Brief Description of Course: When we talk about the poetry of the late-eighteenth century, too often the discussion turns that distinctive period’s work into a mere prelude to the developments of Romanticism. The latter half of the century becomes a series of “pre-Romantic” moments, a frame that impoverishes not only the work of these poets but also that of the generation that followed. This course, by contrast, will survey several major works from the period spanning roughly 1750-1800 on their own terms. Together, we’ll try to gain a sense for the way poetry and poetics were changing in the period, how they responded to the urbane satire of the first half of the century, and how they met the challenges of their own time. What were poets trying to do in this period? And how did writers use poetry to imagine their world? What, for that matter, did it mean to be a poet at a time when the old neoclassical orthodoxies were starting to show their age?
In other words, this course will situate late-eighteenth century poetry in its historical and cultural contexts, even though its primary focus will be on close reading texts (indeed, at a somewhat leisurely pace). Students should expect to read across various poetic genres and modes therefore—from satire to elegy, mock epic to lyric, comic discourse to melancholic meditation—and will be asked to think deeply about the assumptions and methods they bring into reading these works.
Required Reading: May include Johnson, The Vanity of Human Wishes; Goldsmith, The Deserted Village; Smart, selections from Jubilate Agno; Barbauld, The Rights of Woman;Cowper, The Task and much more.
First Three Authors: Johnson, The Vanity of Human Wishes; Gray, Elegy in a Country Churchyard; most likely a piece of secondary criticism on the prevailing trends of the period.Method of Evaluation: Participation (20%); close reading assignment (25%); annotated bibliography (20%/each); final essay (35%).