The readings for today introduce the lyric poetry of the early seventeenth century. I've
assigned a number of poems for three authors in order to have you experience the variety
of subjects and forms that are characteristic of these writers and the time period. However
we will be focusing on three poems in class for discussion. While I expect you to read
and understand to the best of your abilities all of the assigned poems, please take some
extra time to read carefully the following three:
Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," (1248-9)
Herbert's "The Pulley," (1610)
Philips' "To Mrs. M. A. at Parting" (1682)
One of the poetic traits that unifies these works is the use of elaborate and difficult
metaphors, or conceits, a characteristic sometimes connected with the "metaphysical" style of poetry.
While the term "metaphysical" has limited value, we will be exploring the texture and
complex meanings created by this type of metaphor in these poems.
Notes and Discussion Questions:
1. General Notes on Reading Poetry
For those of you new to poetry, please take some time to learn the art of reading poetry.
It is different from prose, and there are certain stages in reading poetry that you need
to move through in order to appreciate it. For more information on reading poetry, please
refer either to the "Poetic Forms and Literary Terminology" in the back of the NAEL (pp.
A44-A60) or see Perrine's Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry 11th edition.
The first thing you should strive for is an understanding of the poem on the denotative
level, that is, what the poem says. (This may be difficult for the poems for today, because
they seem to challenge sense by suggesting strange and elaborate comparisons.) You should
be able to summarize what the poem is about and to paraphrase the lines.
The second level of meaning arises when we examine the use of figurative language, sound
and other types of poetic technique. You should be able to understand what the poem
suggests -- or its connotation. This becomes easier as we discuss the poems in class.
Finally, ALWAYS read the poems more than once. At least once read the poem aloud.
Perrine offers (pp. 27-31) some important questions to address when we read a poem. These are
questions to which we will return again and again for every poem. Let's get used
to answering them:
- Who is the speaker?
- What is the occasion?
- What is the central purpose of the poem?
- By what means is that purpose achieved?
2. Donne: "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"
As with each of the poems, attempt to paraphrase each stanza. What is being said in
the first stanza? What is being said in the second?
After you paraphrase the poem (Or try to; it is difficult), attempt to answer the questions:
who is the speaker? What is the occasion?
These questions relate directly to the title of the poem. What is a "Valediction"? who
is saying it and why?
What is the central purpose of the poem? How do you know? By what means does the poem
achieve this purpose? What are its dominant characteristics?
HINT: Focus on the images Donne uses to convey his sense of love for his partner. What
images does he use and what connotations do they convey? Are they appropriate images for
the purpose of the poem? Is this a love poem or an astronomy / geometry lesson?
Discussion question: What seventeenth-century concerns are apparent in this poem? Could
it have been written at earlier time? At a later time?
Discussion question: How does this poem compare with "The Flea"? With The Holy Sonnets?
What similarities can you find?
2. Herbert's "The Pulley"
Once again begin with a summary and stanza-by-stanza paraphrase. What is this poem about?
Who is the speaker? What is the occasion? What challenges does Herbert face in creating
the voice of this particular speaker? How does he overcome these challenges?
What is the purpose of the poem? What does it "do"? How does it achieve this purpose?
Consider the title "The Pulley." To what does this refer? What are the implications
of the image and the metaphor?
2. Philip's "To Mrs. M. A. at Parting"
After answering the same set of questions for this poem (what does it say? Who is the
speaker? What is the occasion? What is the purpose? How does it achieve the purpose?)
note the central paradox of the poem: that although the friends part they are still together.
In what ways does the poem represent this unity despite separation?
What role does hyperbole play in the final stanza? What is the effect?
Discussion question: How does this valediction compare with Donne's "A Valediction:
Forbidding Mourning"? What similarities can you find? What differences?
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