MIT OpenCourseWare



This subject follows a course of readings in lyric poetry in the English language, tracing the main lines of descent through literary periods from the Renaissance to the modern period and concentrating mostly on English rather than American examples. The subject starts with Shakespeare's sonnets, discussing such things as the constraints of stanza-form, the use of figurative language (metaphor and metonymy), and the controlled effects of ambiguity, showing how recessive meanings unite disparate parts of a poem and contribute to its overall unity. Attention will also be paid to constraints of meter, accent and duration, and a number of critical terms will be introduced - apostrophe, assonance, enjambment, chiasmus, hyperbole, litotes, and the like - which constitute the standard repertoire of rhetorical analysis since the eighteenth century. The subject will move from Shakespeare to Donne and the so-called "metaphysical" poets, through Milton, Pope, and others of the classical period, to Wordsworth and Keats by way of considering the nature of the romantic period, and concluding with some modern poets, such as Yeats, Eliot and Philip Larkin. The calendar section provides more specific information.

Course Format

This subject requires 20 pages in writing, divided into four assignments. The two of these assignments will be submitted to a tutor to begin with and rewritten at the tutor's direction, then submitted to the instructor, who will assign a grade. The student will have a two-week window to complete the assignment from the time of its distribution until the date upon which it is due to the instructor. The third assignment will work the pattern in reverse: the paper will be graded first by the instructor, and then submitted to the tutor for revision, with a possible upgrade upon its re-submission to the instructor. The fourth or final paper will go straight to the instructor for grading and will not engage tutorial work unless the student chooses to consult the tutor before submitting the paper.

The subject will offer students substantial opportunity for oral expression by reason of (a) its discussion format and (b) an assigned presentation, in which pairs of students will each make two ten-minute presentations of materials conducive to the discussion of a poem assigned for a given class.

There will be no final examination.