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Elizabeth Cullingford, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Spring 2005

E 389M • Similes and Other Rhetorical Figures in Modern Poetry

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
32630 MW
9:30 AM-11:00 AM

Course Description

Verbal magic in poetry makes us ask, “How do you do that?” Part of it is in the music (the prosody); part is in the rhetoric. This course focuses on the rhetoric, beginning with similes. Even if no contemporary poet can name a hundred schemes and tropes, as any Renaissance poet could, many poets in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have absorbed the unnamed tricks. We’ll search out those tricks, give names to them, and make a stab at judging their effectiveness in specific poems. We’ll also look at attempts at figurative language that flopped and ask why. The one other time this course was offered, the poets included Donald Justice, Charles Simic, Philip Levine, W. H. Auden, Anne Sexton, Wallace Stevens, Louise Bogan, John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Marilyn Hacker, Denise Levertov, Sharon Olds, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Frost, W. C. Williams, Paul Dunbar, James Wright, Marianne Moore, T. S. Eliot, Conrad Aiken, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich, Robert Penn Warren, Theodore Roethke, John Berryman, George Oppen, Gwendloyn Brooks, Robert Duncan, A. R. Ammons, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Richard Wilbur, Sylvia Plath, James Merrill, Jorie Graham, Maxine Kumin, W. S. Merwin, Rita Dove, Charles Wright, Eavan Boland, and Robert Pinsky. Some of these were discussed more than others; some were simply found in treasure hunts. The schemes and tropes that were identified included metonymy, synechdoche, hyperbole, chiasmus, antimetabole, zeugma, syllepsis. ellipsis, personification, oxymoron, antithesis, catachresis, and anaphora, among the more familiar—among the more arcane, asyndeton, polysyndeton, epistrophe, epanalepsis, anadiplosis, polyptoton, prolepsis, restrictio, anthimeria, ploce, metalepsis, antanaclasis, epizeuxis, and chronographia.


There will be two packets of readings drawn from sources such as: The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger, T. V. F. Brogan et al. (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1993); Robert Pinsky, The Situation of Poetry: Contemporary Poetry and Its Traditions (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1976; I. A. Richards, The Philosophy of Rhetoric (London: Oxford UP, 1936), Ch. 5, “Metaphor,” and Ch. 6, “The Command of Metaphor”; Monroe C. Beardsley, Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism, 2nd ed. (1st ed. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958; Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981), “Theories of Metaphor,” pp. 134-47, 159-62; Jacqueline Vaught Brogan, Stevens and Simile: A Theory of Language (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986); Wyatt Prunty, “Fallen from the Symboled World”: Precedents for the New Formalism (New York: Oxford UP, 1990), and Steven G. Darian, “Similes and the Creative Process,” Language & Style, 6 (1973), 48-57.


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