This seminar on poetic history and form explores the conjunction of sex and death in one of the most enduring and vital of literary genres: the elegy. From antiquity to the present, poets have struggled to give voice to diverse experiences of loss, and erotic attachment has always helped condition the terms in which loss gets expressed. An exemplary traditional genre, elegy's very traditionality is based on the perennialism of disruption: human mortality and the instability of erotic attachments. We will be pursuing the connections between loss and eros in a wide variety of English and American elegies from the Renaissance to the present, among which are many of the most dazzling and influential poems in the English language. Authors will include Edmund Spenser, John Milton, Anne Bradstreet, Andrew Marvell, John Donne, Alexander Pope, Thomas Gray, Percy Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Lord Byron, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Christina Rossetti, Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, W. H. Auden, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Audre Lord, James Merrill, Adrienne Rich, Michael Harper, and Marilyn Hacker. In their poems of love, grief, and memory, some of these writers offer consolation for apparent losses of continuity; others challenge confidence in restitutive possibilities; still others are radically subversive of social norms. Complacent or skeptical, enblissed or enraged, they open up challenging questions about desire, identification, reproduction, the erotics of form, and the gendering of poetic language. To facilitate our discussion of the poems, we will also read theoretical accounts of mourning and sexuality from various fields. Students will be asked regularly to present informal responses to assigned readings; and to write two very short essays and one longer essay.
May fulfill one of several requirements. Please see Graduate Chair.