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Endless Poetry

ENGL 251.301
instructor(s):
TR 10:30-12

 "A poem is never finished, only abandoned." French poet Paul Valéry's assertion raises a fundamental question we will address in this course: what keeps a poet from finishing a poem? In order to explore some answers to this question, we will consider two kinds of poems in the Romantic period that were abandoned or never finished: verse fragments and poems that exist in multiple versions. We will begin with fragments, like Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn" and Shelley's "The Triumph of Life," and move to a fragmentary poem that exists in more than one version, Keats's "Hyperion." We will then consider multiple versions of poems by Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. Why do poets write different versions of the same poem? Are these poets revising their poems and, if so, are they improving them? What compels a poet to return to, and have second thoughts about, a poem? How do we read various versions of a poem, and what is the relationship among versions? How might these poets provide us with ways to think about the poem as process? Finally, we will turn to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Alfred Tennyson to consider whether Victorian poets would agree that a poem is never completed.

Requirements: reading responses, one short paper (5-7 pages), one seminar paper (10-15 pages), an in-class presentation, and active participation.