The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Advice to King Lear” is a short lyric poem of thirteen lines that are divided into two stanzas. The first stanza has six lines, and the second stanza has seven; the same end rhyme is employed for all thirteen lines. Turner Cassity has made his reputation by writing structured verse. “Advice to King Lear” was included in his 1986 collection Hurricane Lamp. Like many poems in this collection, “Advice to King Lear” is a compressed creation in which Cassity wryly combines the profound past with the seemingly ordinary present. The poem combines the Shakespearean tragedy King Lear (c. 1605-1606) and the bizarre Texas setting in which it is being staged.

Cassity reprints as an epigraph a description from San Antonio: A Pictorial Guide, which states that the Arneson River Theatre is unique because its stage stands on one side of the San Antonio River, but its grass seats are located on the other side. The final comment of the guide notes that “Occasional passing boats enhance audience enjoyment.” This particular setting fits well with Cassity’s use of the ironic. As the title states, the narrator of the poem will be advising King Lear. The first word of the poem is “Unlikely,” which—as becomes evident as the poem progresses—is a definite understatement; the unlikely and the unusual are common in Cassity’s poems. (Other poems in Hurricane Lamp that illustrate this theme include “News for Loch...

(The entire section is 458 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Cassity structures his poetry in a traditional manner. His subjects may vary greatly, but he adds power to his point of view by compressing his observations into poems that usually employ metered lines and dense syntax. Cassity is a disciplined poet who has been compared with such poets as Yvor Winters and Alexander Pope. Cassity’s technique and socially conscious themes link him with Winters’s formalist school of poetry, and he is like the eighteenth century poet Pope in his reliance on wit and the frequent use of satire. In “Advice to King Lear,” he makes use of his varied poetic strengths without seeming overcontrived.

Since the rhyme scheme is the same throughout the poem, Cassity adds variation by means of alliteration. The first four lines of the poem end with words that end in ure. Each of these words—“azure,” “seizure,” “pressure,” and “foreclosure”—has a strong s sound, which unites the words. The last two lines of the first stanza and the first two of the second stanza have final words that end with ter. Each of these words—“matter,” “stutter,” “glitter,” and “water”—draws its power from the pronounced t sound. Four of the last five lines of the poem finish with words that end in mer. The one line that does not stop with a word ending in mer ends with the word “dumber.” Since the b is silent in “dumber,” the sound effect for all...

(The entire section is 408 words.)