First Paper

This paper requires you to (1) describe poems “close-up,” at the level of individual phrases or lines, and (2) to use those observations to contribute to a much larger debate about what poetry means or does. Pay attention to the way variations in meter, sounds schemes, and tropes add complexity (and sometimes contradictions) to a poem’s overall effect. When comparing multiple poems, or comparing a poem’s “argument” to an essay, do not neglect the differences between the genre, tone and occasion of each piece of writing.

Additional research is not necessary. All sources must be documented in a Works Cited list following MLA guidelines. You do not need to include line numbers unless a quotation would be confusing otherwise: e.g., “Shakespeare’s third mention of ‘will’ (l. 3)…” Include page numbers when quoting articles.


Due Thursday, Feb. 7, at 9:00 p.m. on Blackboard (for a workshop the next day):

·a central question or hypothesis

·an outline, breaking your central question into smaller units (examples, objections, etc.)


Paper due Monday, Feb. 11, at the beginning of class. It should be 5-7 pages, double-spaced, in a standard 12-point font. Worth 10% of your final grade.


1.     Compare Auden’s presentation of Yeats in “In Memory of W.B. Yeats” with the general description of the poet in Richards’s “The Availability of the Poet’s Experience.” How does each author explain the relation between a poet and his/her social context? How might one account for the differences?


2.     Teachers often explain that sonnets pose a problem (aging, jealousy, etc.) in their first 8-12 lines, then solve that problem in the final couplet (in the Shakespearean style) or sestet (in the Petrarchan). Identify one or two sonnets by Shakespeare or Donne which departs from that norm, or whose solution seems to raise further problems for our understanding of the poem as a whole. Develop an argument about a pattern you find.


3.     Many lyrics are structured as three-way conversations between the poet-speaker (“I”), an addressee (“you,” usually a lover), and a third party, even if not all parties are explicitly present. Develop and support an argument about the relation between these three roles with reference to one or two of the poems below. You may consider, for example, sexuality/gender roles, soul and body, time and memory, or textual coherence.

a.     Any of Shakespeare’s Sonnets

b.     Donne’s “Batter my heart, three-person’d God”

c.     Hopkins’s “Carrion Comfort”

d.     Millay’s “What lips my lips have kissed”

e.     Kunin’s “The Sore Throat”


4.     Shakespeare’s “My mistress’ eyes,” Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” and Kunin’s “The Sore Throat” are all deeply skeptical about what poetry or poetic language can do. With reference to one or two of the above, explain how the poem reconciles its critique of poetry in general with its own existence, or tries to make the poetic form work differently. You may wish to relate your argument to Wimsatt and Beardsley’s concepts of “internal” and “external” elements (in “The Intentional Fallacy”) or their distinction between a poem and its “results” (in “The Affective Fallacy”).




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