Kyle Dickson's Archive

UNIT 3: Restoration & Eighteenth Century

by   |  11.27.09  |  221-Restoration/18th Century

londonship

In 1660 the monarchy was restored to England, but the experiment with constitutional government encouraged increased skepticism through public discussions of politics, philosophy, and art. A free press and the new coffee houses helped develop the eighteenth-century taste for the lively exchange of ideas in this new “Age of Reason.”

Reflecting on the Human

by   |  11.26.09  |  221-Restoration/18th Century

    Much of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels comes from a captain’s log describing a foreign land to his countrymen or describing his own country to a foreigner. Either way we as readers are forced to view ourselves from a different perspective. In Book 2 after hearing a relation of the “State of Europe” with its senators, soldiers, priests, lawyers, and judges, the 70 foot king of Brobdingnag can only look down on Gulliver and his countrymen, dismissing them as a “pernicious race of little odious vermin” much like the Lilliputians in Book 1.

    Gene Rodenberry must surely have read Swift since similar descriptions or critiques occasionally appear in episodes of Star Trek. Whenever Kirk or Picard attempt to explain some typically human behavior to a Vulcan, an android, or an alien ambassador, the audience is forced briefly to reconsider its own view of the world.

    The heirs of Gene Rodenberry have occasionally used the human body to consider the essential features of humanity. Each series has provided rational foils like the Vulcan Spock or the android Data as mirrors through which to reflect the most basic elements of a human being: body and mind, passion and reason. In the following clip from Star Trek: Voyager, Lieutenant Torres has been sent to repair an alien ship inhabited only by a pathological hologram who may have disposed of the ship’s human crew.

    Star Trek, Revulsion clip

    Though many of the political and social targets of Book 4 have been treated earlier in the novel, one subject new to Book 4 is the satire of the human body. In passages like those in chapters 5 and 6, the Houyhnhnms provide an ironic study of the human form which focuses not on its beauty but on its deficiencies. What does Swift have to say about this “biological cage of flesh and bone and blood”?

Gulliver’s Trek Exercise

    Since, if Swift had lived in our own time, he surely would have sent Gulliver traveling through space, boldly going where no yahoo had gone before, choose some aspect of life in our country or on our planet that an alien observer would find amusing or repulsive (possibilities might include love, democracy, social clubs, church, movies, weapons of mass destruction, or kissing).

    Before moving on, write a 1 or 2 paragraph description of a topic taken from politics, religion, or society for some member of a more civilized culture and bring your work to class.

    I’ve included two imaginative examples from past students below, but feel free to take your own post into uncharted territory.

    We Call It “Democracy” – Student Example

    On Matters of Transportation – Student Example

Rescuing the Human

    Scott Derrickson’s 2008 Day the Earth Stood Still offers a recent revision of the alien visitor motif. The hyper-reasonable Klaatu has come to save the earth from the human race. These scenes share several parallels with the judgments of the representatives of pure reason in Gulliver’s Travels though they add a clear acknowledgement of humanity’s dual nature, as the greatest threat and hope of the future.

    Judgment Day clip

News of the Triangular Trade

by   |  11.12.09  |  221-Restoration/18th Century

    After reading the intimate meditations of Donne and Herbert or the introspective sonnets of Milton and Shakespeare, the first impression for readers of Behn’s Oroonoko is the striking scale of her novel. Not content to introduce a single setting or domestic love story, she stretches her canvas to include two continents and characters from three very different worlds.

    Joanna Lipking has speculated on the seventeenth-century vogue for travel writing from the New World in her introduction to Oroonoko:

      Early travelers to the Americas described lands that seemed to recover the first age of the world, the golden or innocent time of both classical and biblical tradition. . . . For those at home, the discoveries brought travels of mind: catalogs of the plant life and strange animals, collections of natural specimens and artifacts, a stage fashion for New World pageantry. (Norton Critical Edition 75)

    Behn’s novel comes after a long career as a popular playwright for the Restoration stage where her success depended on gauging the fashions of public taste. For example, Lipking suggests the original appeal of the novel lay in just the catalogs of New World flora and fauna quickly skipped over by readers today. She implies that one reason to begin the novel in Surinam was to establish a cultural ideal of golden innocence, “so like our first parents before the Fall” (Norton 2184), to prepare us for the contrasts to come.

    The most striking and obvious contrast in the novel appears in the juxtaposition of South America and Africa. As Lipking notes,

      No such idealizing marks the reports of West Africa. . . . Like most Native American peoples, West Africans were without written language and might go unclothed, but they provided no scenes of naked innocence, no trustful, open-handed kings. On the contrary, by a reverse stereotyping passed on from book to book, the received opinion was that African women were by nature lascivious, punishments notwithstanding, and the men crafty or “thievish.” (75-6)

    If the South American setting of the novel’s opening shared an untouched, golden innocence with the first age of the world, Africa represents a people that bring together duplicity and a heroic code of courage and brave deeds. New World simplicity and contentment are replaced by the sumptuous luxury and decadence we find in the “Kingdom” of Coramantien.

    However, the more subtle contrast Behn introduces in the novel’s opening juxtaposes naive Americans with no concept of lying and her civilized readers. Lipking concludes in her discussion of travel writing:

      Most of all, [travel books] brought accounts of “savage” people living without divine or human law, as if far back in time or out of time. For reflective writers in Europe, Montaigne, Swift, and Rousseau, among many others, the simpler New World societies could hold a mirror up to the old, letting civilized Europe view itself in all its habitual corruption and deceit, the whole sad tangle of its history. (75)

    With Behn, and later with Swift, travel narratives question the foundations of cultural superiority on which European colonialism was based. The perfect example of this is the English Captain. Behn feigns objectivity over Oroonoko’s abduction but within paragraphs she has her hero questioning the Christian faith of the Englishman, whose “gods had taught him no better principles than not to credit as he would be credited.” Clearly Behn’s aims in the novel are complex and require careful consideration.

    As we research the complex network of politics, religion, and commerce that fueled the triangular trade, consider how Behn’s presentation of the Middle Passage functions within the novel. Does Oroonoko’s suffering only heighten the sympathy for a tormented hero in a steamy romance novel? Or does the novel move beyond entertainment into social satire or critique with the intent of changing views of slavery if not public policy?

Middle Passage Exercise

    After seeing your first piece based on Behn’s novel, your editors were skeptical about her reliability as a source. (Some critics early in the twentieth century doubted whether Behn had even been to Surinam herself though more recent scholars support her claim.) You’ve been asked by your editors to find other sources to challenge or corroborate Ms. Behn’s description of the Middle Passage.

    Spend 15-20 minutes researching the motives and realities of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade using one or more of the links below. In your notes, record leads which support or challenge the truthfulness of Behn’s portrayal. Be ready to distinguish differences and similarities between the slave trade as practiced by the British in the seventeenth century and by other countries in later centuries. Your editors have asked you to consider writing either a provocative expos√© revealing the conditions of the Middle Passage or a business profile recommending a promising investment opportunity, so try to find details to support both anti-slavery and pro-slavery positions from the period.

    A Slave Ship Speaks – The Wreck of the Henrietta Marie

    The Slave Trade in Britain – Norton Topics Online

    Breaking the Silence – Learning about the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

    Keep in mind that the novel’s main action occurs two centuries before the American Civil War, so you’ll need to develop a definition of slavery particular to the world Behn and her readers knew. Historian Dinizulu Tinnie suggests that

      Perhaps the most challenging aspect of studying a phenomenon like the Atlantic “slave trade,” as it was known, is the realization that such developments are not as monolithic and constant as even their vast scope, verifiable statistics, and widely recognized patterns might suggest. It can be easily overlooked, in examining a phenomenon that endured for more than four centuries, involving tens of millions of individuals, that it is in fact a story of individuals: each person, each voyage, each ship has a different story to tell, a different, but definite, impact on history. (“The Henrietta Marie in Perspective”)

    In what ways does Behn’s novel seek to personalize the slave trade by telling the story of this “royal slave”? Is her novel ultimately about slavery, or does Oroonoko represent some other injustice, social or political, she hopes to consider through her suffering hero?

Restoration and 18th Century Timeline

by   |  11.04.09  |  221-Restoration/18th Century

    Before class, spend a few minutes reviewing the Breaking News timeline. This interactive timeline will introduce you to figures and events in the news during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Taking notes as you read about the different monarchs and religious groups may help you keep the important names and dates straight. 

    Breaking News Intro

    Once you’ve viewed the Breaking News introductory film, explore the Flash timeline below.

    Breaking New timeline

    Breaking News transcript

Restoration Reading Exercise

    Though new playwrights like Dryden and Congreve captivated new theater audiences after the Restoration and great poems like Milton’s Paradise Lost and Pope’s Rape of the Lock appeared in print over the next half century, the period’s most unexpected literary achievement was the rise of a new reading audience for prose. After the Restoration, the educated elite were joined by middle class readers and women who poured over a growing number of prose titles, including travel narratives and romances, political pamphlets and tracts, works of scientific or philosophical speculation, and–by far the best selling of the period–sermons and religious works. Popular prose titles appearing in the period reflect many of the new interests and tensions of the seventeenth century:

      – John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)
      – Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)
      – Robert Hooke, Micrographia (1665)
      – Isaac Newton, Principia (1687) or Optics (1704)
      – John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
      – John Toland, Christianity Not Mysterious (1696)
      – Jeremy Collier, Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage (1698)

    Spend 10-15 minutes researching one of these titles. You might begin with the Encyclopedia Britannica to put your author and work in context but may use any other sites or resources from the web. *Make sure to keep web addresses for sources providing unique information to cite at the end of your summary.

    Encyclopedia Britannica Online

    After you can answer the basic journalistic questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why?), write a short 1-2 paragraph introduction to the author and work that summarizes its main thesis or purpose. Then speculate on the title’s importance to the period or connection to events from the timeline.

    Bring your summary to class to conclude our discussion of the Restoration period.

UNIT 2: The Early Modern Period

by   |  10.27.09  |  221-Early Modern

londonglobeThe Renaissance in England is just as difficult to define, connected in many ways to the new learning from Italy and the Continent but not developing in terms of painting or the visual arts. The writers of this “Early Modern” period were energized by the expansion of the known world–if not the cosmos–and began to struggle with the responsibilities and challenges of this new knowledge.

Memento Mori Readings

by   |  10.26.09  |  221-Early Modern

    Up until the plague outbreaks of the seventeenth century, most communities had an unsettling habit of burying people in the church. Wealthy aristocrats and merchants would leave money for a monument or a plaque to be placed in the wall, in an aisle, or, in the days before Henry’s Reformation, in a side chapel where prayers would be said for their soul. One result of this practice was keeping death ever in the mind of the living.
    These memorials to the dead included not only the name and epitaph of the deceased but also a reminder to passersby to look to their own life or remember their end. Memento mori: “remember that you too must die.” This particular inscription, often appearing alongside a skull or hourglass, came to be associated with any work of art used to remind its audience of their mortality. Such monuments represented then a dual memorial, both of the individual’s life and of the universal end.
    In the 2001 film Wit, based on a play by Margaret Edson, Professor Vivian Bearing learns she has stage-four metastatic ovarian cancer. As she comments wryly, “There is no stage five.” The persistent irony of the film is that Dr. Bearing was a professor of seventeenth-century poetry all-too-familiar with the subject of death in literature but suddenly confronted by the reality in life.

    Memento Mori clip

    In memento mori poems like Donne’s famous Holy Sonnet 10, we also recognize a dual memorial, both of the reality of death and of the hope of future life. In contrast to the carpe diem poems which responded to death’s insistent approach by recommending pleasure of the moment, “The grave’s a fine and private place / But none I think do there embrace,” these poets turn to religious reflection.

    This week’s discussion will consider how English poets from the seventeenth century responded to the themes of time and death in light of their religious convictions. In poems that range from the intensely personal to the intently public, Donne, Herbert, and Milton confront the ultimate questions of Life, Death, Soul, God, Past, and Present.

Explication Exercise

    Before class, you will need to write another short explication of a poem by the poet you just reviewed (see the Writing an Explication assignment for more information). An explication is a close reading of the most important ideas or elements of a poem. The process of close reading asks you to focus on the parts of a poem and ask how they function in relation to the whole.

    In the 2001 film Wit, Professor Bearing described Donne’s holy sonnets as poetic puzzles, and there is something about the metaphysical wit of Donne and Herbert that seems almost playful in its use of concentrated metaphor, paradox, and language. As with the Carpe Diem assignment, these poems will reward close, attentive reading. How can you break your poem down into its component parts? Do these sections move logically from one to the next? Does the poet use basic poetic units like the couplet, quatrain, sestet, or octave (2, 4, 6, or 8 lines) to develop a single image or cluster of related images? Listen to the following close reading of Holy Sonnet 14 before moving on to complete your own short explication of one of the other assigned poems.

    Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14 – read by Dr. Bill Walton, English professor

    Explication of Holy Sonnet 14 – Dr. Walton

    Anniina Jokinen has posted a “quick and rough” explication of Donne’s Holy Sonnet 10 at the link below. Though longer than what you’ve been asked to write, it may also illustrate the kinds of insights a close reading should generate.

    Sample Explication for Holy Sonnet 10

    As you begin your own explication, the steps below should help you get started:

    Step 1. Choose one of the assigned poems and read it once or twice aloud. Since lyric poetry shares a close relationship with music, reading your poem out loud will draw your attention to rhythms and sound effects the poet may be using to develop his ideas.

    Step 2. Next paraphrase the poem (or for longer poems a short section of it) in your reading notebook by translating its meaning into contemporary speech.

    Step 3. Looking at the poem as a drama, who are the characters? (What do you know about the speaker? Who is the auditor or audience?) What is the central conflict? What implied action(s) occurs before, during, or after the poem?

    Step 4. Looking at the poem as a meditation, what imagery is chosen to describe the individual believer? How does the poet describe his relationship with God? How does this relationship address questions of life, death, past, and present?

    Step 5. Now look at the structural and poetic elements of the poem. How does the poet divide the poem into logical parts? How does spacing or punctuation make these logical divisions clear? How does the poet use image patterns or conceits to develop a theme or address a question?

    Step 6. Look up any unfamiliar words in a dictionary. How does the poet employ difficult, unusual, or related types of words to develop an image or set the mood of the poem? Do they help set a tone that is personal, playful, academic, provocative, devotional, or something else?

    Step 7. Before you leave the poem, what questions does it raise regarding contemporary views of life, death, soul, and God? How does the poem challenge or confirm personal views of mortality or a personal relationship with God?

    Step 8. Once you have a clear idea of what the poet is trying to say, write a 1 to 2 paragraph explication of the poem, referencing key lines or phrases that illuminate that purpose for other readers.

Staging Shakespeare Interview

by   |  10.21.09  |  221-Early Modern

    For the more than two centuries of our history, Shakespeare has remained the most produced playwright in American theaters. From Junior High productions of Romeo and Juliet and amateur community theater stagings of Macbeth to professional companies updating Hamlet to gangland Chicago or contemporary New York, Shakespeare has retained a unique relationship with the colonies founded during his lifetime (see the NEA’s “History of Shakespeare in America” ). Over the past few decades a growing number of American cities have organized free summer Shakespeare festivals, including metropolitan centers like Dallas, Austin, Houston, and Abilene.

    As we consider the challenges of bringing a 400 year old text to the stage, this week you will have the opportunity to hear an interview with an experienced actor and director. Eric Harrell has taught theatre arts at ACU and Regent University and is a member of Actor’s Equity and the Screen Actor’s Guild. His experience with Shakespeare includes appearing as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Orlando in As You Like It, Antipholus in The Comedy of Errors, as well as featured parts in Measure for Measure and Richard III.

    Before class, watch this short interview with Eric as he discusses how he would approach a summer production of Twelfth Night. He’ll take on questions about the play, the Bard, and bringing both successfully to the stage.

    The interview is led by Emily Hardegree and runs about 15 minutes.

    Staging Shakespeare – Video

    Staging Shakespeare-Audio

    This interview is based on a live chat with Eric in 2004 and is accompanied by slides from the Abilene Shakespeare Festival. If you have trouble with the video, you’ll find a transcript of the interview below.

    Staging Shakespeare transcript

Festive Comedy

by   |  10.13.09  |  221-Early Modern

    Most students come to college with some familiarity with the plays of William Shakespeare, but often these previous experiences were with tragedies. What many of these students find surprising then is that the immortal Bard, the Sweet Swan of Avon, could also tell a joke. As a young playwright, Will was actually quite fond of them, writing almost as many comedies as tragedies and histories combined. He enjoyed laughing at the madness of love, puncturing self-conceit, and wordplay, lots of wordplay. Shakespeare's early comedies like A Comedy of Errors and Midsummer Night's Dream are light, airy confections dependent upon puns and mistaken identity; later in his career William began to develop more complicated, layered forms of comedy that balanced festivity with solemnity, young love with menace, light with shadow, but more on that later. For now, take a few minutes to read Susan Snyder's introduction to The Genres of Shakespeare's Plays (labeled “Session 1”) and then return to this assignment to complete the exercise below.

    Shakespeare's Genres – Session 1

Genre in the Video Store Exercise

    Even if you've never used the word “genre” outside of an English class, you've no doubt had passionate debates on the subject while standing in the aisles of a video store. You can't walk into a Blockbuster without overhearing the couple next to you discussing which movie they'll rent: he wants something with a car chase and she wants something sweet but not too sad. Questions of genre are a familiar part of video-store culture, influencing every part of the ritual down to the organization of the store itself.

    Before class, list as many broad types of movie as you can, starting with the basic categories and then dividing this list into subgenres if possible. These categories are always just behind our first response to a new movie. When someone says they liked or didn't like the new Julia Roberts movie, they are silently comparing it to other films she has starred in or other favorite romantic comedies. To adapt Susan Snyder's observation,

      In recognizing such habits as [improbable plots and witty dialogue in a romantic comedy] . . . we construct a notion of a [film's] modus operandi that in turn conditions our reactions as dialogue and action unfold. A sense of the norms of genre guides us through that unfolding: prompting sympathy or detachment, highlighting the significance of what we witness, and raising expectations about what is to come. The [screenwriter/director] may also at times invoke generic codes in order to play against them, refusing to fulfill the expectations he has aroused and thus pointing us in a marked new direction. (“Session 1” )

    List 2 or 3 examples of recent films that raise expectations based on genre only to fulfill them or play against them. Then in 2-3 sentences, explain how the audience's understanding of these norms is used or manipulated. We'll return to this conversation in class.

Comic Genres Review

    The term Shakespearean Comedy is deceptively singular. No single definition or narrowly-defined genre can contain the 14 plays listed as comedies in the 1623 First Folio, including plays as diverse as Much Ado About Nothing and The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest and Twelfth Night. Neither did Shakespeare draw on a single tradition or set of models, varying his methods as often as his material.

    Return to Susan Snyder's The Genres of Shakespeare's Plays web-seminar and read “Session 4.” Pay special attention to descriptions of the festive (or festival) roots of English Comedy. You might list festive characteristics you can reflect on as you finish reading the play.

    Shakespeare's Genres – Session 4

    Reread Feste's clowning scene with Sir Andrew and Sir Toby from Act 2, scene 3 (1096-1100). Then watch the following clip from a 1996 film adaptation. You probably noticed the similarities between Feste's lyrics and the carpe diem tradition. If the enemy of love in carpe diem poetry is time, in Twelfth Night what are the enemies of comedy or the festive spirit? If specific characters come to mind, what values or ideas do they represent?

    Present Mirth clip

Redefining Carpe Diem

by   |  10.12.09  |  221-Early Modern


    Professor John Keating reintroduced the phrase carpe diem into American vernacular in 1989 when he told the newest members of the Dead Poet’s Society to “seize the day, boys, make your lives extraordinary.” For all his passion and charisma, Professor Keating was perhaps misleading his young charges by recommending a thinly veiled hedonism cloaked in a catchy Latin title. The ancient originator of the phrase, the Roman poet Horace, admonished his readers “to seize the pleasures of the moment without concern for the future” (American Heritage Dictionary). A more familiar translation of the idea first appeared in William Tyndale’s 1525 New Testament as “Eat, drink, and be merry, tomorrow we shall die” (Luke 12:19, I Corinthians 15:32).

    In the film, one of Keating’s favorite examples comes from Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time”:

    Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
    Old time is still a-flying:
    And this same flower that smiles today
    To-morrow will be dying.
    (Norton 1659)

    But even Herrick’s quotable carpe diem poem is misleading, ending with a concession to traditional morality in marriage (see last stanza). A better example of the undiluted carpe diem tradition can be found in an edgy, contemporary lyric, stolen from antiquity by the band Cake:

    Now, I just want to play on my panpipes.
    I just want to drink me some wine.
    As soon as you’re born, you start dying,
    So you might as well have a good time.
    (“Sheep Go to Heaven”)

    Admittedly this is dangerous advice. Perhaps Professor Keating was justly discharged, but in spite of the best efforts of ministers, parents, and educators, the carpe diem spirit is alive and well in American culture. The reading today represents the attempts of three dead poets to seize some inspiration from the past, reviving and refining as they did the carpe diem tradition. As you read, or reread, these poems, consider what elements each poet draws from this classical tradition. What other elements, old and new, does each contribute to develop his own unique voice?

Remixing Horace Exercise

    Carpe Diem is everywhere in the poetry of popular music. KISS electrified a generation with their anthem “I wanna rock and roll all night, and party every day” while The Chili Peppers’ “One Hot Minute” offers a more restrained vision:

    She said all we have is this,
    We just had to stop and share a kiss . . .
    Just a few minutes spun, spun around the sun,
    A couple more or less and then we’re done.

    Before we begin, try to think of 2 or 3 recent songs that echo the twin themes of the carpe diem tradition, seizing the pleasures of the present before the imminent approach of a dark future. Contemporary music shares at least one aim with Renaissance lyric poetry in recording the energy of youth before it fades, leaving only an affinity for Easy Listening stations and National Public Radio. Consider how 1 or 2 recent artists have reworked timeless themes such as youthful beauty, fleshly or spiritual love, the passage of time, or the approach of old age or death to give them a new relevance to the MP3 generation.

    Choose your favorite and write a short paragraph that describes what you like about the band and considers carpe diem elements in specific lyrics. Post your response to the Remixing Horace thread in the main Class Commons forum.

Seize the Moment Lecture

    As we have seen, the focus of the Middle Ages was fixed firmly on the world to come. With the Renaissance this focus shifts more immediately to the experience of this world, an impression confirmed by its renewed interest in translating and adapting classical forms like the pastoral or Italian stanzas like the sonnet. Where medieval theologians had been content to divorce the body from the soul, Renaissance humanists followed their interests in reconciling the truths of classical philosophy with the Truth of Christian scripture with attempts to reunite body and mind. Poets from Shakespeare to Marvel illustrate the age’s obsession with love as a subject of the flesh and the spirit, body and mind.

    The carpe diem falls squarely in this tradition. It enacts the timeless drama of courtship as its protagonists carefully approach one another with appeals for love, or more immediate pleasures, and coy resistance. Youthful energy and allurement is cautiously balanced by intellectual argument and persuasion. Herrick’s famous example “Corinna’s Going A-Maying” opens each stanza with insistent invitations to “Get up,” “Rise,” and enjoy the pleasures of May Day morning; however, when all other arguments fail, Corinna is reminded of the dark ending of the invitation to “eat, drink, and be merry”:

    Come, let us go, while we are in our prime,
    And take the harmless folly of the time.
    We shall grow old apace, and die
    Before we know our liberty.
    Our life is short, and our days run
    As fast away as does the sun;
    And as a vapor or a drop of rain,
    Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
    So when or you or I are made
    A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
    All love, all liking, all delight
    Lies drowned with us in endless night.
    Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
    Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.
    (Norton 1659, lines 57-70)

Carpe Diem Readings

by   |  10.08.09  |  221-Early Modern

    If the protagonists in the carpe diem poem are always young, vital, and full of passion, their antagonist is always time. The enemy of love and lovers is the progression of time, an ever-present reality in Renaissance poetry that drives many of the poems we read this week. Consider Andrew Marvel’s “To His Coy Mistress” . As you follow along in your book or online, listen to the following reading and watch for the way the speaker balances desire and argument in his artful invitation to seize the moment.

    To His Coy Mistress – read by Dr. Chris Willerton, English professor and poet

    The three sections of Marvel’s poem lay out an implied argument as the speaker moves from the theoretical, if time were not a factor, to the hard reality of the carpe diem. The poem itself moves from moments of wit and playfulness to passages of somber melancholy before finally inviting the listener to choose life and pleasure.

    In this assignment, we’ve combined poems written over more than a half century by poets with radically different backgrounds and purposes. How does each of the poets approach carpe diem themes in an original way? How do they confront the movement of time or the insistent approach of death? In addition to the carpe diem, what other solutions do they offer their young audience? Is seizing the moment the only response to time, decay, and the approach of “endless night”?

Explication Exercise

    Before class, you will need to produce a short explication of an assigned poem. An explication is a close reading of the most important ideas or elements of a poem (see the Writing an Explication assignment for more information). The process of close reading asks you to focus on the parts of a poem and ask how they function in relation to the whole.

    Shakespeare’s sonnets often strike students as overly complex and difficult on first reading, but breaking them down into smaller parts can make the process of interpreting them easier. How can you break longer poems down into stanzas, verse paragraphs, or sentences? Do these sections move logically from one to the next? Does the poet use basic poetic units like the couplet, quatrain, sestet, or octave (2, 4, 6, or 8 lines) to develop a single image or cluster of related images? Listen to the following close reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 12 before moving on to complete the explication exercise below.

    Shakespeare’s Sonnets – Dr. Kyle Dickson, English professor

    Sonnet 12 – read by Dr. Dana McMichael, English professor

    Explication of Sonnet 12 – Dr. Dickson

    As you begin your own explication, the steps below should help you get started:

    Step 1. Choose one of the assigned poems and read it once or twice aloud. Since lyric poetry shares a close relationship with music, reading your poem out loud will draw your attention to rhythms and sound effects the poet may be using to develop his ideas.

    Step 2. Next paraphrase the poem (or for longer poems a short section of it) in your reading notebook by translating its meaning into contemporary speech.

    Step 3. Looking at the poem as a drama, who are the characters? (What do you know about the speaker? Who is the audience or listener?) What is the central conflict? What implied action(s) occurs before, during, or after the poem?
    *Remember that the “I” of the poem is often a dramatic persona and not necessarily the poet himself.

    Step 4. Looking at the poem as an argument or debate, what is the speaker’s rhetorical purpose or goal? What arguments does he use to persuade his audience? What strategies does he use to make these more persuasive? How is the structure of the argument reflected in the structure of the poem?

    Step 5. Now look at the structural and poetic elements of the poem. How does the poet divide the poem into logical parts? How does spacing or punctuation make these logical divisions clear? How does the poet use image patterns or conceits to develop a theme or support an argument?

    Step 6. Look up any unfamiliar words in a dictionary. How does the poet employ difficult, unusual, or related types of words to develop an image or set the mood of the poem? Do they help set a tone that is personal, playful, academic, provocative, devotional, or something else?

    Step 7. Once you have a clear idea of what the poet is trying to say, organize your thoughts into an outline for a 5-minute audio explication. This doesn’t have to be a formal essay, but you should support main points by referencing key lines or phrases (by line number) that help listeners follow along in the poem.

    *See Student Example on Marvel’s “To His Coy Mistress” before you begin your outline.

    “To His Coy Mistress” – Student Example