However, a man never knows for sure what changes will come to him, they may be positive as well as negative, and destiny determines the flow of reality. Time and changes are mysterious things; this is why as anything that is inconceivable they have always claimed human attention. Since the best way to trace human ideas and feelings in different historical epochs is to analyze the sources of imaginative literature that belong to those epochs, the theme of change may be considered in different literary sources by well-known authors whose literary authority is time-proved. The aim of the present work is to analyze the realization of the theme of change in the works of imaginative literature that belong to different cultural and historical epochs and to different literary genres. The zest of the present work will be the lyrics of the contemporary song by Tupac Shakur that will be involved in the analysis. Consequently, the present work will be aimed at the detection of the nature of changes as presented in different literary sources and at the attitude of the authors to these changes.

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Since the present research covers almost all literary genres but for the genre of novel, the flow of the work will be determined by the belonging of the source to a particular literary genre: drama, novella, short story, poetry, and contemporary lyrics of the song. Let us start from the beginning and analyze the eternal masterpiece that has been the subject of the investigation of literary critics for a long time already, “Hamlet” by Shakespeare, a man of genius. The complexity of the literary work can be explained by numerous themes running though the play; they are the sense of life, death, revenge, love, betrayal, etc. However, the theme of change can be also observed in the literary work, though it is not so evident as other themes lying of the surface. However, researchers state that many literary works of the author contain the theme of change, such as “Julius Caesar”, “Troilus and Cressida”, “Measure for Measure” (Soellner 134). The main reason for the predominance of the theme in Shakespeare’s works is that “change was in the air” of England of that time (Soellner 134).

The theme of change is closely interrelated with other themes of the text, such as power and death. A contemplating person by nature, Hamlet observed the awful changes that came with the death of his father, King Hamlet, his namesake. The changes revealed awful nature of a human being, his uncle Claudius in particular. The unstable nature of power, its possibility to abandon the powerful person is shown by the example of the deceased father. The instability and treacherousness of human feelings is the main focus of the play. Hamlet contemplates the way love changes and gives way to betrayal: “That even our loves should with our fortunes change; For ’tis a question left us yet to prove, Whether love lead fortune, or else fortune love” (Shakespeare unpaged). Besides, the theme of change is shown through death as the change from the state of being alive to eternal rest and immobility. Death is the final result of all changes that occur during life.

The realization of the theme of change is exercised though the development of main character as the bearer of changes and the details of plot presented by means of direct speech. The genre of drama presupposes no setting, just like the genre of poetry and contemporary lyrics, this is why the realization of the theme of change is exercised by means of characters and imagery. However, the change of place of action in “Hamlet”, two countries: Denmark and England also help to show the atmosphere of changes. The river that takes the life of Ophelia is also the bearer of changes since its flow takes the life and brings death.

While the theme of change concerning power had been tackled by Shakespeare, Orwell devoted the whole book “Animal Farm” to the theme of change, mainly the theme of change of political regime and the consequences of such political systems as totalitarianism. The creation of this book was inspired by the totalitarianism of the Soviet political system during the epoch of Stalin till the beginning of World War II. The dramatic societal changes, oppression of population, and total control inspired the creation of “Animal Farm” as the depiction of negative changes and cry for help for positive changes.

The theme of change can be traced in the development of the characters, manly Napoleon’s character: his appearance and position on the farm. The gradual change of the pigs’ appearance is symbolic as everything in the book. They start wearing human clothes and in the finale of the book even their muzzles turn into human faces (Orwell 113). The change of living conditions of the “proletariat” of the farm is also significant: if at the beginning of the animal rule after the overthrow of Mr. Jones, they enjoy luxurious life, they become more and more oppressed and exploited by Napoleon in the course of the action. Thus, the events of the plot express the theme of change most of all. The development or, better to say, degradation of Napoleon’s character is the means of expression of the theme of change as well. Thus, the change of the inner world of the protagonists can be traced in both works: “Hamlet” and “Animal Farm”.

Passing to the theme of change in the short story “Young Goodman Brown”, it is necessary to state that the theme of inner change of the protagonist is prevalent in the story. It is the fact that makes the characters of Brown and Hamlet similar. The theme of change is expressed in the story by means of the plot and its turns as well. Thus, it may be concluded that prose is characterized by the expression of the theme of change by the development of the inner world of the characters and the plot. It can be proved by the examples from “Young Goodman Brown”. The protagonist loses his faith, both literary, as Faith is his young wife, and figuratively, as he loses faith in his fellow-townsmen and their piety and king nature. The Devil, “his fellow-traveller” (Hawthorne 27), changes the inner world of the protagonist, and he is unable to bear this change, a “stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, if not a desperate man, did he become” (Hawthorne 38). Thus, it is possible to sate that the negative effect of change can be observed in the work. Changes lead to moral degradation of the protagonist.

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In comparison with the analyzed prose, the poetry under analysis shows that the changes can be of different nature, both positive and negative. However, the theme of negative change is also predominant in the poetry. The change as the way to death is repeated in “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” by Thomas. The motive of night reminds of the night in the forest of Goodman Brown. Hamlet also saw the ghost of his father at night and that provoked changes. Thus, night brings alterations, mainly bad, and the worst is death.

The theme of change of human relationship can be traced in “When We Two Parted” and “The Flea”. The change in the latter poem is the change of relationship between two people that makes them closer, the persuasion to have intimacy is described. The loss of virginity is a considerable change but its importance is shown by the author in ironic way, as he makes use of such ugly character as flea, thus, ridiculing the whole situation. Byron, on the contrary, shows the solemn nature of the change of relationship “in silence and tears” (487).

Certainly, the main difference between poetry and prose in their relation to the theme of change is the means of expression of the theme. In contrast with above mentioned information about prose, the expression of change in the poems is exercised through figurative means. Jonson makes use of repetition “slow, slow” and the verbs that express motion and the change of state, like “fall”. “Melting snow” is the sign of change as well (Jonson 444). Southwell in his “The Burning Babe” also shows changes with the help of figurative means and he resorts to the motive of night as well: “As I in hoary winter’s night…” (432). However, the appearance of the Babe and the coming of the day signify positive changes in contrast to Wylie’s lines: “Tomorrow and tomorrow Are plotting cruelty” (577).

Finally, it is possible to pass to the concluding work, the lyrics “Changes” by Shakur that has the theme of changes as the main theme that can be proved by the title. The changes the rapper wants to face can be explained by the reality he faces. This is the awful living conditions in American ghettos that are full of drugs and violence, they badly need changes. The changes he describes differ from those presented in other works as they are mostly negative but for “The Burning Babe”. The lyrics is analyzed in the end of this work as it incorporates the features of the prose and poetry. A significant fact is that the most important lines are pronounced by the rapper and resemble the prose: “We gotta make change” up to “what we gotta do, to survive” (Shakur unpaged). However, the author makes use of numerous repetitions of the key phrase “I see no changes”, and this is the common feature of the lyrics and poetry of classical poets analyzed above.

Drawing a conclusion, it is possible to state that the analysis of the literary sources has proved that the changes of different nature have been the major theme of numerous literary works of different authors. The theme of change can be expressed by means of the plot and the development of the characters, mainly in prose. Poetry has shown similar nature of changes expressed by the authors but different means of expression. Poets make use of figurative means to show changes. “The Changes” by Shakur is a powerful work that includes the main features of prose and poetry, thus, making the lyrics moving and convincing. Changes can be of different nature but a man should try to change the life for better.

Works Cited

Byron, George Gordon. “When We Two Parted.” Literature: A Pocket Anthology 3rd Edition. Ed. R.S. Gwynn. NT: Penguin Classics, 2007, 487-488.

Donne, John. “The Flea.” Literature: A Pocket Anthology 3rd Edition. Ed. R.S. Gwynn. NT: Penguin Classics, 2007, 440.

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Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Young Goodman Brown.” Literature: A Pocket Anthology 3rd Edition. Ed. R.S. Gwynn. NT: Penguin Classics, 2007, 26-38.

Johnson, Ben. “Slow, Slow, Fresh Fount.” Literature: A Pocket Anthology 3rd Edition. Ed. R.S. Gwynn. NT: Penguin Classics, 2007, 444.

Orwell, George. Animal Farm. Fairfield, IA: 1st World Publishing, 2004.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

Shakur, Tupac. Changes.

Soellner, Rolf. Shakespeare’s Patterns of Self-Knowledge. USA: Ohio State University Press, 1972.

Southwell, Robert. “The Burning Babe.” Literature: A Pocket Anthology 3rd Edition. Ed. R.S. Gwynn. NT: Penguin Classics, 2007, 432.

Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Literature: A Pocket Anthology 3rd Edition. Ed. R.S. Gwynn. NT: Penguin Classics, 2007, 619.

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Wylie, Elinor. “Ophelia.” Literature: A Pocket Anthology 3rd Edition. Ed. R.S. Gwynn. NT: Penguin Classics, 2007, 577.

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