Assignments 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
Assigned: Tutorial 3
Due Date: Throughout and at the Conclusion of the
This assignments requires each student to create and maintain a
"commonplace" blog (probably on Wordpress, a free and open blogging site
available online). Students will use this blog as a kind of "commonplace
book," a place to record particularly interesting, worthwhile, or important
information gleaned from readings, lecture, and tutorial, as well as a few
salient lines, phrases, or passages that you think might be useful to
Students are expected to produce one blog entry every two weeks of
the course, beginning the week of September 24 - September 28. For
practical purposes, you will be writing at least 11 blog entries. You may, of
course, write more if you wish. Each entry should be a minimum of 100
words, excluding quotes from texts. The blog posts need not be written in
an "academic" style -- blog writing is generally fairly informal -- but they
should at least be grammatically correct, and they should relate to a text we
have recently read and discussed.
There are two main functions to these blogs:
1) To help the student identify salient, interesting, or important information
discussed in the course.
2) To provide a handy "study guide" for the first term test and final exam.
In addition, students will be encouraged -- and would be well advised -- to
"follow" the blogs of other students in your tutorial section, and even
comment on them. You can learn a great deal from this kind of online
"discussion." Note, however, that the usual sanctions against plagiarism
count: do not merely copy the blogs of others, although you may link to
On occasion, I will be visiting your blogs and commenting on them where
You may create a blog using any online blogging application that you like,
but I recommend WordPress, which is both free and relatively easy to use.
WordPress.com A brief primer on creating a WordPress blog has been created by Miriam
Posner (University of California at Los Angeles), and can be downloaded
Starting a WordPress Site
You'll find some guidelines on writing your blog, and a "sample" blog entry,
at my class blog:
My English1020E Blog
When you have created your blog, please e-mail the web address to
your Teaching Assistant and myself.
Assigned: Tutorial 4
Due Date: Tutorial 9
Thesis Draft and Outline
This assignment consists of two parts, of equal worth. Choosing one of the
essay topics listed for Assignment 3, below (the work you produce for this
assignment should, ideally, serve also as the topic for your first term essay),
produce a brief thesis statement, and a point-form outline of your proposed
1) Thesis Statement
In between 100-200 words, write in proper English, a draft "thesis"
statement for your proposed essay in paragraph form. This should outline a)
your subject (i.e., what aspect of your chosen text you are planning to write
about, and b) what you intend to prove about this in your argument.
For guidance on what constitutes a good thesis, see the course web site at:
In addition, Tutorial 6 will be devoted to further discussion on designing a
2) Outline of your proposed argument
In point form, provide, in 100-200 words, a brief outline of the direction you
think your argument will proceed, with some indication of some of the
evidence you plan to use. The outline should be arranged in the sequence of
topics as you intend to follow then in the essay. Be sure to be clear in your outline: remember that it is to be read by someone (your tutorial leader)
who will need sufficient information about your points to evaluate whether
they are likely to be fruitful or not.
A portion of Tutorial 7 will be devoted to this subject.
Note: While this exercise is intended to assist you in preparing your first
term essay, you are not obliged to use the thesis, argument, or even essay
question you employ here for that essay. Indeed, one of the points of this
exercise is to provide feedback from your tutorial leader so that you can
adjust your thesis or argument to produce a better final essay.
Assigned: Tutorial 4
Due Date: Tutorial 13
First Term Essay
(Length: 1200-1500 words)
Choose a topic from those listed below, and write a short essay. This need
not be a research essay. Please remember that the penalty for lateness is
1% per business day. All papers not handed in during class should be left in
one of the essay drop-off boxes in front of the main English office, University
College. For essay format, consult "Guidelines for Essays," at the Eng 1020E
Web Site, http://instruct.uwo.ca/english/020e-
002/site/resources.html#essay or "MLA Tips" on the Dept. of English Web
Site, http://www.uwo.ca/english/undergrad/MLAstyletips.html. A sample
essay is available at: http://instruct.uwo.ca/english/020e-
Discuss the nature and function of the religious imagery in Donne's ―The
Flea.‖ How does he use it, and why? What is its ―meaning‖ and impact in the
context of a poem about sexuality?
Explore the structure of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal , focusing
particularly on the way in which the persona's argument unfolds, and how we are forced to reinterpret earlier portions of his analysis in the context of
later developments. Why is the argument structured this way?
With a particular focus upon the ―character‖ and voice of Marlow, discuss
how the framing narrative(s) within Conrad's Heart of Darkness may – or
may not – impact or complicate the novella's treatment of imperialism and
Perform a close reading of Walcott's ―Out of Africa,‖ focusing upon such
things as metre, form, rhyme, and word choice. How do these contribute to
the meaning(s) of the poem?
Apply Sidney's defence of literature to any one of the works we are studying
this term. Do his characterizations of the function and nature of poetry (and
literature) apply? How do they apply? Is that work vulnerable to a Platonic
critique, and if so, how?
Is Samuel Johnson's treatment of the novel in Rambler 4 more concerned
with the role of the author, or of the reader? How does these two relate?
Why does Johnson chooses to focus upon one, rather than other?
Use Coleridge's characterization of the imagination and the nature of
literature in The Aeolian Harp to his own poem. Does the poem exemplify his
own understanding of poetry, and if so, how?
Auden's Musee des Beaux Artes is a poem about painting. What are the
similarities between these two artistic forms that are implied by the poem?
What is Auden saying about poetry when he talks about painting, and is
there a reason for his choice to approach his subject in this indirect way? Discuss Woolf's understanding, as articulated in A Room of One's Own , of
the importance of gender to writing. Do women write differently than men?
How is this important? And is this a ―good‖ thing?
Discuss the social and literary satire that Beaumont is undertaking through
his characterization of the Citizen and his wife in The Knight of the Burning
Pestle . Is this satire complicated at all by the other ―plays‖ going on within
Compare Larkin's ―This Be the Verse‖ to his ―High Windows.‖ What
similarities in theme or treatment are there in these two poems? What
generalizations can we make about Larkin's poetry and his poetic interests
on the basis of these two poems?
You should consult the Essay Criteria sheet for both an
understanding of how these will be marked, as well as a useful
series of tips to help you construct your essay. Tutorial Notes 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
- Thesis statement and an outline of what you‘re going to do
- A few sentences to explain the thesis, and points of the essay in point
form. Does not have to be in paragraph form. Back up points with
evidence. You could talk about persona, diction (Modest Proposal used
scientific diction), metaphors, imagery
- Don‘t make assumptions about the reader or the writer
- Avoid talking about feelings (you or universal reader) make sure there
is evidence directly from the text
- No fillers, don‘t just write random crap. It‘s better to be clear, concise
What is a thesis? A thesis is an argument
Heart Of Darkness
Modernism – up to date, written ahead of a different time period, self
conscious break with the past. More informal and clear language used.
Nothing supernatural, basic easy to solve
Things are not so black and white (not good or bad characters)
attempt to depict life more realistically (people do good and bad
Gothic – dark, heavy, a past time that never existed (there is no gothic era,
however there is a modern era). Refers to a mythical past.
Doubles – theme doubles, parallels, contrasts
In a Romanic view, truth is imageless. But for the romantics there a bunch
of different truths. The difference is that the idea starts with perception. What makes something a thesis?
Interesting title, it should be clear what work we are talking about
Make sure you use good transition sentences
You do not need to use proper essay format, you don‘t need to stick
to your original plan. Don‘t be afraid to completely restart
Revisions – at the stage that you are still rewriting things. Sometimes you
need to start over and completely change things
Editing – moving things around a bit, same idea
Proof-reading – you‘re not moving anything significant
In other words
TUTORIAL – January 17
Paradise Lost you need to read it
You need to know not just what he is saying, but how he is saying
it. You need to get a sense of the structure and how it sounds. That
is part of the message (the whole point)
You don‘t have to read it all at once, read part of it closely
Satan uses sibilants (sibilants are “s” sounds)
In book 2 in his opening speech, Satan is trying to convince him of
his authority. He uses this technique (line 39). They are soft and easy, they have a calming and seductive effect. It is a way of
slipping ideas into his speech.
Moloch – demon that gives a sign that make us realize why Satan is in
change. Moloch is so eager to fight that he would be completely destructive
as a leader. He wants revenge so badly he would rather try and fail than not
doing anything. He does not think strategy, doesn‘t care about the result, he
just wants to do it. Belleo – he says that they shouldn‘t go to war
TUTORIAL – January 31
MacFlecknoe is a type of satire that is a personal attack that uses
Why do people make fun of powerful public figures? We want to
take these people down a level and off their pedestal
In a word, the former sort of Satire, which is known in England by
the Name of Lampoon, is a dangerous sort of Weapon, and for the
most Unlawful. We have no Moral right on the Reputation of the
other Men. ―Tis taking from them, what we cannot restore to them.
There are only two reasons, for which we may be permitted to write
Lampoons; and I will not promise that they can always justify us:
The first is Revenge, when we have been affronted in the same
Nature, or have been any ways notoriously abus‘d and can make
our selves no other Reparation…
The second reason is whether they have done something to fuck
with the public (become a public nuisance). Maybe they will change
if we make fun of them enough.
He goes from saying Shadwell’s work is shit to saying that Shadwell
himself is shit. He crosses the line from saying “this is terrible
poetry” to the kind of criticism that he says is immortal Weekly Literary Terms 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
Synecdoche — A synecdoche is a figure in which a more comprehensive
term is used to describe a less comprehensive one, or vice versa.
A part of something is used to refer to the whole (i.e., "arms" refer
to the people he brought with him).
o Example: He brought with him to the field 500 strong right
The whole of something is used to refer to a part (i.e., "university"
stands in for the university committees or people responsible for
o Example: The university can choose to impose very severe
penalties for that.
Its genus is used to refer to its class (i.e., the singular "gazelle"
stands in for all gazelles):
o Examples: Lions are very happy on a diet of gazelle.
Its class is used to refer to its genus (i.e., the Bible is characterized
by reference to all "books"):
o Example: He relies for inspiration upon The Good Book.
Synecdoche is used a great deal in common speech and writing, and we are
so attuned to it that we barely notice it when it appears. It is employed no
less frequently in literature, where its effects may be more or less subtle, as
in the case of Shakespeare's "Take thy face hence," from Macbeth. Often,
however, it is used to produce something akin to surprise or shock, as in this
instance from T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, in which "pair
of ragged claws" stands in for the "whole" crustacean:
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of
Persona — "Persona" is the term generally applied to a fictional "voice" or
"mask" that is often adopted by an author in a poem or prose work.
The term has literary antecedents that stretch back into classical dramatic
theory (the word comes from the Latin term for the mask worn on stage by actors), but began, in the mid-20th century, to be applied more generally to
virtually all forms of literature. It is particularly associated with the New
Criticism which dominated Anglo-American criticism in the last century,
although it has applicability as well to more recent approaches to literature.
Broadly speaking, the concept of the persona makes a distinction between
the "real" author of a work, and the particular voice and character that she
or he may assume in his or her work. In some cases, the persona is
evidently a fictional "personage," with a fictional history, identity, and views
that may be very different from that of the author. In such cases, the effect
of the persona is often ironic, in that it highlights the author's own
misgivings about, or even disapproval of, what the persona represents or
says. A classic instance of such an ironic persona is Swift's "Modest
Proposer" in his A Modest Proposal, whose advocacy of cannibalism is clearly
not Swift's own.
In a broader sense, the persona can refer to the way in which an author
fashions his or her own public literary voice to sound more convincing or
"likable." Alexander Pope, for instance, very carefully managed his poetry to
project the impression of a reasonable, moderate, good-humoured, and
generally "Horatian" (i.e., modelled on the Roman poet Horace) character.
While a persona employed in this way need not necessarily generate an
impression of character that is very different from that of the actual, real-life
author, it is still a deliberate construction intended to make the reader more
susceptible to a particular message or meaning in the work. This use of the
persona is related to the rhetorical notion of "ethical proof," whereby the
author attempts to persuade the reader to a particular view by creating
through language an apparently attractive and trustworthy "character" for
himself or herself.
Subaltern — Although not specifically a "literary" term, the word
"subaltern" is frequently used in literary and critical discourse associated
with Postcolonial Theory and analysis.
First employed in a Postcolonial context by Indian theorist Gayatri
Chakravorty Spivak, the term is used to designate those peoples and
cultures who have been subordinated and oppressed by Imperialism, and by
the writings that uphold colonialism and racism. Although sometimes used loosely as a synonym for "oppressed minority," Spivak and others have
insisted that the word should be applied correctly only to those who have
been subordinated by the specific power structures (including writing) of
Imperialism; those who are oppressed, but still functioning within an
imperialist culture (as for instance the white working class in Western
nations), may be oppressed, but are not truly "subaltern" in this sense.
An important point about the subaltern is that, while it has been excluded
from the structures of conventional power and denied the right to define
itself, it is not without all power. Imperialist culture has used the exclusion of
colonized peoples as a means of defining itself: one is defined as belonging
to the privileged culture by virtue of the fact that one is not "subaltern."
What this means is that, in terms of language, subaltern cultures can
subvert Imperialism, colonialism, and racism by insisting upon self-
definition. Change the meaning and substance of what it means to be
"subaltern," and one necessarily changes, and subverts, the meaning of
Imperialism, which defines itself in contradistinction. This is one of the
endeavours of much "subaltern" writing: it employs language in this way to
undermine the cultural assumptions that are the foundation of Imperialism.
Historicism — Broadly speaking, historicism is an approach to texts that
attempts to understand them, from a variety of perspectives, in the context
of the time in which they were created. The relationships between the work
of literature and ―its time‖ may include such things as the connections
between the work and the political and historical events or personages
particularly touched upon by it, the particular ideological, social, and
aesthetic assumptions of the age in which it was produced, or the apparent
polemical function or purpose of a work in relation to its ―original‖ historical
Historicism does not deny that a work may continue to have meaning and
value in new historical contexts, but it insists that a full understanding of a
text can only be achieved through an exploration of its place within the
original culture in which it was created. At its most primitive, there is a
danger that historicism may sometimes reduce a work of literature to the
status of historical ―document,‖ a text that does little more than tell us about
its historical origins. At its most sophisticated, however, histo, ricism provides invaluable insights into the relationships between writing and
society, and in the capacity of art to both reflect and transcend its own
Mimesis — Often particularly associated with Aristotelian criticism,
―mimesis‖ is the Greek word for ―imitation.‖ It is most generally used in
literary theory and criticism to refer to the ways in which a work of art
―imitates‖ real life in its employment of characterization, setting, plot, and
Mimetic criticism, predicated on this notion that art is an imitation of the
external world, dominated approaches to literature from classical times until
well into the 18th century, when it was increasingly challenged by a growing
admiration for ―originality‖ and the development of expressive theories of
Mimesis in literary terms was never viewed as slavish; ―nature‖ (in the
broadest sense of that term) supplied the model, but it was the role of the
writer to add ―art‖ to his or her subject, and to, in Aristotelian terms,
imagine a world that reflected our own, but that was ―better‖ or ―clearer‖ in
some way. Because the subject of mimetic literature was Creation, which
was the handiwork of God, Christian approaches to mimetic writing often
likened the role of the artist to that of the Divine creator; the artist
―imitated‖ God in her or his attempt to produce an image of a better world.
Romance — This is a term that has been employed in many different
senses over the course of the last several hundred years. Medieval romances
were tales of adventure involving knights, quests, damsels-in-distress, and
themes of romantic love and faith. Renaissance Romances, especially those
written in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, built upon the Medieval
Romance by bringing to bear upon the genre more of the formal elements
associated with classical epic; the best example in English is Edmund
Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590-1596).
In the 17th century, the term came to be applied to lengthy works of prose
fiction of the sort popularized by the French writer, Madeleine de Scudéry:
these were, like the Renaissance romance, modeled loosely upon classical epic, and featured elevated heroes and heroines engaged in amorous
adventures in foreign and exotic settings, in a classical or ―oriental‖ past. By
the end of the 17th century, William Congreve was distinguishing between
the ―fanciful‖ romance form, and what he called the ―novel,‖ which was more
firmly rooted in the day-to-day reality of the present. ―Romance‖ continued
to be used throughout the 18th century almost synonymously with the word
―novel,‖ but there was at the same time an increasingly strong distinction
between the older form, with its emphasis upon spectacle, exoticism, and
elevated characters, and the newer genre, which relied greatly upon social
realism for its effects.
Romanticism — An artistic and cultural ―movement‖ most usually
associated with late 18th and 19th centuries, Romanticism found expression
in nearly all facets of Western literature and art. The beginning of the
Romantic movement is, in English literature, conventionally (if simplistically)
dated from the publication by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor
Coleridge of The Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems by these two writers,
in 1798; an expanded edition of this appeared in 1800 with a new ―Preface‖
by Wordsworth that articulated the central principles and ―programme‖ of
the new movement, at least as envisioned by Wordsworth. In practice,
however, the Romanticism of the beginning of the 19th century was a
natural outgrowth of tendencies in English literature that were already very
apparent by the mid-18th century.
The most important feature of Romanticism is probably the shift that it
represents from a generally mimetic understanding of the function and
nature of literature (literature is an ―imitation of nature‖) towards a more
―expressive‖ view of it: literature was now increasingly seen as a expression
of the poet's mind and emotional state. As Wordsworth put it in the
―Preface‖ to the Lyrical Ballads , it was now ―the spontaneous overflow of
powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.‖
Other characteristic features of Romanticism include:
An increasing stress upon the value of ―originality‖
Poetic language that tends more often to imitate ―common‖ or ―low‖
A love of ―nature,‖ viewed relatively narrowly as the non-human A tendency towards ―sentimentality‖ in literature, derived from an
empathetic understanding of the emotional state of others (―sensibility‖).
A re-evaluation and re-valuing of medieval (―gothic‖) and Renaissance
literature, art, and culture
A tendency towards ―melancholy‖ in literature
Although Romanticism never entirely displaced older, mimetic views of art,
its rise to dominance is something of a watershed in the history of Western
culture, representing a significant shift in cultural understanding and belief.
It spawned its own opposing movements, mostly notably Modernism at the
beginning of the 20th century.
City Comedy — A City Comedy (or sometimes "Citizen Comedy") is a genre
of play that particularly focusses on London, generally with satiric intent.
"London," in this context, means in particular the middle and lower class
citizenry associated with the economic, social, and cultural life of the old
medieval City of London and its environs, as opposed to the more
fashionable and aristocratic areas to the west of the walled city, in
Westminster and the Court. In this sense, City Comedy is generally itself
somewhat aristocratic in values and perspective, and targets the ignorance,
pretensions, and supposed greed of London merchants, bankers,
apprentices, and labourers, along with their wives and their general social
and cultural milieu.
Because of their social and cultural focus, City Comedies rarely feature
"romantic" or "marvelous" elements, but instead purport to offer a "realistic"
depiction of the mundane life of the citizens of London. They seek to reveal
the avariciousness, hypocrisy, and misplaced social ambitions of the "lower
orders" of society in a manner that caters in particular to a more socially
City Comedies were popular between the late 1550s and the closing of the
theatres in 1642, but particularly flourished in the reign of James I (1603-
24). Playwrights associated with the genre include Thomas Middleton (1580–
1627), John Marston (1576 – 1634), and (to a somewhat lesser degree) Ben
Jonson (1572 – 1637). The form was to have some influence upon the
Comedies of Manners that dominated the English stage following the
Restoration in 1660. Week 9
Enjambement — Enjambement (which comes from the French enjamber,
"to stride over" or "encroach") is the continuation of the semantic and
grammatical from one line to the next. It is the opposite of an "end-
stopped" line, where the end of a line of verse coincides with the conclusion
of a sentence, or grammatically distinct part of a sentence, generally marked
by punctuation of some sort (a period, a comma, colon or semi-colon). All of
the lines from the opening of Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock (1714) are,
for instance, end-stopped:
Enjambement can have diverse effects, depending on how it is used.
Generally, the emphasis in a line of verse falls most heavily on its beginning
and end, but this pattern is disrupted in enjambed lines because the reader
must "hurry" on to the beginning of the next line to make sense of the end
of the previous one. One effect, then, can be to create a tension between
the verse form and the grammatical sense of the words. Another can be to
create a more "natural" or "conversational" effect in the verse.
Carpe Diem — The phrase carpe diem is from the Latin, and is generally
understood to mean "seize the day." The most important and influential use
of the phrase is from Ode I.xi, by the Roman poet Horace: "carpe diem,
quam minimum credula postero," which C. E. Bennett has translated as
"Reap the harvest of to-day, putting as little trust as may be in the morrow!" The theme of "seizing the day" has been much explored in the literature of
many Western languages, modern and ancient. In its most general sense, it
simply suggests that one should live for today, because the future is so
uncertain: in this context, the idea is associated with Epicurean philosophy,
which proposed a materialist understanding of the universe, and argued that
pleasure and contentment were not possible without first banishing the fear
of the death.
In the 16th and 17th centuries in particular, a number of English lyric poets
adapted the phrase, but interpreted it somewhat more narrowly by applying
it to the poetry of love and seduction: in this context, "seizing the day"
means enjoying the fruits of love while one is still young and vigorous. Such
love poetry (which is almost invariably and inevitably written by men) tends
to dramatize an encounter with a desired woman, and employs the concept
as part of an attempt to persuade her to abandon her virtue and chastity,
and give in to the temptation to partake in sexual pleasure today. One
notable expression of this idea appears in Robert Herrick's carpe diem poem
"To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" (1648):
Possibly the most famous carpe diem poem is Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy
Mistress" (ca. 1650).
Accommodation — The theory of Accommodation is a Renaissance
approach to understanding the language of the New and (especially) Old
Testaments of the Bible. The theory was drawn most especially from an
explanation in St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei (5th century CE) for the
anthropomorphisms of the Bible, by which God is described in terms that
sometimes seem crudely human, and that, if taken literally, might seem to
undercut His Divine nature. Thus, for instance, if God is said to be "angry," it
is not to be taken literally that He experiences the human emotion which
goes by that name, but rather that some particular aspect of the Divine Nature (in this case, Divine judgment of wrong-doing and sin) beyond full
human comprehension is signified this way by analogy.
Milton applies the theory of Accommodation in a much broader way than was
probably intended by the theologians who devised it and employed it in their
explanations of Biblical passages. The part of Paradise Lost which seems to
owe most to Accommodation is the lengthy account of the battle between
Heaven and the rebel angels, which is described in very concrete terms that
reflect the model of classical epic. Milton does not mean to suggest that
combat was literally undertaken by angels in armour, equipped with shields
and lances. Much of Paradise Lost, with its reimagined and speculative
account of the Creation and all of the events leading up to the Fall, uses
Accommodation in a similar way, but in an even larger sense, it is the
means, through his use of a narrative poem, by which he explains the
almost inexplicable -- the workings of Divine Providence -- to mere humans.
As Milton notes:
Epic Machinery — The term "epic machinery" first arises in the Neoclassical
period (roughly the 17th and 18th centuries) as a way of describing the
characteristic appearance of divine and semi-divine beings in epic poetry.
The term itself derives from the stage machines (i.e., cranes) that, in
ancient Greek tragedy, were used for the entrance of gods on to the stage;
"machinery" thus refers by anology to the introduction of these beings into
epic, rather than as a description of the gods and other immortal beings
In ancient epics such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Aeneid, the gods
are very much active participants in the events of the epic, assisting (or
hindering) the hero; sometimes the conflict that makes up the main
narrative is mirrored, as in The Iliad, by divisions within the ranks of the
gods on Olympus. Milton's Paradise Lost Christianzes the epic machinery,
and in the place of the pagan deities substitutes the Father, the Son, the
archangels, and (of course) Satan. The best known description of epic machinery occurs in Alexander Pope's
prefatory remarks to the revised and expanded version of his mock epic
poem, The Rape of the Lock (1714), which introduces a pantheon of "sylphs"
borrowed from Rosicrucian mysticism as parodic representations of semi-
In medias res — The term "in medias res" means literally "in the middle of
things," and refers to the literary and narrative technique of beginning a
story, not at the beginning, but part way through. Early parts of the
narrative are then revealed throughout the story by means of flashbacks and
inset stories. The term is most often associated with epics, which most
frequently begin this way, but can be employed in reference to other types
of story as well. It is originally from the Roman poet Horace's Ars Poetica, a
1st Century BCE poem on the subject of literary criticism:
Beginning a poem, and most especially an epic, in this manner can have a
number of functions. As Horace's remarks above suggest, one advantage of
this approach is simply that it sweeps the reader up into the action right
away, instead of forcing her or him to read a long and possibly tedious "set-
up" for the main narrative. It also means that the poet can employ
interesting and thematically useful devices for telling the "back story";
Paradise Lost, for instance, begins this way, with the rebel angels'
awakening in Hell, following their defeat by God and the Son. Elements of
the story of the Creation, and the battle in Heaven between the Son and
Satan and his forces is given, initially, by Satan; this account is later usefully
compared with what we learn from God and the Son, and from the angel
Raphael's detailed account to Adam in Books V and VI. Week 14
Decorum — Classical writers and rhetoricians believed that verisimilitude
(i.e., realism) was better achieved when the "style" of a work matched with
its subject. In an age that was very strongly hierarchical in its beliefs and
values, this meant, in practice, that an "elevated" style should be employed
to describe a subject that was itself "high"; conversely, "low" subject matter
required a less elevated style of language and form. For this reason, then,
epic poems or romances, that were (by definition) about heroes, kings, and
great deeds, should be written in a form of language recognized by readers
and critics as elevated. Similarly, a comic subject matter, which generally
focussed upon characters who were lower on the social scale, should use a
lower form of language. As Horace expresses it in his Ars Poetica:
A variation on this idea, decorum personae, or "decorum of the person,"
dictated that characters should speak a language appropriate to their stature
(usually defined primarily as their social rank). Violations of decorum were
seen as producing a ridiculous and incongruous effect. Sometimes, however,
a writer might wish to achieve this kind of incongruity and humour
deliberately, as in travesties, burlesques, and mock heroics and epics; where
this was the case, the writer might deliberately violate decorum.
Heroic Couplet — Although it is most closely associated with the
neoclassical literature of the late 17th and 18th centuries, the Heroic Couplet
has been a popular verse form for many hundreds of years. Chaucer
employed it in parts of his Canterbury Tales in the 14th century, and it is still
occasionally used for modern verse as well. It is so called because it became
particularly identified with "heroic" or epic verse and drama from the 17th
century on. While it was considered sufficiently "elevated," expansive, and "lofty" for epic and quasi-epic forms, it was also versatile enough to be
employed in a wide range of other genres as well.
In form, the Heroic Couplet is generally two rhyming lines (AA, BB, CC, etc.)
in iambic pentameter. A pentameter line is one that features 5 "feet" of two
syllables each (for a total of 10 syllables in the line); in heroic couplets (as
indeed in a great deal of English verse) the base meter of each of these feet
is an "iamb," consisting of one unaccented syllable followed by an accented
one: - / . As will be clear from the Heroic Couplet below, there is
frequently some variation in the meter of individual feet, but the base unit
from which each of these represents a variation is always an iamb. Each line
of the couplet is often divided by a "caesura," or slight pause, generally at or
near the middle of the line. In the example below, the caesura follows on the
5th syllable of each line, and is more pronounced (because of the comma) in
the second line than in the first.
Because of its two-line structure, the Heroic Couplet is an ideal form for the
drawing of comparisons, since one line can be devoted to each of the two
terms or ideas being compared. Additionally, the caesura within a line can
also be used to invoke a comparison within one of the lines, as in the second
life of the example above. Verse using the Heroic Couplet occasionally
introduces variants, such as the Alexandrine (a single 12 syllable line), or
"triplets," which are three rhyming lines (AAA).
Alexander Pope is generally acknowledged to have been the greatest and
most skilled practitioner of the Heroic Couplet, but it has been a common
enough form in English verse that there are a great many poets who have
demonstrated skill in its employment. This Be the Verse – Philip Larkin 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
Most of Larkin‘s reputation is built upon three slim volumes of poetry: The
Less Deceived (1955), The Whitsun Weddings (1964), and High Windows
Larkin was associated with ―The Movement,‖ a group of British writers who,
beginning in the 1950s, rebelled against the Modernist poetry of writers like
T.S. Eliot and W.B. Yeats, and chose an approach that was spare, simple,
and (usually) sceptical and ―angry‖ in tone. The Movement was in many
ways a conservative movement that looked back to older poetic models, but
it was also a resolutely anti-elitist group that identified with, or at least
purported to speak to, the "common man." (And "man" here is the operative
word, perhaps: Movement writers sometimes evince a somewhat misogynist
streak in their social commentary.) Despite this anti-elitism, and their
conscious employment of a more colloquial and vernacular diction, most of
these writers were in fact fairly well off and well educated (Larkin received
his degree from Oxford); The Movement was, most truly, a middle-class
Larkin‘s own favourite poet and model was Thomas Hardy. He was employed
most of his adult life as University Librarian at the University of Hull (UK). He
is, arguably, the most important, and almost certainly the most popular,
British poet of the later half of the 20th century.
Denotation VS Connotation
Most simply, denotation can be though of as the simplest meaning
of a work or term (example - man, guy)
Connotation of the other hand, encompasses the ―extra‖ meanings
included in a word or phrase. Meanings that are there beyond a
simple identification of an idea, action or thing. (man – referring to
a well dressed business man, guy – referring to a guy drinking a
While it is generally true that all writing – indeed, to some extent,
all language – relies upon form to help us interpret content, this is
especially true of literature. In fact, it is a defining feature of
literature One way we can define literature, then, is as a mode of linguistic
discourse in which form and content are very closely married, and
in which form is at least as important as simple “content,” defined
as denotative meaning
This is particularly true of poetry, which exploits ―form‖ to its fullest
―The Hersey of Paraphrase‖
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
―Although they may not intend to, your parents introduce many
flaws into your character. Some of these are ‗inherited‘ from your
parents, and reflect their own faults, but other additional character
flaws which they contribute are unique to yourself.‖
What Constitutes ―Form‖?
Word choice and diction
Word sound (example – alliteration and assonance)
Metre and rhyme
Generic form (ballad, satire, novel, play)
Media or publication form (including oral delivery)
The ending of the poem makes you reinterpret the beginning
Use imagery in the line “Man hands on misery to man. It deepens
like a coastal shelf”
o Think of what a costal shelf looks like The Flea – Jonathon Donne 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
Born into a well-off Catholic family in London, Donne was educated at Oxford
and (perhaps) Cambridge. He led a possibly mildly dissolute youth, before
settling down into marriage, and (at the insistence of the King) the Church
of England, becoming at last the Dean of St. Paul‘s in London in 1621.
Donne wrote a number of highly admired poetic and prose works with
religious and moral themes, but is probably best remembered for his secular
―Songs and Sonets.‖ Identified by later critics as the foremost of the so-
called ―Metaphysical Poets,‖ he was celebrated in the seventeenth century,
admired with some hesitation in the eighteenth, and largely forgotten in the
nineteenth. The resurgence of his reputation at the beginning of the last
century derives in large measure from the admiration of Modernists such as
This poem actually builds on a long tradition of ―flea‖ poems, dating back to
the Middle Ages. It is, in other words, founded upon a ―tradition‖ of poetry
(in this case, a multi-linguistic tradition) to which it conforms, but also from
which it sometimes departs.
What is the dramatic scene established by the poem?
How do we "hear" the voice of the speaker's intended lover?
How do metaphors such as those employed in this poem actually work?
How is Donne able to hint at sexuality here without explicitly mentioning it?
What exactly is the poem's speaker attempting to argue or "prove" in this
In what ways does this differ from what one might today expect of a "love
poem"? A Modest Proposal – Jonathan Swift 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
Born to English parents, Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) liked to consider
himself an Englishman who had, by mere chance, been born in Ireland.
Although he far preferred the cosmopolitan and literary milieu of London, he
was fated to spend most of his life in Dublin as a clergyman of the Anglican
(i.e., Protestant) Church of Ireland. He contented himself for much of his life
with short visits to England to visit friends there.
Swift is today best known for his prose fiction Gulliver’s Travels (1726), but
actually published an enormous volume of poetry, fiction, political
pamphlets, and journalism. He, along with his friend Alexander Pope,
dominated the English literary world between about 1710 and 1740.
Swift was a prolific writer of topical or occasional literature.
Although all literature is, to various degrees, informed by, or better
understood in the light of, the historical context that produced it, some
literature is specifically written to speak to an immediate historical ―present.‖
Literature that is written in response to a particular historical event or
context is usually referred to as ―topical.‖ Literature that is written with
reference to a particular ―occasion‖ (as, for example, a wedding, a funeral, a
party, etc.) is usually referred to as ―occasional.‖ Although topical and
occasional literature can generally be read in isolation of the historical
contexts that produced it, it cannot be fully comprehended without an
understanding of those contexts.
A Modest Proposal was written in the context of almost two centuries of
English colonization of Ireland. A brief chronology sets some of the historical
background for Swift's work, and his complicated relationship with Ireland:
1558-1603 – Reign of Elizabeth I. Policy of Plantation begins.
1641 – Bloody insurrection in Ulster.
1649 – Uprising suppressed by Cromwell in brutal fashion.
1688 – James II deposed as King in England.
1689 – James II landed at Kinsale in Ireland, seeking to regain his kingdom
with Irish Catholic assistance.
July 1690 – James II defeated at the Battle of the Boyne.
1691 – Catholic forces were defeated at the Battle of Aughrim.
1695 –The first of the 'Penal Laws' enacted against Irish Catholics.
1726-29 – Famine in Ireland Some Questions
What do you make of the pamphlet's remedy for Ireland's poverty?
What is the character of the speaker of this piece?
Is it important that this was published anonymously? If so, why?
What does Swift see as the central problem faced by the Irish?
How do we recognize the way in which Swift intends us to interpret and
understand his "proposal"?
What is it that enables the "speaker" of this "proposal" to think about the
Irish in the way that he does?
Do you think that we today have anything to learn from this piece?
The Plight of the Irish
Catholics were deprived of the right to serve in government, and
Ireland itself was ruled from London
By 1714, only 7% of Irish land was owned by the majority Catholic
English statues crippled Irish trade and manufacture by restricting
or penalizing it
―Liberty was all his cry‖
Swift has long been celebrated by the Irish as a patriot. William
Butler Yeat‘s version of the Latin Epitaph that appears upon Swift‘s
tomb in St. Patrick‘s Cathedral makes this point
o Swift sailed into his rest;
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
World-bescotted traveller; he
Served human liberty.
The Ambiguous Swift
Swift himself was enormously complex and eccentric man. His self-
representations make him particularly difficult to pin down ―Condemned to Live in Ireland‖
Yet Swift professes to despise Ireland, likening it to living “like a
poisoned rat in a hole.”
On another occasion, he wrote that “I reckon no man is thoroughly
miserable unless he be condemned to live in Ireland”
Swift left in his Will money to found a hospital for ―ideots and
lunaticks‖ because, he was put it in his Verses on the Death of Dr.
Swift on England and Ireland
Swift, then, did not blame the famine for Ireland‘s plight. As he
later remarked, “the three seasons wherein our corn hath
miscarried, did no more contribute to out present misery, than one
spoonful of water throw upon a rat already drowned would
contribute to his death”
The real issue was England‘s colonial exploitation of Ireland, and an
apparent unwillingness by the Irish to take action to help
o Colonial – relating to the period of the British colonies in
America before independence
- Swift‘s method here resides in his approach to metaphor: his text
makes literal meanings that are only intended to be metaphorical.
Consider this passage:
“For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of
too tender a consistence…”
- Tender in a sense of emotion, and tender as in texture of food
- One of Swift‘s broad concerns here is with the uses and misuses of
language. He is concerned that language misused, deliberately or
accidently, can change the way we think.
“I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration, that of the hundred
and twenty thousand children already computed…” Swift’s Model – And his Target
- Swift‘s primary model here is the kind of language – and attendant way of
thinking – introduced in the late seventeenth century by Sir William Petty,
the pioneering author of Political Arithmetic (1691) Heart of Darkness (1899) – Joseph Conrad 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, in
Berdichev, Poland. Orphaned at 11, he began a career as a seaman at the
age of 16: his journeys took him all over the world, and provided much
material for the novels that he later came to write.
Retiring from the sea to live in England in 1894, he published his first novel,
Aylmer‘s Folly, a year later. English was Conrad‘s third language (after Polish
and French), but such was his facility with it that he spent the rest of his life
engaged in a very successful career as a writer: amongst his better known
novels and stories are The Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900), and
The Secret Agent (1907).
Conrad has generally been viewed, and treated, as a precursor to the
―Modernists,‖ a loosely-knit group of writers who came to dominate
literature after World War I. He was, by mid-century, typically characterized
as one of the greatest and most important novelists in English, a reputation
that has dimmed only a little with time.
The late 19th-century was a period of enormous colonial expansion for many
European powers, along with the United States; Britain in particular began to
build its great ―Second Empire‖ in the Far East and Africa. The colonial
endeavour fed the public‘s appetite for novels of exotic travels and
adventures, tales of ―heroic‖ military exploits against far-off peoples, and
stories of exploration into the ―darkness‖ of the unknown regions of the
Writers such as Rudyard Kipling provided ―ripping yarns‖ about the
incursions of British explorers, adventurers, and soldiers into distant nations,
bringing European ―civilization‖ to the ―savage‖ peoples of the earth.
Originally published as a serial in Blackwood‘s Edinburgh Magazine, it has
become an increasingly influential text, achieving its height of critical
popularity in the third quarter of the 20th century.
Why does Conrad tell this story through the voice of Marlow?
What do you make of the character of Marlow?
How does the nature of those they encounter change as the river boat
makes its way slowly up river? What is Marlow's attitude towards the indigenous peoples he encounters?
How are they depicted in his narrative? How does he seem to feel about
What elements of the narrative and language seem to characterize white
colonialists and the African colonized as "different"?
How should a modern reader respond to the articulation of ideas and values
that now seem offensive?Heart of Darkness, while it is not in any sense a
―biographical‖ story, is based quite closely on Conrad‘s own brief experience
in the Belgian Congo (today, the Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1890.
Heart of Darkness, while it is not in any sense a ―biographical‖
story, is based quite closely on Conrad‘s own brief experience in the
Belgian Congo in 1890.
Originally published as a serial in Blackwood‘s Edlinburgh Magazine,
it ha become an increasingly influential text, achieving its height of
critical popularity in the third quarter of the 20h century
- The fact that he was actually speaking on experience brings more of an
emotional impact to the reader. The story is authentic and it is a story from
A ―Modernist‖ Text?
Modernism, as a literary movement, cannot be said to have truly begun until
after The Great War, but Conrad‘s short novel includes many features that
are later to be associated with Modernist literature.
Ambiguity – texts that were not straight forward and clear cut, tense
Moral Ambivalence – no clear cut right or wrong, not a straight forward
moral, you have to think about what is right or wrong, makes you question
the test. Trains you to think in sense of morality
A sense of Alienation – there is a disconnection between ourselves and
society. We are all alienated, we are all individual and never really connect Paradox – the fact that life would be full of paradoxes
The central use of ―Symbol‖ – exaggerated metaphor. The river is a symbol
in Heart of Darkness, represents the journey, surface and depth. The heart,
light and darkness
The River – Surface and Depth
The heart – light and darkness
A symbol in a Modernist work functions, initially, something like a metaphor,
but takes on a far more important function
Metaphors build o the similarity and difference between two diverse things.
Symbols begin this way, but generally become integral to the organization
structure of a work *as is the case of ―river‖ in The Heart of Darkness
They build up greater and greater significance as additional meanings adhere
to them, until they become ―keys‖ to the understanding of a work
- Going up the river is going into a journey into something unknown, it‘s
―One of the Dark Places‖
- Quickly however, the Thames comes to assume different meanings as
“And this also, ‗said Marlow suddenly, ‗has been one of the dark
places of the earth.‘‖
Apple Pie Order?
As Marlow proceeds upriver, the context of all that he and the
―Pilgrims‖ represent changes dramatically.
o “When near the buildings I met a white man, in such an
unexpected elegance of get-up that in the first moment I took
him for a sort of vision. I saw a high starched collar, white cuffs, a light alpaca jacket, snowy trousers, a clean necktie,
and varnished boots….”
At the Heart
At the end of Marlow‘s journey upriver, into the ―heart of darkness,‖ lies
Kurtz, a ―great man‖ and a highly ―successful‖ ivory trader who has fallen
into the ―darkness‖. He has made the native peoples fear and worship him;
he has adopted ―unsound methods‖ that reveal the degree to which the
veneer of ―civilization‖ has been scraped from him.
Kurtz is the symbol of a heart of darkness
Postcolonialism is a multidisciplinary theoretical framework that emerged in
the second half of the 20 century. It focuses its attention upon the history
and legacy of European imperialism documenting and analyzing its effects
both in a historical context, and as a lingering impact upon both colonized
(―subaltern‖) and imperialist cultures.
More even that this, however, it seeks to find new ways to establish
discourses and relationships between different cultures. It seeks, in other
works, to find a language that will permit advantaged and disadvantaged to
engage with each other on grounds of mutual respect
The Empire Writes Back
Postcolonialism‘s focus is double. On one hand, it examines the
discourses of the colonizers, and the ways in which those discourses
embed racist and imperialist assumptions and ideologies.
On the other hand, Postcoloniamism examines responses by
subaltern cultures to Imperialism, both in the way that these have
been shaped by the imperialist experience, and in the alternatives
that they offer to hierarchical and racist models of cultural
o Postcolonialism – an era or attitude relating to the period
after the settlement of one country by another, or very
broadly, after the 1960s, when many colonized countries
gained their independence In The Rubber Coils
An important element of the immediate and historical imperialist
context for The Heart of Darkness was the case of the Belgian
Congo, a large chunk of central Africa that was, according to
European views, laws, and treaties, literally ―owned‖ personally by
the King of Belgium
o Women and children would be tortured if there did not
cooperate. It has been estimated that up to 10 million
inhabitants died due to poverty, starvation, etc.
Although it is not named as such in the novel, the Belgian Congo is
clearly the setting for The Heart of Darkness, and the novel can be
seen, in some measure, as a particular attack upon the
administration of that colony
A ―Drowsy, Unsupervised Machine of Coercion‖
Leopold II, though a ―dummy‖ corporation of which he was the sole
shareholder, ruthlessly exploited the Congo, brutalizing the people
to a degree that international attention and outrage forces him to
relinquish control of the colony to national Belgian command in
1908. The Casement Report of 1904, written by the British Consul
to the Belgian Congo, has a particular impact upon international
It has been estimated that up to 10 million of the inhabitants of the
Belgian Congo died from overwork, starvation, disease, war, and
inhuman treatment under Leopold‘s regime
―A Place of Negations‖
Most influential and powerful postcolonial critique brought to bear
on Conrad‘s novel came from Nigerian novelist and Nobel Prize
winner Chinua Achebe in his 1975 lecture ―An image of Africa:
Racism on Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness”
He argues that the novel typifies the need of Western literature to
set ―Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once
remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe‘s
own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.‖ In other words, he asserts that the novel‘s theme of a descent into
savagery is radicalized, and built upon a contrast between African
―barbarism‖ and European ―civilization‖
o “Africa as a setting and backdrop which eliminates the African
as a human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid
of all recognizable humanity, into which the wandering
European enter at his peril.”
o “the real question is the dehumanization of Africa and
Africans which the age-long attitude has fostered and
continues to foster in the world. And the question is whether
a novel which celebrates this dehumanization, which
depersonalizes a portion of the human race, can be called a
great work of art. My answer is: No, it cannot.”
Racist and Sexist
Feminist critics have similarly accused Conrad in this novel of
misogyny, particularly through the characterization of Kurtz‘s
African ―mistress,‖ who is silent throughout, and his white European
―intended,‖ who is deluded
Marlow, according to feminist critic Nina Pelikan Straus, ―brings
truth to men by virtue of his bringing falsehood to women.‖
So, Is Heart of Darkness a Racist (and Sexist) Text?
Yes, it was written in a racist time period.
Some Responses and Complications
Marlow himself on a number of occasions expresses, directly or
indirectly, sympathy for the plight of the Africans in his narrative
Marlow‘s sympathizes for the oppressed, and his opposition to the
brutality of colonialism, are sometimes directly expressed
o “The conquest of the earth, which mostly means taking of it
away from those who have different complexion or slightly
flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you
look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only; and
an unselfish belief in the idea – something you can set up,
and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to…” Conrad’s Own Views
Marlow‘s satirical perspective on the ―Pilgrims‖ who are the putative
upholders of this ―idea‖ is unstinting, and seems to represent also
Conrad‘s own personal abhorrence of the brutal exploitation of the
Who Speaks for Conrad? Or for us?
Perhaps the most important complication relates to the way in
which Conrad tells ―his‖ tale
The story is mediated, filtered through to the reader via a number
o Kurtz or other characters within Marlow‘s narrative
o Marlow himself
o The largely silent ―narrator‖ who listens to Marlow‘s story
o Conrad, the author of the novel
Each of these ―layers‖ or ―frames‖ distance us from the story and
its apparent ―views‖ upon its subject. Each offers the opportunity
for irony or ambiguity. It is, finally, difficult to pin down the exact
―meaning‖ of the narrative itself A Far Cry from Africa – Derek Walcott 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
Derek Walcott (1930-) was born on the island of St. Lucia in the West
Indies, and educated at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. He was
a precocious writer, self-publishing his first volume of poetry by the age of
18. Moving to Trinidad in the early 50s, where he was employed as a
teacher, he became active in the theatre, and published, in 1962, his verse
collection In a Green Night, which gained him international attention. He has
continued to publish both poetry and plays, and was awarded the Nobel
Prize for Literature in 1992.
Walcott‘s earliest poetic influences were Modernist writers such as T. S. Eliot
and Ezra Pound. His themes most often touch upon the relationship of a
postcolonial West Indies with the culture and traditions of Britain, and
particularly the literary heritage of writing in English that he has inherited.
His own contributions to that heritage include plays and poetry that adapt
traditional literary forms to new contexts; a salient example is his epic poem
Omeros (1990), which reworks Homer‘s Iliad and Odyssey through an
exploration of their themes in the context of the modern West Indies.
―A Far Cry from Africa‖ was written in 1962, one year before Kenya gained
its independence. Behind Walcott‘s poem lies a particularly bloody chapter in
the colonial history of the African nation Kenya. From 1890 to its
independence in 1963, Kenya was a British colony. An influx of European
colonists to Kenya in the first half of the 20th century meant that, by 1950,
there were over 80,000 white inhabitants living in the colony.
The majority of arable land in Kenya was appropriated by the colonial
administration for these British ―settlers,‖ dispossessing the people of the
Kikuyu, who were forced to become landless squatters, itinerant farmers, or
seek work in the cities where they were exploited as cheap labour by
Western businesses. Attempts by Africans to bring political resistance to
bear began in 1944, but were hampered from an early date by divisions
within the Kenya Africa Union. From 1952 to 1960, Kenya was the scene of a violent insurgency that has
come to be known as the ―Mau-Mau Uprising.‖ The meaning of this term is
obscure (it may even have been made up by the British authorities), but
those who were engaged in this insurgency were primarily members of the
Kikuyu who sought an immediate end to colonial rule.
But while anti-Imperialism may have been the underlying impetus for the
movement, its actions were more akin to a civil war than an independence
movement: the vast majority of its victims were Kikuyu with allegiances to
more moderate anti-British political movements. While between 50 and 100
white settlers were murdered over the course of 8 years, over 2000 Kikuyu
were victims. British propaganda, however, portrayed the uprising as a
―savage‖ African response to British rule and white ―civilization.‖
With what sorts of image does Walcott initially characterize "Africa"? Why
does he choose these, and what are their effect?
Does Walcott speak directly of the political and military conflict? Why or why
Why does the poet contrast "natural" law with human behaviour?
Why is the conflict "A waste of our compassion"?
How does Walcott situate himself, personally, with relation to the two sides
in the conflict? What are the terms of his connections with each? Lecture
Written in a highly variant iambic pentameter. It employs an
irregular rhyme scheme, but employs what is, in most regards, a
fairly ―conventional‖ poetic form
The reference to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39) may allude to W.
H. Auden‘s ―Spain 1937,‖ but more generally refers to a lost battle
against Fascism, and a tragic cause that was ignored by the nations
of the West, and usurped by Stalin‘s communists An Apology for Poetry – Sir Philip Sydney 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
Born into a well-established aristocratic family, Sidney was educated at
Oxford (although he did not take a degree), and toured the Continent as a
young man, meeting and conversing with some of the most famous artists
and thinkers of his day. After a brief and largely unsuccessful venture into
Irish and court politics, he went to fight in the Netherlands with the
Protestant Dutch rebels against their Spanish Catholic overlords, and was
fatally injured in 1586.
As was the case with most of the ―courtier-writers‖ of his day, Sidney did not
write for publication: his works, including the sonnet cycle Astrophel and
Stella and his prose fiction The Arcadia, were printed after his death.
Sidney was an enormously accomplished young man, achieving much before
his death at the age of 32. Popular conception built on this, and constructed
a myth that made Sidney into an astonishing prodigy, a paragon of virtue,
and a great ―Protestant hero‖: his role in the latter capacity was important
at a time of religious crisis and conflict, when an England that was still
somewhat shakily Protestant required heroes that exemplified the putative
virtues of the "reformed" religion.
Apocryphally, Sidney was reputed to have refused a drink of water when he
was wounded, insisting instead that it be given to a common soldier who had
also been injured, insisting that ―his need is greater than mine.‖
The Renaissance Context
The Renaissance – the ―rebirth‖ – was characterized as such because it saw
the re-emergence of ―civilized‖ Classical values and learning after the long
―dark ages.‖ Although the new Christian context changed the way in which
Roman and Greek ideas were received, the ideas and, in particular, the
theories surrounding literature in the period were thus profoundly Classical
in origin and nature. The criticism of Plato, Aristotle, and Horace, and the
rhetoric of (again) Aristotle, Isocrates, Quintilian, and Cicero had an
enormous influence upon critics and theorists, just as the works of Classical
poets such as Homer, Virgil, Horace, Juvenal, and Ovid did much to shape
the "new" literature being produced by the age.
In this context, any discussion of the nature and function of literature was
inevitably compelled to look to Classical approaches and, on occasion,
grapple with them. Some Questions
Why is it so important to respond to the criticisms leveled by Plato at
literature and art?
What is the substance of those Platonic criticisms, as articulated by Sidney?
What is meant by "nature" here?
Equally, what does Sidney seem to mean by "imitation"?
What does Sidney see as the primary value and purpose of art?
How does literature bear up in comparisons with history, and with
philosophy? How does it differ, and exceed, these, in Sidney's view?
What is Literature
While there are many ways to approach this question, two common
o 1. Formal: What does literature ―look‖ like, what are its parts
o 2. Functional: What does literature do?
Two related ideas were important to understanding how the
Renaissance approaches literature
o 1. Rhetoric – can be defined as the ―art of persuasion.‖ IT was
initially applied largely to legal contexts. At its most
―advanced,‖ rhetoric supplies enormously detailed rules on
the use of language to ―persuade‖
o 2. Criticism – can be defined as the art of judging accurately
and intelligently the effectiveness and ―correctness‖ of a
literature. It is based on an analysis of the rhetoric of a work,
and upon its form, as measured against classical standards
Two Classical Models: Plato
One of the most important models for approaches to literature was
provided by the Greek philosopher Plato, who was highly suspicious
of poetry. o 1. He argues that the physical world was just a degraded
copy of an ―ideal‖ world of perfect forms. Because art is an
―imitation‖ of the world around us, it is therefore merely a
copy of an imitation, like a ―painting of a chair‖: at two
removes from perfection, and ultimately not very useful.
o 2. Also admitted the ―fervor‖ (intense passion) and ―devine
inspiration‖ of poets, but likened it to madness. Because it
was so effective in persuading people, it was dangerous. He
―banned‖ poets from his imaginary ―Republic.‖
Aristotle’s Response to Plato
Had a more empirical and ―scientific‖ approach to literature,
describing its form from existing models, and noting how these
might look in their more ―perfect‖ or ―ideal‖ shape.
o 1. Argues that poetry, because it is not tied to fact, can
present a world that should be rather than one that merely is
o 2. Also argues that literature is a vital moral instrument,
because it mixes instruction with delight and pleasure. That
pleasure produces certain effects within us that ―change‖ us
and make us better.
Sidney’s Defense of Poetry
Poetry is the mother of all learning
o “And first, truly, to all them that, professing learning, inveigh
against poetry, may justly be objected that they go very near
to ungratefulness, to seek to deface that which, in the noblest
nations and languages that are known, hath been the first
light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little
and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher
knowledge’s. And will they now plat the hedgehog, that, being
received into the den, drove out his host?”
Even that greatest enemy of poetry, Plato, used fictions to make his
How can poets be called liars? Poets are makers, and do not rely
merely upon that which they find around them for their materials.
As makers, Poets emulate the Great Maker, God himself. The Poet combines excellences of Philosopher, who specializes in
Percept, and Historian
The Poet produces an ideal that is worth of, and will in face produce
emulation in its readers
The Key Points
What is poetry‘s subject? Where does it get its materials?
o Poetry is a mimetic art, that imitates “nature”
How does poetry exceed other mimetic forms, like History?
o Poetry gives us an ideal, a sense of a world that could or
should be, rather than the Fallen World that is
What is the key thing that poetry tries to teach us?
o Poetry is a moral art: it teaches us how to live
How does it differ from Philosophy?
o It gives us examples of how to live morally, rather than mere
precept Rambler – Samuel Johnson 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
Samuel Johnson was born into a lower-middle class family in the small city
of Lichfield. Following an indifferent grammar school education, he attended
Oxford for one year before having to drop out for lack of tuition money. He
then failed at establishing his own grammar school. In 1737, in company
with a former pupil, David Garrick (who was to become the greatest actor of
his age and a successful playwright), he walked to London to begin a career
as a hack writer and translator.
He first achieved some notice with a poem entitled London in 1739, and
again in 1749 with another poem, The Vanity of Human Wishes, but his real
fame came with his publication of the periodical The Rambler between 1750-
52, and his production of his great Dictionary in 1755, produced almost
entirely by himself over the course of 10 years.
Johnson was an enormous man, physically and in terms of the force of his
personality. He became utterly revered by admirers and friends, and
elevated by his biographer, James Boswell, to almost mythic status. He was
also a rather odd man. Boswell tells this anecdote of the artist Hogarth‘s first
meeting with Johnson:
While [Hogarth] was talking, he perceived a person standing at a window in
the room, shaking his head, and rolling himself about in a strange ridiculous
manner. He concluded that he was an ideot, whom his relations had put
under the care of Mr. Richardson, as a very good man. To his great surprize,
however, this figure stalked forwards to where he and Mr. Richardson were
sitting, and all at once took up the argument . . . In short, he displayed such
a power of eloquence, that Hogarth looked at him with astonishment, and
actually imagined that this ideot had been at the moment inspired.
The Rambler The Rambler (1750-52) was a periodical written by Johnson while he was
producing the Dictionary, and published twice weekly for exactly two years.
He wrote it, he said, as a means of maintaining a disciplined approach to
As the name of the periodical suggests, the essays contained within were
upon a wide variety of different subject matters, covering everything from
literary criticism and moral reflection, to social satire. It also featured a
number of short fictional pieces. By Johnson‘s death in 1784, it had become
the second most popular periodical in Great Britain.
The "Rise of the Novel"
One major development of the early 18th century was the ―invention‖ of the
―Novel,‖ which rapidly replaced the ―Romance‖ as the dominant form of prose fiction. ―Romances‖ before about 1740 were fantastic tales of high-
born and exceptionally gifted and virtuous heroes and heroines, invariably
set in past ages and far-off and ―exotic‖ locales. Romances frequently
included ―fantasy‖ elements, and made no attempt to sketch a realistic
portrait of life. They were full of unbelievable incidents, and were written in
―high-flown‖ language. An important part of their appeal was their ―escapist‖
Conventionally, if simplistically, the first "novel" (in the modern sense) in
English has most usually been identified as Samuel Richardson‘s Pamela
(1740). (This is the same Richardson who features in Boswell's account of
Hogarth's first encounter with Johnson, quoted above.) It was the tale of a
young, intelligent servant girl who resists the attempts of her master to
"seduce" or (more truthfully) rape her. Her virtue is such that she is able to
bring about her master's moral reformation; she eventually marries him and
they live happily -- and morally -- ever after.
Pamela was revolutionary because it combined a clear narrative arc and a
contemporary realistic setting and characters. The novel is full of the details
of "everyday life" (such as sleeping, eating, and clothing) in a way that was
not true of Romances; the novel, at least in its earliest forms, can be
characterized by what we might call ―social realism‖: a detailed and
―realistic‖ portrayal of the minutiae, as well as the larger events, of ―real‖
Pamela was enormously successful, and spawned a whole new fashion in
In what ways does Johnson's description of the "new" novel form correspond
with your own experience of novels? Does his description still apply today?
What sort of audience does Johnson imagine that novels most appeal to?
Does his identification of that audience change his attitude towards it?
What does Johnson see as the main role or "function" of the novel?
Does this view of art -- or at least, this particular kind of art -- seem more or
less in line with what Sidney has to say in The Apology for Poetry?
Lecture Pleasure and Instruction
Begin by noticing the epigraph with which the paper begins:
o ―And join both profit and delight in one‖
- In essence, it is another reformulation of a classical idea, found also in
Sidney: ―utile et dulce‖ or ―usefulness and sweetness‖
Johnson begins by paying attention to the actual audience of
literature, rather than idealized notion of what literature ―should be‖
o “The works of fiction, with which the present generation
seems more particularly delighted, are such as exhibit life in
its true state, devised only by accidents that daily happen in
the world, and influences by passions and qualities which are
really to be found in conversing with mankind…”
Johnson on Romance
Johnson contrasts this newer form of fiction with the older
―romance‖, which he sees, essentially, as ridiculous
o Says if the romance is formally written, it will be about the
transaction that passes through among men and that the
reader is in very little danger of making any application to
Johnson on Readers
The contrast between modern and older ―romances‖ is important,
again, because of the more usual audience for this kind of literature
The danger of romance lies in their application by those who read
o The usual audience is youthful and impressionable
History gives you what the actual world is like, literature gives you
the world of what it ought to be Nature, sure. But which ―Nature‖
Johnson is noting that the artist controls what is represented in art.
The choice of representation is a moral choice
Life is a Novel
Johnson argues that choice is so important because the modern
―romance‖ – that is, the Novel – is so much more applicable to our
Realistic fictions are seductive. They are more effective because
they relate directly to our own lives, but they are also therefore
more dangerous The Eolian Harp – Samuel Taylor Coleridge 11/27/2012 9:30:00 AM
From a lower-middle class background, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-
1834) rose by sheer brilliance to become one of the most important and
influential poets in English. Despite a stellar beginning at Cambridge, he left
without a degree, became deeply involved in radical politics, and cooperated
with William Wordsworth, in 1798, to publish Lyrical Ballads, a poetry
volume that heralded the ―Romantic Revolution.‖ He published a number of
(mostly short) poems over his life, a fair amount of journalism, lectures, and
a major work of critical and philosophical thought, The Literaria Biographia.
Coleridge often considered himself a failure, due to his apparent inability to
complete many of the large-scale projects that he envisioned for himself. His
drug addiction (to laudanum) tormented him, and contributed to his
―failure.‖ He is probably best known for his poem The Ancient Mariner.
Coleridge is generally viewed as one of the ―founders‖ of Romanticism.
Romanticism was an enormously influential literary ―movement‖ that set
itself in opposition to the prevailing poetic modes of the eighteenth century.
Romanticism is perhaps best described as an "expressive" view of art: the
poem, novel, music, or painting is primarily a mode of expression for the
poet, rather than being read mainly as an objective or idealized
representation of something that exists in nature.
Traditionally, its beginning is usually dated from the publication of Lyrical
Ballads, a collection of short poems by William Wordsworth and including
Coleridge‘s The Ancient Mariner. While the poems themselves represent a
departure from previous poetic practice, the ―Preface‖ to the second edition
of the Lyrical Ballads in 1800, written by Wordsworth, served as a kind of
―manifesto‖ for the movement.
Traditionally, the rise and development of Romaniticism has been associated
with six writers: Coleridge, Wordsworth, William Blake, George Gordon Lord
Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Keats. In fact, though, it was a
widespread literary movement with deep roots in 18th century, and broad
articulations in the 19th. Other writers associated with the movement
include Robert Southey, Robert Burns, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Mary Shelley,
Thomas de Quincey, George Crabbe, and John Clare. Some Questions
Do you notice a difference in the poet's voice in this poem from others we
Why do you think this poem is framed as a sort of monologue spoken to
Coleridge's wife, Sara?
In what way(s) might this poem be seen as "expressive," as a personal
utterance of the poet?
What is the view of "Nature" that we get here?
To what degree do the views of poetry articulated by Sir Philip Sidney apply
to this poem? To what degree, and in what ways, do they not?
How is our own relationship with the poet and his poem different here than
in, for instance, Donne's "The Flea"?
Was first published, in a slightly different form, in 1796. Written on his
honeymoon, it addresses Sara Fricker, his new bride.
The opening lines establish the tone and setting of the poem
The Harp is sounded …
Lines 12-25 establish the agency of ―Eolus‖ the wind
What is the wind doing?
o The string makes pretty noises, the wind is like a lover
approaching a harp, trying to seduce the harp, half yielding
and half fighting back
―The one life‖ …
Lines 26-33 establish the significance of the harp
What kind of vision of nature is this?
o A vision of all things blended together in a unity: Pantheism
Sound + light = synesthesia, the notion that stimulation
in one sensory organ is echoed in another. Here it
represents a kind of transcendence
―Idle flitting phantasies‖
In lines 34-43, the setting and time of the poem’s narrative
changes … How is this shift accomplished?
What are we to make of his “musings” imagined here on the
The relationship between the poet and nature, is the same as the
relationship between the heart and the wind
David Harley (1705-57)
Hartley was an eighteenth-century philosopher = much admired by
the Coleridge (who named his eldest son, born in 1796, after him)
His Observation on Man, his Frame, his Duty, and his Expectations
(1749) argued that pain and pleasure, and indeed all sensations,
were created by ―vibrations‖ within the nerves. Memory and
emotional states were ―echoes‖ of the originating vibrations in the
Memory and emotional states were ―echoes‖ or the originating
vibrations in the nerves: these ―echoes‖ he called ―vibratiuncles‖
Coleridge all a –tingling…
What, then, is the true significant of the harp that has generated
o Nature acts up the poet as it does upon the harp
o Nature is the player, we are the passive instrument. What we
produce from this interaction is music, art
o In the lines 44-48, this stimulation reflects the mechanism of
all nature. What if everything in nature is a harp? And the
breeze playing upon it is god? We are another harp within
nature and there is one vast soul that is playing us, and that
is God. God is everywhere.
What do you make of the final 16 lines of the poem?
o He essentially apologizes for all of the things he said, he
wasn‘t being very Christian, and he wants the readers to
think he is a good conventional Christian like everyone else o He attempts to retract it afterward, however this does mean
he did not want to get his point across. If he didn‘t want to he
wouldn‘t have published it
Mirrors, Lamps, and Bad Haircuts
M.H. Abrams The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and Critical
Tradition (1953) traces the shift during the Romantic era from mimetic to
expressive theories of arts
Art is not a mirror, it is an expression. The origin of art is nature.
Art is coming from ourselves.
The Poet as a Mirror?
Older, classically-influenced notions of poetry are built on the
assumption that poetry reflects an enhanced or idealized version of
Poetry is an ―object‖ and its authority as a form of “truth” is
ultimately deprived from its relationship with nature.
The poet functions as an agent and creator, but largely as a
mediator between nature and art
Art can show the world as it ought to be, rather than as it actually
The artistic ―mirror‖ is a medium that either distorts or enhances: it
reflects a nature that has been ―adjusted‖ by artistic vision to show
us something new about ourselves or our world
The Poet as a Lamp?
Romantic theories of art re-orient the relationship of art to nature
and the poet.
Nature still provides much of the ―material‖ for poetry, but it is
transformed and given entirely new ―meanings‖ and forms by the
shaping imagination of the poet.
The poet, not nature, is ultimately the source of the “light” that
poetry sheds upon truth
In this sense, when we view ―nature‖ through a Romantic poem, we
are seeing not an idealized objective ―truth‖ about it, but rather
nature as filtered and reformed in the imagination of the poet. The ―secondary Imagination‖
The imagination takes its images from nature, but doesn‘t merely
―enhance‖ these. Instead, it ―dissolves‖ them, creating something
entirely new, with a ―unity‖ that is now all the poem‘s own, and not
merely borrowed from nature
“It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate… it stuggles
to idealize and to unify”
Coleridge on ―poetry‖
The nature of poetry is now defined with reference to the function
of its creator. It is now a personal expression.
“What is poetry? Is so nearly the same question with, what is a
poet that the answer to one is involved in the solution of the other”
Romanticism espouses an expressive model. Poetry is the personal
articulation of the poet‘s thoughts, feelings and experiences
It therefore looks to the ―real world‖ or ―nature‖ much less as a
field for subject matter (although nature is certainly important in
that sense) and more as a model. Poetry should be ―natural” and
―organic” developing into its ―natural‖ form as inevitably as a tree
Romantic theory valorizes the imagination, which is no longer
merely one of many human faculties, but is now seen as the most