What is poetry? What is the role of the poet in society? These are the questions that will pursue us throughout this course, as they did the writers of the Romantic era. Other questions we will consider include: can poetry survive in our modern age? What are the generic parameters of poetry as a form of expression? What debt do we owe to the poetry of the Romantic period? In the course of responding to such questions, this class will come to understand the development of literature and culture from the eighteenth and into the nineteenth century by examining a selection of texts spanning the British Romantic era (roughly 1789 - 1832). Investigating the possible meanings of “Romanticism,” we will also explore the relationship between the literature of the period and the historical circumstances of its production. To do this will concentrate primarily on works by the six main canonical poets of the Romantic period (Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats) and the major female poets of the age (Anna Barbauld, Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson, Jane Taylor, and Felicia Hemans).
Paying close attention to conventions and innovations of poetic form, we will also aim to relate these writings to larger debates current in the period, on topics such as religion, nationalism, the language of poetry, English political responses to the French Revolution, the cult of Sensibility, gender, and the nature of the self. Finally, the class will seek to understand and appreciate poetry: how does one read poetry? How does one analyze verse form? How does one make sense of poetic “license”? By the end of this course, students should gain both an understanding of major eighteenth- and nineteenth-century verse forms and a facility in analyzing those forms. Course requirements will include lively class participation, several short response papers, two essays (5-7 pages), and a class presentation.