Dr. Laura L. Runge
ENL 6236 18th Century Women Authors in the Digital Archive
Class 4: 17th and early 18th C PoetryStaves chapter 2 (90-121)
BWPLEC “How to Read Eighteenth Century Poetry,” Introduction
See Author biographies in the back and the alternative table of contents for list of poems for each author.
Behn (BWPLEC and Todd) all poems;
Finch (BWPLEC and Finch Archive http://library.uncg.edu/dp/annefinch/) all poems
Barker (BWPLEC) all poems;
We will review Digital Miscellanies Index in class.
DUE: Post #3
Discuss the poems of Behn, Finch and Barker
Analyze two digital sites for working with 18thC women's poetry
Discuss the corrections you made in Wikipedia
Notes and Discussion Questions
The first thing you should strive for is an understanding of the poem on the denotative level, that is, what the poem says. You should be able to summarize what the poem is about and to paraphrase the lines. Keep in mind Backscheider and Ingrassia's point that poetry is often full of voices and dramatic scenes; it frequently follows a narrative.
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 you read more and we discuss the poems in class.
Finally, ALWAYS read the poems more than once. At least once read the poem aloud. Poetry is meant to convey meaning through sound, and so you deprive yourself of a huge amount of understanding if you do not read it aloud.
Perrine's Sound and Sense offers (pp. 27-31) some important questions to address when we read a poem. These are questions to which you should return again and again for every poem. Let's get used to answering them:
Who is the speaker? (Backscheider and Ingrassia warn us that there may be multiple voices in a single poem.)
What is the occasion?
What is the central purpose of the poem? (This can be discerned by identifying the form and mood as well as language of the poem.)
By what means is that purpose achieved? (This is very open-ended and will differ with each poem.)
As you practice the principles set out by Backscheider and Ingrassia, what works well for you? Where do you have questions?
Many times the poet identifies the form in her title; other times it becomes evident through features such as line-length and rhyme scheme. When you are not familiar with a form (Pindaric Ode perhaps), please do some research to discover what the form is so that you can understand how the poet uses it.
The most critically acclaimed and anthologized of Behn's poetry are "Love Arm'd," "The Disappointment," "To the Fair Clarinda," "To the Reverend Doctor Burnet." The last is only arguably among those poems, but it is a very significant poem worth our attention. Speculate as to why. How do the selections in BWPLEC differ? What might Staves' assessment of Behn's poetry contribute to your understanding of the Behn oeuvre?
Carol Barash writes: “Women’s poetry of this period has suffered a great deal from what I would call under-reading: the assumptions, first, that these women were merely writing about their own experience; and, secondly, that their poetic speakers, literally and simplistically, reproduce that experience” (English Women’s Poetry, 1649-1714: Politics, Community, and Linguistic Authority, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996, page 20). How can you avoid under-reading Behn’s poetry?
Judith Kegan Gardner writes: “In her own time [Behn] was praised primarily as a poet, and she hoped that posterity would place her with ‘Sappho and Orinda’ in a female lineage of poetry and in the ageless pantheon of fame…. Her later reputation is almost entirely as a playwright and pioneer novelist, however…. Today’s feminists prefer her vigorous polemics [in her prefaces to the plays] in behalf of herself and other women to her lyrics on more traditional subjects” (“Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Utopian Longings in Behn’s Lyric Poetry” in Hutner’s Rereading Aphra Behn, p.273).
Behn’s poetry circulated in manuscript, was sung on stage, and published in books, a fate that “calls into question the categories of public and private often used to organize seventeenth-century literary history and also many conventional literary judgments, for example, those exalting the verisimilar over the artificial and the passionate over the playful” (Gardiner 274).
To what extent does Behn’s poetry invoke traditions of cavalier poetry, libertine poetry and pastoral? How does she employ the conventions of such traditions? Provide examples.
“Behn writes in one tradition of Donne, the tradition of witty erotic verse. This tradition is firmly androcentric, making women its objects, and hence it is difficult for women to take it seriously. Behn does not. Instead, she uses the pastoral setting to create alternatives to the world around her” (Gardiner 286). To what extent is this true? Cite examples.
Behn’s poems on other poets or the writing of poetry express the desire for fraternal community: “She does not elaborate on the stresses the solitary poet faces while toiling to find rhymes at her lonely writing table. Instead, she describes the poetic craft as a collective one. By making explicit the favors poets do one another to give all of them more work and more pleasure, Behn produces a community of egalitarian insiders, a mutual admiration society” (Gardiner 291).
Evaluate Behn’s poems on writing poetry and other poets (on Creech). What role does gender play in these poems? How do these poems represent her coteries? What literary values do they express? How might these offer clues regarding how we might be instructed to read her verse?
Choose one poem and apply a contemporary theoretical lens of your choice (e.g. ecocritical, postcolonial, gender performance).
The most anthologized and discussed poems by Finch are “The Introduction,” “Nocturnal Reverie,” and “The Spleen.” Speculate as to why. What about these poems stands out as appealing to our contemporaries? What do we miss if we focus on these writings? If you were to substitute a poem or some poems, what would take pride of place for you and why?
Finch has lately been credited with a much wider range of poetic interests and achievements than might be suggested by the poems abovr. She has been claimed as a political poet (Barash) and an extraordinary translator (Moody) and as the leading professional poet among women of her era (Backscheider). How would you describe her range? What are her strengths, based on your reading?
How does Finch represent herself as a writer? What images or metaphors does she use throughout her poetry to represent art or poetry? To what effect?
The joys or rural retreat or descriptions of the countryside often enter into Finch’s poems. What literary traditions do they belong to? (Ex. Carpe diem poetry of the cavaliers?) What literary trends do they anticipate? To what extent does this matter?
How does Staves' evaluation of Finch aid your understanding of her poems?
Choose one poem and apply a contemporary theoretical lens.
A scholarly edition of Finch's collected works will be published by Cambridge University Press early next year; the website I've assigned is designed by its editors. Explore the presentation of Finch's poems on this site. What benefits are gained by the visual and auditory files? How does this site establish its authority? What do you learn from this site that you did not from the printed collection?
Represented by a smaller number of poems than the other two better known poets, Barker nonetheless occupies an important place in women's literary history. Compare the poems from Barker to Finch and Behn. Does she appear to favor one tradition over the other? Why might that be?
How does Staves' assessment of Barker advance your understanding of these poems? What questions yet remain?
Apply a contemporary critical lens to one of Barker's poems