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West Chester University

Spring 2003

West Chester University

Fall 2002

Spring 2002

Fall 2001

 

 

 

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Course Information
  WRT 120 Syllabus
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Fundamental Questions About Literature
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Ambiguity
  Critical Thinking and Reading Literature
  Notes on Four Short Stories
  Defining the Short Story
  The Genesis of the Short Story
  The Art of the Short Story
  Responding to 'The Birthmark'
  Notes on Nathaniel Hawthorne
  A Guided Reading of 'Bartleby'
  'Bartleby--Questions for Analysis
  A Cultural Context for 'Bartleby'
  A Vocabulary for Fiction and Beyond
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Young Man on Sixth Avenue
  A Study Guide for the Fiction Exam
  Defining Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry: Imagery
  Supplemental Poems
  The Craft of Poetry: Sound
  The Craft of Poetry: Structure
  Lines of Continuity
  Study Guide for the Poetry Exam
  The Birth of Greek Tragedy
  Stepping Through OEDIUPS THE KING
  Aristotle's 'Tragic Hero'
  Questions for Studying OEDIUPS
  The Relevance of OEDIPUS Today
  Study Guide for the Drama Exam

Notes for Effective Writing I
  Understanding the 'Rhetorical Situation'

Journeys
  John Gardner

Announcements and Assignments
  WRT 120 Announcements
  WRT 120 Assignments
  LIT 165 Announcements
  Lit 165 Assignments

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  Weblog for WRT 120
  Weblog for LIT 165
  Writing Assistance on the Web

Join an Online Forum
  WRT 120 Composition Forum
  LIT 165 Introduction to Literature Forum

 

~~ LINES OF CONTINUITY:
What Poetry and Other Literary Genres Share ~~

The point to be made here is that poetry has much in common with fiction, and with drama as well.

  1. Poetry, like fiction, is imaginative literature, a creative work of the imagination. Its author has created a world we can enter into that will at some level bring us back meaningfully to our own world. It's that same imaginative journey.
  2. Poetry has characters. The speaker in a poem is a "character." It's not developed in the same way it might be in a short story, but the voice of the speaker in a poem is analogous to the narrator of a short story—it's the voice communicating with us, speaking to us, or, at least, speaking, and we're overhearing it. Sometimes poems contain characters that the speaker tells us about. Sometimes poems are even little narratives, little vignettes. They're pretty different from the kinds of plotted stories fiction offers, but they are stories. (You can't imagine a short story writer giving us "Stopping by Woods" or "Dust of Snow," for instance, but they are brief stories, nonetheless.)
  3. Poetry has point of view. The speaker provides us with a perspective, a vantage point from which to view thought, ideas, feelings, actions. The speaker is analogous, as we already said, to a short story's narrator.
  4. Poems share many literary elements with fiction (and drama), including theme, ambiguity, irony, symbol, and paradox, as explained below.

THEME (Although Archibald MacLeish tells us a poem "shouldn't mean but be," most readers look for meaning in poems anyway. When you read and consider "Those Winter Sundays," for example, you may come away with the idea that love can be expressed in unexpected, enigmatic, even austere ways—but it is still love; or you may feel that the poem expresses the sad truth that we often take our family for granted, and that we may come to regret our lack of real gratitude.

AMBIGUITY. Poems are "open to interpretation" to a very high degree. Consider "My Papa's Waltz" (p. 671). Students often give this poem widely divergent readings. Some see a happy childhood memory, a romping father and son, and a loving relationship—some see a carefully veiled figurative expresssion of the way the threat of violence hung in the air when an alcoholic father came "waltzing" home, forcing the family to dance around his abusiveness. The text of the poem seems to support these two widely divergent readings.

IRONY. Poets, along with many other kinds of writers, have that ironic sense. A few excellent examples are "First Party at Ken Kesey's with Hell's Angels" (p. 715) and "Richard Cory" (p. 614). In "Richard Cory" what appears to be true is not really true beneath the veneer. Richard Cory has wealth, education, good looks (grace), fame, and maybe even humility. He has everything we envy, which we've been conditioned to believe will bring us everlasting happiness. What child doesn't fantasize about being famous? What American doesn't fantasize about getting filthy rich? What American doesn't want to be "one of the beautiful people" (to quote John Lennon). But fame, wealth, and beauty aren't the recipe. We'll have to look elsewhere. When Richard Cory kills himself, his death challenges all our assumptions about the real meaning of wealth, fame, and good looks. Richard Cory is not an enigma; his suffering and despair make perfect sense when we hear how others see him. No has ever bothered to get to know him beneath his glossy surface. His superficial relationships have apparently grown thin.

SYMBOL. Recall "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Remember how the speaker visits those snowy woods, which might symbolize that final resting place, his attraction to death? And how at the end of the poem he leaves the woods and chooses life? Well, other poems can be read symbolically, too. Excellent examples include "The Tyger" (p. 670) by William Blake, and the three "rose" poems in your handout: "The Sick Rose," "My Luv is Red Rose," and "One Perfect Rose." In "One Perfect Rose" Dorothy Parker treats the conventional symbol of the rose, used to effect in the previous two poems, sardonically. By preferring a "limousine" to the rose, the female speaker lets us know she's not interpreting her lovers' intentions the way they'd prefer. Does she seem ungrateful? But she fully understands the "language of the floweret," and it's a cliched language without originality and without committment. Inwardly, she rejects it. She's not fooled anymore, she seems to be sighing to her fellows. She's been there too many times, in the kind of passionate, romantic relationships that flame and then fizzle. The rose represents a kind of love that has its limits, and she wishes she would meet a man who'd offer her something more. Something exciting, maybe--an opulent joyride, something luxurious for a change, or perhaps marriage. Is she just a material girl, or is she wising up to the knowledge that her boyfriends only seem interested in one thing?

PARADOX. How can something like "much madness" end up being "divinest sense"? How can two seemingly opposite attributes be reconciled? Emily Dickenson explores that paradox in her poem "Much Madness is Divinest Sense" (p, 750). So how can madness be sense? How can insanity be rational? In this piece of conceptual wordplay, Emily Dickenson observes that our definitions for these terms are at best arbitrary, even a bit meaningless, or, at least paradoxical. How does one get to be considered "sane"? By going along with the crowd (by conforming, like Auden's "Unknown Citizen," (a poem we unfortunately didn't get to study, since it's not in your textbook) and never questioning "authority"). But is that really sane? What if the authority/majority wants to keep the institution of slavery, or wants to exterminate an ethnic group, or wants to do some other immoral or greedy or stupid thing? By challenging the majority, you'll be labeled insane, yet what could be more sane than challenging immorality, greed, or stupidity? It's the rare, democratic society that tolerates—even values—protest. I wonder how many of us consider American society that kind of democracy? Many places in the world, if you don't go along, the authorities like to come along and drag you away with a chain. Is that true here?

 

 

 

 

 

     

 


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