This course—being one of two in the DLLEM curriculum—is devoted to English Poetry before and after the Romantic Revolution, an epoch conveniently marked in England by the publication of the Lyrical Ballads of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1800 whose work along with that of other later poets in English up to our own time are covered in Formas Poeticas II.
The general aim of the Poetry I is thus to cover English Poetry up that date and, in particular, to focus on the poetical genres involved in its development between the Heroic Age of the warrior-kings and the end of the 18th century (the so-called Augustan Age, in view of its neo-classical tone). While all of this requires a glance at both English and European history, it chiefly involves an encounter with the body of English poetry itself in which so many poems of an earlier time than ours have framed the most memorable thoughts and feelings about core experiences—love, death, hopes, fears, destiny and ideals—in ways which still count with us today.
“What is Poetry?,” we may ask. This is not such an easy question and various interesting answers of it have been supplied by poets themselves. Certainly, no one has explored the nature of language so deeply and some of these have gone so far as to assert that language has its origins in poetry rather than vice-versa. (Certainly poetry came into existence long before prose.) In one aspect, the study of poetry is the study of language and how it works as an expressive medium. Yet not all of poetry is made up of language in the purely lexical sense—in witness to which it has been poetry is only itself hen ‘it aspires to the condition of music’ (Walter Pater). If so, it plays its tunes upon our nervous system and, in that sense, it is an organic part of our nature. (Can you imagine humanity without song?)
Yet, for poetry-readers, the encounter with poetry as words is an essential component of the experience: you cannot avoid thinking about the words involved and their denotations both in the immediate context of the poem and at large. We look for the particularly sense and feeling of each poem we read yet, at the same time, the poem conveys a possibility of response to experience which is peculiar to a particular poetic genre, be it lyrical, or epical, romantic or classical, encomiastic, romantic, mock-heroic, parodic, satirical, and so on. In this sense literary history and social culture intertwine since the genres themselves are the source of human feelings no less than a reflection of them.
Which came first, the feeling or the poem, is often a hard question to answer. What is certain is that poetry records and institutionalises certain ‘ways of feeling’ which were part of the culture of a given age. Thus we will encounter poems in this course which express the barbaric honour-code of the Anglo-Saxon epic, others which which communicate the code of Courtly Love so dear to Renaissance courtiers, or else the the ‘metaphysical’ flights of Jacobean ‘wits’ and ‘divines’, the ‘heroic’ (and ‘mock-heroic’) verses of Augustan aristocrats and the poets whom they patronised, and—finally—the laments and elegies of the pre-Romantics who developed the ‘sentimental’ style of writing.
The ability to recognise and interpret each of these formal kinds of poet writing is the chief outcome of the course. In all of this, our main source for the poetic texts we study will be the massive Norton Anthology of Poetry (5th Edition; 2005) together with some other materials in prose which I will copy into SIGAA and Internet for you—the latter at the RICORSO website [here]. My job is to turn the literary chronicle into a meaningful encounter. Yours is to gain an adequate understanding of the texts themselves and perhaps even to memorise a sample of them—since poetry and memory are finally indisociable. To meet these objectives, we will use a work-shop method in the classroom and this will involve a degree of performance on your part and mine. All of the materials used on the course will be supplied in class and online and the end-result will be a virtual anthology of the literature in question. Evaluation will be based on a reasonable familiarity with the materials presented and of the discussion of them conducted among us all in the classroom.