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Argument 9: The creation of literature turned "poetry" into a field of minor and more intimate genres

REMINDER: Written Test and Tutorials

The written test will take place on January 22, 2008, at 14.00 h It will be held in the lecture room next door to ours, in Hörsaal 1 (A14 1-101)

It will include: A question about proper bibliographic forms (according to the style sheet) A number of questions selectively testing knowledge, or asking you to reconstruct important arguments presented in the lecture. A final question asking you to use information and insights form the lecture in order to construct an argument. The question will be published next week (Jan 15, 2008).

The last tutorials will be held this week (Jan 8 and 10): there you have the opportunity to collect questions and requests which we will address in next week's lecture, and to go over the style sheet again.

Some Received Notions: Poetry from today's perspective

T.S. Eliot reads “The Waste Land”, at Poetry Archive

T.S. Eliot, "The Waste Land", etext

Blake, Jerusalem (1804)

The Status of the Poet

Poets are exceptional human beings.
Their position is simultaneously threatened and privileged.
Their voice has the potential of being at the same time marginal and central (the poet's individual voice can speak for a collective: a group, a nation, humanity).
Among the Romanes a Poet was called Vates, which is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or Prophet [...]
[...] In Turkey, besides their lawgiving devines, they have no other writers but Poets. In our neighbor Countrey Ireland, where truly learning goes verie bare, yet are their Poets held in a devout reverence. Even among the most barbarous and simple Indians, where no writing is, yet they have their Poets who make & sing songs which they call Arentos, both of their Auncestors deeds, and praises of their Gods. [...]
(From Sir Philip Sidney, Defence of Poesie (1595), quoted after: University of Oregon: Renascence Editions, R. S. Bear, March 1995, <http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~rbear/defence.html> [26.11.2006])
The Poet is made by Miracle in his Mother’s Womb, each Man bringing with him an Innate Property thereto at the time of his Birth. Hence Tully [i.e. Cicero] is said to be long ere he could be delivered of a few (and those but poor) Verses, whilst Ovid was so backward in Prose, that he could almost speak nothing but Verse.
(Henry Curzon, Universal Library or Compleat Summary of Science, London: George Sawbridge, 1712, p. 68.)
Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be “the expression of the Imagination”: and poetry is connate with the origin of man.
[...] A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.
[...]Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the World.
P. B. Shelley, "Defence of Poetry", 1821

Lyrical vs. Narrative and Dramatic Literature

  • The poetic is essentially lyrical; there are three main forms of literature: the lyrical, the narrative and the dramatic.
cf. e.g., James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man', 1916):
The lyrical form is in fact the simplest verbal vesture of an instant of emotion, a rhythmical cry such as ages ago cheered on the man who pulled at the oar or dragged stones up a slope. … The simplest epical form is seen emerging out of lyrical literature when the artist prolongs and broods upon himself as the centre of an epical event and this form progresses till the centre of emotional gravity is equidistant from the artist himself and from others. The narrative is no longer purely personal. The personality of the artist passes into the narration itself, flowing round and round the persons and the action like a vital sea. … The dramatic form is reached when the … personality of the artist, at first a cry or a cadence or a mood and then a fluid and lambent narrative, finally refines itself out of existence, impersonalizes itself, so to speak.
( source: James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916, University of Adelaide Library Electronic Texts Collection )
  • definition of poetry:
"... poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity ..."
  • definition of the poet:
"... the Poet is chiefly distinguished from other men by a greater promptness to think and feel without immediate external excitement, and a greater power in expressing such thoughts and feelings as are produced in him in that manner"
  • definition of poetic language:
"The principal object ... which I proposed to myself in these Poems was to chuse incidents and situations from common life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible, in a selection of language really used by men; and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual way ..."
"There will also be found in these volumes little of what is usually called poetic diction; I have taken as much pains to avoid it as others ordinarily take to produce it."

1800 as a Watershed for Poetry: Poetics of Imitation vs. Poetics of Expression and Originality

(cf. M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition. 1953.)
  • The Romantic poets brought about a decisive change in the writing of poetry. Wordsworth's definitions are directed against an older notion of poetry (cf. above).
  • Poets writing before 1800 tried to show their skill and make their mark by imitating the models of the great poets. Their goal was perfection, not originality. When their were writing about emotions, it was not because they felt them, but because it was part of the poetic convention.
cf. Sonnet 2 in Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella (1590)
  • We need to understand the poetics according to which poems are written, in order to understand them properly.

Each Period of Literary History has its Typical Forms of Poetry

  • Elizabethan age: The sonnet, the sonnet cycle – an Elizabethan fashion, imported from Italy (Petrarchism, a male speaker, in love with a woman far beyond his reach and suffering).
Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella (1590)
Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Amoretti (1595)
William Shakespeare, Sonnets (1609)
Lady Mary Wroth, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus (1621)

  • Seventeenth Century:
  • Anti-Petrarchism with emphasis on erotic elements, e.g. John Donne.
  • A turn towards religious poetry (e.g. the "Metaphysical Poets", so called in the 1920s, but not before).
John Donne, Holy Sonnets (1631)
George Herbert, The Temple (1632)
John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667 / 1674)

  • Restoration and 18c:
  • classicist poetics,
  • satires, long didactic poems, imitations of classical models.
  • John Dryden, Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Gray

  • Late 18c and Early 19c: Romanticism:
William Blake, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, John Keats, P. B. Shelley

  • Victorian poetry – "Rediscovery" of medieval forms, and Elizabethan forms,
  • Long poems, spectrum between very 'rational', very 'songlike' writing.
  • Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christian Rossetti

  • after 1900, Modernism: ("Rediscovery" of 17c poetry, "Metaphysicals", cf. above)
  • beauty is no longer a requirement or a goal
  • free verse, many poets abandon rhyme and metre
  • impersonality, objectivity
  • controversy between political vs. pure poetry
  • T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, W. H. Auden

  • later 20c:
increasingly personal voices; Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin.

A More Complex Perspective: Changing Conceptions of Poetry

Poetry before 1750

  • Poetry is defined as everything written in verse.
  • Poetry is divided up into a large number of genres: epic, tragedy, comedy, opera, song, ode, sonnet, elegy etc. etc.
These genres may be higher or lower, greater or smaller, fashionable or unfashionable at any particular time.
  • Poetry has a widespread presence, as an almost everyday form of writing. (For funerals, weddings, for the expression of religious sentiments and beliefs. -- Scholars write poems as prefaces to other scholars' works. )

Poetry after 1750

  • The corpus of existing poetry is reorganised along chronological and national lines:
  • After the mid-eighteenth century, there is a new mode of arrangement which is national and chronological. Cf.
Percys Relics
Warton 1774
  • This chronological rearrangement also changes the conditions under which new poets are writing.
Poets now aim for a place in this chronology.
Critics are monitoring the progress of the nation’s poets.
Poets can form groups / schools / movements which (may claim to) represent new tendencies and can attract critical controversy.
First example: the debate about the “modern school of English poetry”, later renamed the Romantic movement.

  • Poetry is incorporated as a vital part of the newly-formed concept of Literature, but with some major differences to the older concept of poetry:
  • Literature implies the exclusion of some genres which used to be part of poetry (notably the central areas of opera and song)
  • Literature includes new genres which were not originally part of poetry (the novel)
  • The term poetry itself was increasingly reduced in scope (only rarely used for dramatic or narrative texts), limited to a set of smaller poetic forms which had previously not been specifially labeled as a group.

Two things to consider in conclusion:

  • Many elements of poetry (in the pre-1750 sense) have become vital elements of the newly-formed literature, e.g.:
  • the poet / the author as an exceptional human being
  • the concern with skilful, artful language
  • the concept of the poetic / literary genre.

  • The settings and situations for production and circulation of poetry are manifold, and the changes in the way poetry is written, correspond to these different settings.
  • Poems have entered the school syllabus (as national heritage, as a medium for developing one’s personality).
  • Institutions that maintain the precarious position of the poet:
  • Prizes and Awards
  • Poetry readings
  • Poets in residence
  • Creative writing programmes at universities

What do we do with a poem?

Do NOT begin with analysing the metre and rhyme scheme. That comes later.

Do a routine check:

  • who is speaking, to whom, when, where? (what is the communicative situation)
  • what is being spoken about?
  • what are the special charactistics of language (figurative, metre etc.)
  • what is the "external communicative situation": (form of publication or circulation)
  • employing linguistic / poetic / aesthetic conventions or transgressing against them.

Can you discover particular genre characteristics?

Can you discover signs of the context of publication?

What kind of a situation does this poem anticipate?