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Lecture 02: Poetics and Poetry: An Introduction

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Slideshow for the second lecture in my summer course, English 10, "Introduction to Literary Studies: Deception, Dishonesty, Bullshit."

http://patrickbrianmooney.nfshost.com/~patrick/ta/m15/

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Lecture 02: Poetics and Poetry: An Introduction

  1. 1. Poetics and Poetry: An Introduction English 10 Summer 2015 Patrick Mooney, M.A. 23 June 2015
  2. 2. What is “poetry”? ● There have been many working definitions of "poetry" over the time that the study of literary texts has classified texts into various genres and subgenres. ● Questions of what constitutes "poetry," and of what separates poetry and prose from each other, have been the subject of bitter disputes amongst literary theorists. – Partly, this is a result of the vastly different characteristics of various pieces of writing that have been called "poetry." – Some theorists of the 20th century have even declined to recognize that there is a distinction between poetry and prose.
  3. 3. A rather inclusive definition ● At least provisionally, we can take "poetry" to refer to (literary) writing that has a strongly motivated connection between its content (what it says) and its form (how it says it). – Note that even this rather inclusive definition will exclude at least some writing that has been called "poetry." ● Nevertheless, this idea — that poetry is a text with a close relationship between ideas and their expression — gives us a provisional way to think about the characteristics of what might be called "poetry" and what its characteristics are. ● This idea also highlights the importance of understanding the generic expectations of various poetic forms.
  4. 4. So what is “genre”? Most of us have at least a provisional understanding of what this word means: we understand differences like: – Horror movies vs. action movies – Hip-hop vs. indie – Poetry vs. prose fiction Genres also have subdivisions: – Slasher horror vs. supernatural horror – Christian hip-hop vs. crunk – Shakespearean sonnets vs. Hallmark™ cards
  5. 5. Forms are also conventions allowing for the creation of meaning ● Poetry is not necessarily composed to adhere to specific poetic conventions. – However, the western (and, in particular, English- language) tradition has a long history of expecting that poetry will meet specific genre-based expectations. – We’ll spend some time this quarter looking at several traditional poetic genres.
  6. 6. Primary formal concerns in poetry ● English-language poetry (often; traditionally; primarily) organizes sounds according to various rules in which repeating patterns are expected to occur. ● Many people find these patterns easy to sense, but hard to define or talk explicitly about. ● Part of what we’ll be doing with poetry this summer is learning to understand: – What these rules are, and what vocabulary is used to discuss them; and – How these patterns relate to content.
  7. 7. Especially for the next two to three weeks, we’ll be primarily concerned with three major formal components of poetry when we encounter it: – Syllabification – Accent – Rhyme ● English-language poetic rhythm is (traditionally; most often) organized according to a system called accentual-syllabic meter. – This is actually a fairly uncommon metrical system, and other languages tend to think about meter in other ways.
  8. 8. Metrical “feet” ● (Metered) English poetry is traditionally organized according to a system of repeating “feet” (patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables) organized in a regular pattern: i sing of Olaf glad and big whose warmest heart recoiled at war a conscientious object-or – e.e cummings (you’ll read this for 6 July) – This poem’s basic pattern is iambic (unstressed-stressed), which is the most common stress pattern in English poetry.
  9. 9. Two-syllable feet ● Unstressed-unstressed: pyrrhus (virtually never the basis for English verse) ● Unstressed-STRESSED: iamb at-TEMPT, com-PARE, a-RISE ● STRESSED-unstressed: trochee STOR-ies, LE-gends, TROU-ble ● STRESSED-STRESSED: spondee (again, virtually never the basis for verse)
  10. 10. Three-syllable feet ● Unstressed-unstressed-unstressed: tribrach (virtually never the basis for English verse) ● Unstressed-unstressed-STRESSED: anapest un-der-STAND, an-a-PEST, in-ter-RUPT ● STRESSED-unstressed-stressed: dactyl PO-e-try, MOCK-ing-bird, END-less-ly ● STRESSED-STRESSED-STRESSED: molossus (again, virtually never the basis for verse)
  11. 11. How many feet in a line? 1 foot: monometer (rare) 2 feet: dimeter (rare) 3 feet: trimeter 4 feet: tetrameter 5 feet: pentameter 6 feet: hexameter 7 feet: heptameter (rare) 8 feet: octameter (rare) ● More often than not, a line of (English-language) poetry can be spoken in a single breath.
  12. 12. ● Iambic pentameter: but WHEN the MELanCHOLy FIT shall FALL (John Keats) ● Iambic tetrameter: strange FITS of PASsion I have KNOWN (William Wordsworth) ● Trochaic tetrameter: ON the DAY of THE exPLOsion (Philip Larkin)
  13. 13. Rhyme ● Basically, it just means “the repetition of the same sounds in two or more words.” – Most commonly, at the ends of words. – In poetry, we’re most commonly concerned with the ends of poetic lines. ● There are many kinds of rhyme besides perfect rhyme. We will encounter several varieties this summer. ● Traditionally, rhyme schemes are indicated with letters that are shared between rhyming lines: abab is a common rhyme scheme.
  14. 14. Poetic form: nutshell version ● Talking about the form of a poem (or a section of a poem) generally requires specifying meter and rhyme as a minimally adequate description. ● There are many many traditional arrangements of meter and rhyme. – We will encounter several this summer. – You should expect that the ones we talk about explicitly will likely turn up on the final exam. – We will definitely not learn all of the traditional English-language poetic forms this summer.
  15. 15. An example: the ballad stanza ● Very common in spoken-word poetry in England and Scotland (and, to a lesser extent, in the U.S.) from approximately the 16th to the 19th century. ● Many variations on the form exist. However, here’s a sample of a common variant: A slumber did my spirit seal; I had no human fears: She seemed a thing that could not feel The touch of earthly years. (William Wordsworth; you’ll read this next week.)
  16. 16. ● This is one of the more common forms of the ballad stanza: four-line stanzas rhyming abab in alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. ● The churchgoers in the room may have encountered the ballad stanza as a common hymn form, where it is often called common meter. Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see. (John Newton)
  17. 17. The sonnet: a quick introduction ● Fourteen lines! – There are occasionally poems of other lengths that their authors will call “sonnets.” – However, we won’t worry this summer about George Meredith or Gerard Manley Hopkins’s attempts to stretch the form past the point of recognition. – The sonnet is the only major form in English that is fourteen lines long. ● There are many sub-types of sonnets. We will encounter four or five this quarter. ● Sonnet sequences are also common groupings of poems.
  18. 18. ● There are many many sonnet rhyme schemes. The hardest way to learn to identify a sonnet sub-type is to memorize all the rhyme schemes. ● Easier: look for the volta, or “turn.” – In most sonnet forms, there is a place in which the conceptual direction of the sonnet shifts between lines: ● From concrete to abstract; ● From problem to resolution; ● From past to present; or … ● Many other possibilities. – This change in conceptual direction is almost always also signaled formally in some way.
  19. 19. Petrarch’s Sonnet 159 In what bright realm, what sphere of radiant thought Did Nature find the model whence she drew That delicate dazzling image where we view Here on this earth what she in heaven wrought? What fountain-haunting nymph, what dryad, sought In groves, such golden tresses ever threw Upon the gust? What heart such virtues knew?— Though her chief virtue with my death is frought. He looks in vain for heavenly beauty, he Who never looked upon her perfect eyes, The vivid blue orbs turning brilliantly – He does not know how Love yields and denies; He only knows, who knows how sweetly she Can talk and laugh, the sweetness of her sighs.
  20. 20. Petrarch’s Sonnet 159 In what bright realm, what sphere of radiant thought Did Nature find the model whence she drew That delicate dazzling image where we view Here on this earth what she in heaven wrought? What fountain-haunting nymph, what dryad, sought In groves, such golden tresses ever threw Upon the gust? What heart such virtues knew?— Though her chief virtue with my death is frought. He looks in vain for heavenly beauty, he Who never looked upon her perfect eyes, The vivid blue orbs turning brilliantly – He does not know how Love yields and denies; He only knows, who knows how sweetly she Can talk and laugh, the sweetness of her sighs. A B B A A B B A C D C D C D
  21. 21. e.e. cummings, “next to of course god america i” a "next to of course god america i b love you land of the pilgrims' and so forth oh a say can you see by the dawn's early my b country 'tis of centuries come and go c and are no more what of it we should worry d in every language even deafanddumb c thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry d by jingo by gee by gosh by gum e why talk of beauty what could be more beaut- f iful than these heroic happy dead g who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter f they did not stop to think they died instead e then shall the voice of liberty be mute?" g He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water
  22. 22. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red; If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun; If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head. I have seen roses damask’d, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks. I love to hear her speak, yet will I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant that I never saw a goddess go; My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground. And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare As any she belied with false compare.
  23. 23. The English (Shakespearean) sonnet ● Has fourteen lines organized into three four-line quatrains and a final couplet. – Typically, in Shakespeare's sonnets, the volta comes between the last quatrain and the couplet. – In pre-Shakespearean English sonnets, the volta often comes between the second and third quatrains. ● Generally in iambic pentameter (especially in English). ● Shakespeare's sonnets often explicitly mock or otherwise subvert the conventions (expectations) of the Petrarchan sonnet.

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