West Chester University

Fall 2001

Spring 2002

West Chester University

Fall 2002





Course Information
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Your Response and Mine
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  Fundamental Questions about Literature
  Four Short Stories (Considerations)
  Genesis of the Short Story
  Responding to 'The Birthmark'
  Notes on Nathaniel Hawthorne
  Bartleby - A Guided Reading
  Bartleby - Questions for Analysis
  A Few Notes on Herman Melville
  A Vocabulary for Fiction and Beyond
  Notes on Innovative Fiction
  Five Writers Define the Short Story
  A Study Guide for the Fiction Exam
  Ars Poetica
  Poets Define the Art of Poetry
  Reading Poetry
  Supplemental Poems
  The Craft of Poetry - Imagery
  The Craft of Poetry - Sound
  The Forms of Poetry
  Revisiting Theme, Ambiguity, Irony, Symbol, and Parodox in Poetry
  Study Guide for the Poetry Exam
  The Birth of Drama
  Aristotle's Tragic Hero
  Stepping Through Oedipus the King
  The Relevance of Oedipus Today
  Oedipus the King -- Study Questions
  Ibsen's Theater / A Doll House
  A Study Guide for the Drama Exam
  Study Guide for the Final Exam

General Announcements


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  A Weblog for LIT 165
  Writing Assistance on the Web

Join the Conversation
  LIT 165 Discussion List

~~ Defining Poetry
What is "poetry"? the "poetic"? ~~

Excerpted partially from a compilation by Barry Spacks

ARISTOTLE (from The Poetics):

"Imitation comes naturally to human beings from childhood; so does the universal pleasure in imitation.… We take delight in viewing the most accurate possible images of objects which in themselves even cause distress when we see them (e.g. the shapes of the lowest species of animal, and corpses). The reason for this is that understanding is extremely pleasant, not just for philosophers but for others too in the same way, despite their limited capacity for it. This is the reason why people take delight in seeing images; what happens is that as they view them they come to understand and work out what each thing is (e.g., 'This is so-and-so.')"

SAMUEL JOHNSON (from Preface to Shakespeare):
"The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing."

SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (from Biographia Literaria):
"A poem is that species of composition, which is opposed to works of science, by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth; and . . . discriminated by proposing to itself such delight from the whole, as is compatible with a distinct gratification from each component part."

"The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of faculties to each other, according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination."

WILLIAM WORDSWORTH (from Preface to Lyrical Ballads):
"Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind."

"Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science. Emphatically it may be said of the poet, as Shakespeare has said of man, "that he looks before and after." He is the rock of defense for human nature; an upholder and preserver, carrying everywhere with him relationship and love. In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs: in spite of things silently gone out of mind, and things violently destroyed; the poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time."

(I can't identify this author; however, I like his list!)

"A piece of writing is poetic when it:"

1. Sings
2. Moves
3. Shimmers
4. Cracks the whip
5. Has an undefinable "woo woo" quality
6. Recreates the early childhood pleasures of moon, Mom, and mud
7. Forces an epiphany
8. Imitates nature
9. Contains the music of plain speech
10. Marries sound and meaning
11. Just sounds good
12. Shatters self-important, secluded views of the world
13. Snaps you into a different state of mind
14. Sets off your indicator lights
15. Is the exact opposite of a gazebungle
16. Connects the reader with an interior "otherness," sort of like music
17. Brings the whole soul of man into activity
18. Offers the most accurate possible symbolic image of objects which when they are actually seen cause distress (corpses, worms, etc.)
19. Instructs by pleasing
20. Proposes pleasure, not truth, as the immediate object of attention
21. Creates a sort of religious feeling
22. Is nothing else, so is poetic by default
23. Remembers things silently gone out of mind
24. Induces movement by precise expression
25. Transforms contemplated emotion into actual, felt emotion
26. Breathes the finer spirit of all knowledge
27. Looks before and after
28. Sees relationships and love everywhere
29. Binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society
30. Feels as if it was always intended to be written as a poem and does not feel like prose in drag
31. Achieves a certain level of song that exceeds the limits of human language
32. Causes a crackling blue spark to arc from the page to the reader's mind
33. Purges pity and terror
34. Ritualistically recalls horrible memories in loving detail
35. Is news that stays news
36. Hits you with a brick
37. Lives beautifully for a moment and then dies
38. Burns for the joy of it
39. Rings your bell
40. Lifts you off

"Introduction To Poetry"

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.


"A poem begins with a lump in the throat, a home-sickness or a love-sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where the emotion has found its thought and the thought has found the words."

First published in Robert Frost: The Man and His Work. New York: Henry Holt, 1923. (See Bartleby Archive for more of Frost's work.)


" an ancient art or technology: older than the computer, older than print, older than writing and indeed, though some may find this surprising, much older than prose. I presume that the technology of poetry, using the human body as its medium, evolved for specific uses; to hold things in memory, both within and beyond the individual life span; to achieve intensity and sensuous appeal; to express feelings and ideas rapidly and memorably. To share those feelings and ideas with companions, and also with the dead and with those to come after us."

The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998: 8-9.







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