"Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." "Poetry makes nothing happen."
Between Shelley's claim to power and Auden's deflation of expectation lies the thing itself and those who spend their lives shaping it. This course begins and ends with the twin questions, "what is a poem?" and "who is a poet," ranging across major statements about the function and value of poetry and major examples written (mostly) in English. Among the ancillary and sometimes vexed questions to be considered are the roles of form and genre, imitation and innovation, spontaneity and craft, nature and art, refinements of style and claims for sincerity, the twin spaces of the public office and the private retreat. We will also keep an attentive eye on audience expectations, commercial pressures, patronage, the occasional tyrant, and other of the objective constraints within which poets have historically labored. The first half of the course will range through earlier centuries; the second half will concentrate on the twentieth century. Requirements: one short paper responsive to issues raised in class, a final seminar presentation, a longer essay derived from it -- and much good talk.