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Classical and Biblical Traditions in English Poetry

ENGL 531.301
instructor(s):
T 9-12

The aim of this course is to provide opportunities for students to experience at first hand some of the literary forms, themes and characteristic sensibilities of ancient poetry from Greece, Rome and Israel which provide meaningful contexts for a wide range of English lyric poetry. The main premises of the course are: (a) that writers are also readers, and that among the factors which contribute to a reader's construction of a text is previous experience of other literature; (b) that people have read the same texts in different ways at different times and found different texts more meaningful at some times that at others; (c) that in the late twentieth century we have largely lost easy,
personal access to a range of expectations and knowledge of classical literatures and the Bible, which were previously shared by many writers and their readers; (d) that our inability to recognize, describe and assess the nature and applications of classical and biblical traditions in English poetry devalues and many invalidate our responses, intellectual and aesthetic, to such poetry. The structure of the course in the first half of the semester is designed to allow comparative study of English poems, produced from the fourteenth century to the present day, in the context of
biblical poetry such as the Song of Songs an the Psalms, as well as ideas of the poetic and allegory, which English readers and critics such as Sidney and Wordsworth derived from traditional resposes to these biblical texts. Milton is the central figure linking both parts of the course which, in the second half of the semester, examines Greek and
Roman ideas of poetry, through specific examples of work by Sophocles, Aristotle, Horace and Ovid, and then focuses on: Latin love poetry read alongside English love lyrics written in imitation of these Roman conventions and models; love letters and representations of the woman's voice in Ovid, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and eighteenth-century poetry and prose; and finally, odes and elegies on personal or public themes, including war and politics, from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries.  All non-English texts are read in translation. Assessment for the course will be by three essays.  In addition, each student will be expected to make two brief, oral presentations to the seminar in order to initiate discussion on his/her choice of topic.