introduce metaphor, parts of a metaphor, paradox
Notes and Discussion Questions:
As we begin to discuss the literature of the seventeenth century, I ask that you take time to learn how to read poetry thoroughly. We will be
discussing much of the following in class, but there will not be time for all of it. A good deal of the learning you do for this class will
take place outside of class. These notes and discussion questions should guide you.
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.
The poems for today describe people in places. Both Donne's and Phillips' describe parting from someone, which suggests travel. Consider how
you part with a loved one. What sorts of things do you say to the loved one? What promises do you make? How does this change with a different
person? With a different place? Marvell's poem is about a special place, a retreat. Do you have a retreat that you go to when you need to be
alone? What does your retreat look like? If you were to write a poem or an essay about your special place, what details would be important
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:
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: How does the poem represent travel in the world? What about travel frightens
the person to whom the speaker addresses the poem? What do you say to someone you love before
you go on a long, possibly dangerous, trip?
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:
Discussion question: What does the poem suggest about female friendship? Why is this an appropriate subject for poetry?
3. Marvell's "The Garden"
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 its purpose?) note the
construction of place in the poem. How does Marvell describe the garden? What does this garden
have to do with other famous gardens? Can you think of other important gardens that he might
be alluding to? How is it different?
Discussion question: What is the speaker's attitude toward nature in the poem?
Discussion question: How does gender affect the representation of or access to the garden?
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