Tag Archives: punctuation poems

One Poem: Two Ways

How can a poem mean one thing and simultaneously its opposite?  As you can see from the text and two translations (scroll down for these), this week’s poem manages it by punctuation (and, I would argue, by poetics too).  Christopher Cannon, in his recent introduction to Middle English Literature (2013) shows how this poem cleverly insinuates that ‘trouble underlies any possible optimism’ (p. 46), that this complacent description of social justice is in fact a coded description of social disorder.  The same technique of writing texts which can be punctuated to produce two different meanings is used for comic effect in Nicholas Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister (Merygreek’s love letter) and in Peter Quince’s Prologue in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act V.i).

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