E 376L • Appreciating Poetic Form and Function
2:00 PM-3:30 PM
We will be examining some major works of English poetry with a basic theoretical question in mind: What is the difference between an ordinary English text and a poem?
Every English poem must be a grammatical English text; if it were ungrammatical it would not count as being written in English. Yet literary texts have something special about them. One special thing is their form, which exhibits meter, rhythm, and rhyme. A sonnet by Shakespeare is a grammatical English text which is also a rhythmic text divided into fourteen iambic pentamer lines with a certain rhyme scheme. We will investigate what modern poets substitute for traditional meter, rhythm, and rhyme.
In an ordinary English discourse, a speaker describes the world he lives in by means of his grammar. Does the poet use his grammar in a special way? Or does he describe a special world? Do the rhythmic constraints imposed on the text somehow allow him to take liberties with the world he describes?
We will be examining major texts in English with a view to answering such questions. We will analyze the role of meter, rhythm and rhyme in Beowulf, Chaucer, nursery rhymes and Shakespeare. Then we will examine Renaissance, Romantic, and Modernist Poetry in order to discover the relation between the types of imagery a poet uses and the kind of world he describes.
Four written assignments, 20% each
Class participation and discussion 20%
The Norton Anthology of Poetry