Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Week three

Happy with yesterday evening's Wordsworth lecture for LTCM - I am getting a better handle on how to use the time (I only lecture once a week, for seventy-five minutes, and the other class meeting is in smaller-group seminars taught by advanced doctoral students). "Preface to Lyrical Ballads," a few pages of John Hollander's delightful discussion of accentual-syllabic verse in English from Rhyme's Reason, some thoughts on "The Idiot Boy" and a bit of Geoffrey Hartman at the end: it was fun.


Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads (1802): “Preface” (95-115), “The Thorn” (and Wordsworth’s note on 199-200), “We Are Seven,” “The Idiot Boy,” “Lines Written a few miles above Tintern Abbey,” “Hart-Leap Well,” “‘Strange fits of passion,’” “‘She dwelt among th’ untrodden ways,’” “‘A slumber did my spirit seal,” “Lucy Gray,” “‘Three years she grew in sun and shower’”

Geoffrey H. Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1787-1814 (1964; Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1987), 141-162
Paul De Man, “Time and History in Wordsworth,” Diacritics 17:4 (1987): 4-17

Here is the first assignment, due in seminar this week:

1. Choose a favorite stanza of “The Thorn” and type it up in your assignment. Then read it out loud and mark in boldface where you think the stresses fall in each line.

We will talk about this in lecture Tuesday, and I’ll give you a supplementary handout, but a good deal of English poetry doesn’t fall into clear and easy feet: you don’t need to identify a specific meter or mark iambs and trochees and spondees as per our Virgil/Milton discussion last week, just start to get the feel for the rhythm of the lines.

2. How many lines are in the stanza, and what is the pattern of the rhyme scheme?

Use letters A, B, etc.: a Shakespearean sonnet in this system would be ABAB CDCD EFEF GG, while a Petrarchan sonnet would be ABBA ABBA with the last six lines – the “sestet” following the “octave” – generally following the pattern either CDECDE or CDCCDC.

3. How would you describe the diction of the poem (vocabulary, turns of phrase, habits of speech and style)? How would you describe the voice of the poem’s speaker?

4. In Wordsworth’s own note to “The Thorn,” he gives a detailed description of the character who speaks the poem. How does this affect your reading of the poem? Would the poem stand more effectively on its own without it, or does the note augment and amplify aspects of the poem as we have it? What does Hartman say about this narrator, and do you agree with his assessment? If not, why not?

5. One stanza that provoked mirth in some readers is XVII (ll. 177-187). What is inappropriate or embarrassing about the language here? Why does Wordworth court the risk of becoming ludicrous here and elsewhere in the poem? How does this relate to the defense of repetition he offers in his note to the poem?

6. Why might Hartman call “The Thorn” “Wordsworth’s most experimental poem” (140) and “one of the strangest poems in Lyrical Ballads” (146)? You can give a few quotations from his discussion or offer your own thoughts and speculations; it will be valuable if you can step outside his terminology and argument and offer your own account of why this should be so.

7. Write three to five separate assertions about “The Thorn” that you are willing to stand by. They can range from description (the kind of thing you wrote in answer to the first question above) to argument (making a case about the effects or meaning of some choice Wordsworth has made, as Hartman and De Man often do). Mark each with an A or a D depending on where you see it falling – you can mark it D/A if you feel that it falls equally under the two headings.

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