Below are the class materials I have presented in class. I identify each in terms of its purpose . I call these materials "talking points."
For points on specific genres, click below:
1. New Critical (i.e., close reading)
2. Formalist (i.e., genre, structure, literary tradition)
3. Cultural (i.e., issues of gender, class, politics, religion, commerce, urban life, etc.)
The Rhetoric of Seventeenth-Century Literature
|Commonplace ideas, shared by audience||Unique response to common experience|
|Personality of speaker insignificant||Personality of the speaker crucial|
|Powerful structuring elements in theme, metaphors, and imagery||Structural freedom, linguistic freedom|
|Verse pattern tends to be rigid: stanzas, fixed number of lines per verse, balance, order|
|Public genres:||Private genre:|
epithalamion, death elegy, love elegy
epigram, verse epistle, ode and hymn
any public genre can (and is) lyricized; of the genres we will study, the love elegy is most nearly midway between public and private
/Generic Characteristics of the Epithalamion:
1. occasion: wedding, nuptials, marriage
2. subject matter: activities of the wedding day, night
3. structure: awakening, procession, ceremony, party, bedding
4. narrator: an observer; use of imperative voice (Come!)
5. form: stanzaic, often numerological in pattern
6. characters: gods, bride, groom, attendants, community, baby
7. language: sun, flowers, birds, moisture (i.e., anything fertile)
8. bawdy joking (Fescennine jokes)
9. rhetoric of praise, confirmation of society
10. time: urgency
: Talking points on the death elegy
1. The elegy itself is a classical form; i.e., the word "elegy" refers to a verse form. That form is a couplet with alternating lines of hexameter and pentameter. For the Romans, the foot was the dactyl (dactylic hexameter/pentameter); the English language doesn't do dactyls well (just re-read Longfellow's "Hiawatha" for proof), so Englishmen in the sixteenth century quickly changed the Latin dactyl to the iamb (for epic verse too, i.e., blank verse). Rhyme is not a legacy of classical poetry, but Englishmen soon begin to rhyme the elegiac couplets.
2. Death is not the only subject of elegies, as we will see in a couple of weeks when we read love elegies. Remember: "elegy" = form (alternating couplets of iambic hexameter/pentameter, soon regularized by the English to rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter).
3. We will look at three varieties of death elegy: (a) death of a public figure, (b) pastoral elegy, (c) personal elegy. Either (a) or (c) may also be pastoral.
4. Classical poets who wrote death elegies include Theocritus, Bion, and Virgil.
5. This is one 17thc genre that has persisted into the 20thc: famous post-17thc elegies include Dryden's "To the Memory of Mr. Oldham," Gray's "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," Shelley's "Adonais," Tennyson's "In Memoriam," Pound's "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley," and Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd."
6. A death elegy, literally, is a lament for the dead; other terms for death literature include "exequy," "obsequies" (the funeral arrangements as a whole), "eulogy" (a funeral speech of praise), and "epitaph" (tombstone inscription; usually an epigram in form; for American examples, see Allen Ludwig's Graven Images).
7. A related concept is "memento mori," i.e., "remember that you will die," as in this epitaph: "All you that read with little care/ Who walk away and leave me here/ Should not forget that you must die/ And be intombed as well as I." This melancholy tone is pervasive at the turn of the 17thc, in part due to the imminent death of the queen; cf Hamlet's "Poor Yorick" speech.
8. The English experience with writing death elegies can be identified with the publication of Richard Tottel's Miscellany, 1557, a collection of poems including 20 death laments. Spenser picks up the form for his November eclogue, which we'll read. The death-in-youth of such publicly adored figures as Sir Philip Sidney (1586) and Prince Henry (1612) fueled the popularity of the form; a similarly communal outpouring of grief prompted the volume of poems on the death of the graduate student, Edward King, to which Milton contributed "Lycidas," undoubtedly the virtuoso English death elegy (fine though Spenser's is).
Characteristics of the Death Elegy:
1. occasion: death of a public figure (or personal/family loss); sometimes the form imitates the epitalamion by evoking the funeral procession and burial
2. form: elegiac couplets (often rhymed)
3. structure: from loss to consolation (fall to rise)
4. narrator: often an observer or "outsider"; if a family member, the poem moves a step or two toward the lyric
5. conventional elements: summoning of mourners, biographical details or accomplishments of the deceased (some narrative context for the "life");
6. language: darkness, colorlessness, silence, cold, nature faded/blasted, etc.; also, of course, religious language, the language of Christian resurrection
7. The rhetoric of praise heightens both the sense of loss and consolation; rhetoric of community heightens the sense of the universal experience of death (we all lose loved ones; we too shall die)
8. Nothing is more important than the consolation, for the whole point of the poem is to assuage grief, to find consolation for the loss through the ritual of mourning
9. Time: mortal time vs. eternity
The Love Elegy
1. Like the death elegy, the love elegy is a classical form; i.e., here too, the word "elegy" refers to a verse form. That form is a couplet with alternating lines of hexameter and pentameter. For the Romans, the foot was the dactyl (dactylic hexameter/pentameter); the English language doesn't do dactyls well (just re-read Longfellow's "Hiawatha" for proof), so Englishmen in the sixteenth century quickly changed the Latin dactyl to the iamb (for epic verse, i.e., blank verse, as well as for the elegy). Ovid illustrates the form magnificently in the opening lines of Amores, I.i.
2. There may be Greek love elegies (see Sappho), but the form was essentially popularized by Catullus (c. 60 BC). Following him, two Romans--Propertius (c. 29 BC) and Tibullus (c25 BC)--wrote collections of elegies, but a third--Ovid--became the master of the form with his Amores (0 BC/AD).
3. The love elegy differs from the death elegy not only in its subject but also in the absence of a public occasion to which it responds; love-elegiac poets compensate by creating a dramatic moment in a relationship to which to respond. Because of its artificially "occasional" nature, the love elegy is closer to the lyric than is the death elegy. However, it does respond to a body of accepted social mores and sexual behaviors; in this sense, it is communal (often, of course, it asks its participants to defy public morality or acknowledge its hypocrasy).
4. Love elegies are, for the most part, about love affairs (not married love, though this point is debatable in one of Donne's love elegies, #XIX). As practiced by Ovid, the attitude toward love in a love elegy is realistic (lots of detail), erotic (focus on sexual, sensual detail), mature (no beginners here), self-mocking (lover is a foolish figure, love is full of ironies, love situations go wrong), and urbane (worldly, jaded lovers).
5. For us, reading 17thc English love elegies, it is crucial to remember that Petrarch has happened since Ovid. Petrarch, of course, knew Ovid, and he took some of the warmth of his love for Laura from the tradition of the love elegy. But Petrarch was more influenced by the tradition of courtly love, by Dante's love lyrics (La Vita Nuova, for Beatrice, 1292), and by the Platonism of Christian love (Mary=perfect image of womanhood). The poems in his Canzoniere (c. 1350), therefore, are more mystical, romantic, and worshipful than Ovid's, and absent of any real expectation of sexual consummation. It is enough to be permitted to adore from afar, to be transformed into one's better self through love.
6. First the French (e.g., Marot, Ronsard) then the English (Sir Philip Sidney, Astrophil and Stella, written by 1586 [when Sidney was killed] but not published until 1591) ironize Petrarch by bringing tonalities from the love elegies of Ovid and others. Therefore in English love sonnets there is more sex, less idolatry, more awareness of the art-ificiality of the form, and a more complicated sense of the poet-as-lover/fool than in Petrarch's sonnets.
7. But, still not satisfied, English poets turn to the love elegy itself as one means of un-Petrarchizing love poetry. You might consider the poems we read in this section to be consciously iconoclastic (anti-Petrarchan) while perhaps also seeking some formula that is meta-Petrarchan, that is, something that "modernizes" and "mutualizes" love by adding the best of Ovid to the best of Petrarch.
Sample love elegies by Catullus:
Carmen #5:Lesbia, let's live and love without one thought for gossip of the boys grown old and stern. Suns go down and can return, but, once put out our own brief light, we sleep through one eternal night. Give me a thousand, a hundred kisses, another thousand, a second hundred, a thousand complete, a hundred repeat; and when we've many thousand more, we'll scramble them, foret the score so Malice cannot know how high the count, and cast its evil eye.
Carmen #43:Hello, girl-you, with the unshort nose, with the unfine foot and the undark yes, the unlong fingers and the undry mouth, and the not too elegant unclean tongue, playmate of playboy Formian. Do they call you a beauty in nearer Gaul? Is my Lesbia there compared to you? O the world is senseless and witless too!
Carmen #32:Please, Ipsitilla, sugar, my doll, kid, baby, please tell me to come this afternoon; contribute to my ease by letting no one lock your door, by staying where you are; what's more, get set to soothe me, as I choose, with nine uninterrupted screws. Whatever gives, don't make me wait: I'm lying, filled with all I ate, watching my tunic stand up straight.
Characteristics of the Love Elegy:
1. occasion: an event in the progress of the love affair
2. form: elegiac couplet (often rhymed)
3. structure: there is often an implied narrative (the course of a love affair), as there is in Ovid, but English love elegies tend to stand alone. Even Donne's, though numbered as if sequenced, don't appear to have anything to do with each other.
4. narrator: the lover
5. language: specific, erotic, "modern," urban; often it ironizes Petrarchan language, as in Jonson's "By those bright eyes."
6. rhetoric: often the lover is persuading the beloved to make love to him; or, he may browbeat her for some misbehavior; often he praises her, but he has an agenda with this (seduction); he can be downright verbally abusive
7. Time: today, now, for there will be no tomorrow; carpe diem
Talking Points--the epigram
1. The epigram is a very ancient form of literary wit. Its most famous Greek practitioner is Anacreon (6-5th c BC); its Roman master is Martial (1st c AD).
2. It has absorbed subject matter from all sorts of places (innately, then, the most diversely "cultural" of our forms):
a. Praise genres (the encomium or encomia [pl]) such as the epitaph, memorial verses, notes of congratulation
b. Insult literature such as jokes, retorts, limericks, toasts, curses, satirical characterizations, graffiti
c. Puzzle literature such as riddles, oracles, anagrams, acrostics
d. Wisdom literature such as proverbs and folk sayings
3. Its primary element of form is brevity; therefore, its most elemental structure is the sentence. Closure is an absolute; epigrams must "end" well.
4. Its language must be witty. Of course, "wit" means lots of things in the 17th century. It is not just "humor," though it can be that. "Wit" speaks also to polish, to smartness, cleverness, just-rightness, also to ease, to deftness (the Italians call it "sprezzatura").
5. Epigrams, even if encomia, are full of wordplay: double entendre, puns, and irony.
6. Epigrams have no standard of decorum; nothing is too naughty or too nice.
7. Epigrams are highly artificial, showy, self-conscious. They are also parasitic, drawing on other forms of literature. Remember those so-called epithalamia of Robert Herrick (i.e., on the maid who died on the day of her marriage)? They are examples of epigrams that draw on the wedding poem.
8. Rhetorically, these poems are very referential; they look out to events, people, activities, mores, fashions, etc. that are real or stereotypically real. Their readers are expected to be part of the in-crowd, a coterie, i.e., ones who know the people named or satirized. (As a rule, too, that crowd is an urban one.)
9. Epigrams have the appearance of being off-the-cuff, composed on the spot; they are therefore misleadingly simple.
10. Don't yield to the temptation of considering epigrams an insignificant genre; some of our best lyricists are at one level epigrammatists: William Blake, Emily Dickinson
11. Collections of epigrams often use the opening poems, as well as poems scattered throughout, to comment on the genre. See Jonson's "To My Book," Herrick's "The Argument of his Book," and Thomas Bastard's poem, below (which, in form, is a sonnet, yet is poem #1 of his collection of epigrams):
Thomas Bastard, Chrestoleros: Seven Bookes of EpigramesI Speake of wants, of frauds, of policies, Of manners, and of vertues, and of times, Of vnthrifts, and of frends, and enimies, Poets, Physitions, Lawyers, and Diuines, Of vsurers, buyers, borowers, ritch and poore, Of theeues, of murtherers by sea and land, Of pickthankes, lyers, flatterers less and more, Of good and bad, and all that comes to hand, I speake of hidden and of open things: Of strange euents, of countries farre and wide, Of warrs, of captaynes, Nobles, Princes, kings, Asis, Europe, and all the world beside, This is my subiect reader I confesse, From which I thinke seldome I doe digresse.
: Verse Epistle, Satire, and Hymns/Odes
Cyriack, this three years' day these eyes, though clear To outward view of blemish or of spot, Bereft of light, their seeing have forgot; Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear Of sun, or moon, or star, throughout the year, Or man, or woman. Yet I argue not Against Heaven's hand or will, not bate a jot Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer Right onward. What supports me, dost thou ask? The conscience, friend, to have lost them overplied In Liberty's defense, my noble task, Of which all Europe talks from side to side. This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask Content, though blind, had I no better guide.
From the point of view of literary history, the verse letters of the 17th century matter more as precedent for those to come, in the 18th century in particular, specifically Alexander Pope: "Eloisa to Abelard," "An Essay on Man" (which is divided into epistles), and "Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot," the best verse epistle in English.
Verse letters permitted a mix of personal commentary with formal expression, illustrated grace and diplomacy, and demonstrated the casual elegance of one's manners. Remember, too, that it is from the epistle (letters) that the novel is supposedly born: Richardson's Pamela and Clarissa.
The two significant Roman sources are
1. Horace ( a contemporary of Catullus--Horace died in 8 BC); Horace's tone is urbane, indulgent, understanding; he shows comic amazement at man's foolishness, especially social foibles; Pope's satires tend to be Horatian.
2. Juvenal (later, c. 100 AD); Juvenal, in contrast, is hot, bitter, outraged at man's degeneracy. Seventeenth-century poets tend to write Juvenalian satire (ex: Jonson's "The Voyage Itself").
Form: Englishmen use the iambic pentameter line, or iambic pentameter couplets (which, incidentally, are on their way to being called "heroic couplets")
Because of their subject (social, religious, moral abuses), satires are intensely cultural.
Language: suited, of course, to subject; Juvenalian satire is realistic, rough, often vulgar and coarse
Hymns and Odes:
The Classical poets associated with hymns and odes are
Pindar (Greek): hymns of praise, exultation
Anacreon (Greek): drinking songs
Horace (Roman): balanced treatment, meditative, philosophical
- monostrophic: that is, one stanza form used throughout; odes in rhymed iambic pentamenter (heroic couplets-in-the-making) are monostrophic
- polystrophic: three stanzas called strophe, antistrophe, and epode; Greeks loved polystrophic odes; Englishmen have found the form over-complicated; they tend, as Milton does for the "Nativity" hymn, to create their own stanza variations
The hymn or ode becomes enormously popular in the latter half of the eighteenth century. It facilitates a move toward Romanticism by providing a formal genre in which to be moody, melancholy, feelings-oriented. See the poem lists of William Collins (e.g., "Ode to Evening"), James Thomson ('The Seasons") and Thomas Gray (e.g., "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College"). This is a form that the Romantics will continue: Wordsworth's "Intimations" Ode, Coleridge's "Ode on Melancholy," Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind," and Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," etc.
The Lyric: (FINALLY! SOMETHING YOU'VE HEARD OF BEFORE!)
It is generally fair to say that the lyric was a minor poetic form in the 16th century.
It achieved some status by appearing in increasing numbers in collections of poetry such as Tottel's "Miscellany" (1557) and "England's Helicon" (first printing of Marlowe's "Come Live with me," 1600) and songbooks such as John Dowland's "First Booke of Songs or Ayres" (1597), Thomas Morley's "First Book of Consort Lessons" (1599, which has the mustic to two of Shakespeare's songs), and Thomas Campion's "Booke of Ayres" (1601).
The fashion for sonnets helped too. Between 1591 and 1600, a dozen or more sonnet sequences were printed starting with Sir Philip Sidney's "Astrophel and Stella" and including Spenser's "Amoretti," but not including Shakespeare's sonnets (1609).
Also, prose romances such as Sidney's Arcadia were sprinkled with lyrics ("No tongue can her perfections tell").
Also, poets began to publish lyric sequences such as Spenser's "Shepheardes Calendar."
During the 17th century, however, the lyric establishes itself as an independent literary form (independent from the context of prose narrative or poetical sequence; independent from a musical setting).
The 18th century-- being more taken with formal genres such as the satire, epic, verse epistle, and ode--does little to advance the standing of the lyric (although the sonnet, with Milton's help, outgrows its sole subject matter of love).
In the 19th century, however, the lyric acquires new life; it soon overtakes any other form in popularity, and I'll bet that 90% of the 20th-century poetry that you have read is lyric (e.g., Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium"; Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock").
If I am honest, I will confess that many of the poems we have already read are lyrics: "A Nocturnall on St. Lucy's Day," "The Exequy," even, perhaps, "A Ballad Upon a Wedding." Herrick's "Corinna's Going A-Maying" is certainly a lyric; Marvell's "Nymph complaining ..." is too.
What makes a lyric:
Rather than have a structure (like the epithalamion or death elegy), lyrics have "topoi," that is topics that are familiar; sometimes these topics have names; they fall short of being genres by not having enough moxie to require this or that verse form. Some examples of lyric topics or topoi with real names are the following:
In addition, there are topics that are merely descriptive: persuasions to love poems, dream poems, seduction poems, impossibility poems, curse poems, country house poems, festive poems (on holidays), drinking songs, garden poems, fairy poems (often also minature poems), and farewell to love poems.
You will see a lot of these subjects in the collection of Donne's called "Songs and Sonnets" (i.e., "songs and little songs").