Reading Poetry
English 201Y, Fall Term 2001
MWF 1-2 3130 SB

Professor (first term): Dan White
Office: 296A NB, x. 8-5291
Office Hours: Wednesday 11:00-12:00, Friday 4:00-5:00

Course Focus: In this course, we will familiarize ourselves with the various forms, techniques, and themes of poetry in English. We will begin by considering what makes poetry different from other forms of literary expression, concentrating primarily on meter and metaphor. With special attention paid to the poetry of the Renaissance, Eighteenth Century, and Romantic period, the first term of our introduction will then focus on the major lyric forms, the sonnet, ode, and elegy, and we will also become familiar with ballads, topographical poetry, and the heroic (and mock-heroic) traditions of romance and epic. During the second term, the course will turn to nineteenth- and twentienth-century poets from different regions of the English-speaking world. Throughout we will proceed in keeping with the two following quotations from William Blake: "Every eye sees differently" and "To particularize is the alone distinction of merit." In other words, we will collectively discuss our individual perceptions of poems, but our individual perceptions will be formed and informed by what we will call "close reading," the rigorous and intense engagement with the particularities of poetic language.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, class will be held as a mixed lecture/discussion. On most Fridays, however, we will hold a "close reading session." During these sessions, the class will divide into five groups of approximately ten students each. At the beginning of class in each group, one student will be responsible for distributing a copy of a close reading paragraph to the other students in his or her group, as well as one to me. Each of you will be responsible for one close reading paragraph each term. Before you write your paragraph, you should pick an important line that you want to "unpack." In the paragraph (about a page), you should then do two things: first, perform a thorough close reading of the line, focusing on one or two carefully chosen words, and feel free to cite the Oxford English Dictionary ("OED"); and second, suggest further lines of close reading opened up by your analysis. These paragraphs should be typed, carefully composed, thoroughly proofread, and, above all, presentable. At the beginning of the session, everyone in your group will read your paragraph, and they may of course ask you questions. It is not your responsibility to lead the subsequent discussion, though it is naturally expected that you will play an active role. After everyone has read and discussed the paragraph, the group will proceed with the further lines of reading suggested by the paragraph and/or go off on new tacks. I will join each group in turn and take part in the discussions as we see fit. If you have written a paragraph, your grade will be based on your written work alone, but participation in the discussion will count for all students as part of your overall class participation grade (see below). I will post a sign-up sheet on my office door, and you will have until Friday, September 14, to choose the poem and date for your paragraph.

Requirements and Grading: Your grade for the year will be divided as follows: scansion quiz (September 17, 5%), first-term close reading paragraph (5%), first-term paper (due Dec. 3, 1500 words, 20%), first-term test (December 5 and 7, 15%), first-term class participation (5%); second-term close reading paragraph (5%), second-term paper (due date TBA, 2500 words, 25%), second-term test (date TBA, 15%), and second-term class participation (5%). Please submit your papers titled, double-spaced, paginated, and stapled. Late work will be penalized one part of a grade (A- to B+, B to B-, etc.) for each day late. Before writing your papers, please consult "Papers: Expectations, Guidelines, Advice, and Grading."

Resources: To access some of these, you must either log on through a University of Toronto server or configure your browser to use the proxy server (instructions).

Texts: The following two texts are required for this course:

On this syllabus, readings are labelled either "N" for Norton or "C" for Coursepack.

Introduction: Versification and Close Reading


September 10


September 12

Versification (N 1103-22), and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Metrical Feet: Lesson for a Boy" (C); Exercise on William Shakespeare, Sonnet 146, "Poor soul, the center of my sinful earth" (handout)

September 14

Exercise on Shakespeare, Sonnet 146 (continued); OED definitions
Deadline to sign up for close reading paragraph (sign-up sheet on my office door)

The Sonnet


September 17

Scansion quiz; William Wordsworth, "Scorn Not the Sonnet" (N 426)

September 19

Edmund Spenser, from Amoretti, Sonnet 15 (N 129); Philip Sidney, from Astrophil and Stella, Sonnet 1 (N 146); John Milton "When I Consider How My Light Is Spent" (N 253-54)

September 21

Close Reading Session: Shakespeare, Sonnet 129, "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame" (N 161)


September 24

Thomas Gray, "Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West" (C); Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from Introduction to "Sonnets" in Poems (1797) (C); Charlotte Smith, Sonnets I and III from Elegiac Sonnets (1784) (C); from review of Smith in the Critical Review (C)

September 26

Wordsworth, "The World is Too Much with Us" (N 424); John Keats, "On the Sonnet" (N 506), "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" (N 495)

September 28

Close Reading Session: "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer"

The Ode


October 1

John Dryden, "Alexander's Feast" (C), with in-class selections from Handel's setting

October 3

Wordsworth, "Ode: Intimations of Immortality" (N 417-22)

October 5

Close Reading Session: "Ode: Intimations of Immortality"


October 8

No class - Thanksgiving

October 10

Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind" (N 471-73)

October 12

Close Reading Session: Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale" (N 509-11)

Melancholy and the Elegiac Tradition


October 15

Milton, "L'Allegro," "Il Penseroso" (N 243-51)

October 17

Close Reading Session: "Il Penseroso"

October 19

No class


October 22

Anne Finch, "A Nocturnal Reverie" (N 311-13); Anna Laetitia Barbauld, "A Summer Evening's Meditation" (C)

October 24

Gray, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" (N 366-69)

October 26

Close Reading Session: "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard"

The Ballad Tradition


October 29

"Sir Patrick Spens" (N 74-76); Keats, "La Belle Dame sans Merci" (N 506-508), Letter on "Negative Capability" (C)

October 31

Wordsworth, from Preface to the Second Edition of Lyrical Ballads (C)

November 2

Close Reading Session: Wordsworth, "A Slumber did my Spirit Seal" (N 412)


November 5

William Blake, from Songs of Innocence and Experience (selections TBA)

November 7

Blake (continued)

November 9

Close Reading Session: Blake, "London" (N 396)

Topographical Poetry and the Heroic Couplet


November 12

John Denham, "Cooper's Hill" (C)

November 14

Alexander Pope, "Windsor Forest" (C)

November 16

Close Reading Session: "Windsor Forest"

Romance, Epic, and Mock-Heroic


November 19

Spenser, from The Faerie Queene (N 115-28)

November 21

Milton, from Paradise Lost (N 255-56)

November 23

Close Reading Session: Barbauld, "Washing Day" (C)


November 26

Pope, "The Rape of the Lock" (N 323-40)

November 28

"The Rape of the Lock" (continued)

November 30

"The Rape of the Lock" (continued)

Conclusion and Review


December 3

First-term paper due (1500 words); review for first-term test

December 5

First-term test, part 1

December 7

First-term test, part 2

Daniel E. White