Topics for Further Exploration

1. Explain what Rich means by "the book of myths" she refers to in "Diving Into the Wreck."

2. Summarize what Rich means in "Transcendental Etude" by contrasting the cult of individuality with the role of the mother.

3. Infer what Rich means by the fire she describes in "For the Dead."

Allegory: a narrative in which each character or element symbolizes something else; the allegorical symbols have a relationship to each other independent of the text.

Alliteration: the repeated use of consonant or vowel sounds at the beginning of words or in stressed syllables. Aphorism: a wise, pithy remark, suitable for quoting. Caesura: a rest at the middle or end of a line of poetry.

Catalogue: a rhetorical device that suggests completeness by gathering an array of images or examples.

Connotation: the implications behind a word.

Couplet: a pair of rhyming lines; the last two lines of a sonnet.

Denotation: the standard dictionary definition of a word.

Elegy: a poem written as a lament for the deceased.

Free verse: poetry that does not employ any overt scheme of rhyme and meter.

Iambic pentameter: the most common meter of English verse, it consists of an unstressed and a stressed syllable, five times in a given line.

Images: the sensory units that create "pictures" in the mind's eye

Intertextuality: texts are not wholly independent; they often consist of references to or borrowings from other texts.

Metaphor: an indirect, implied comparison, i.e. Richard the Lionhearted Meter: the measured beat or rhythm of a line of poetry

Metonymy: a figure of speech where one word or phrase is substituted for another closely associated with it. (i.e., Uncle Sam for America).

Modernism: a movement that proposed the use of innovative modes of expression in revolt against the traditions of literature.

Pathetic fallacy: ascribing human characteristics to inanimate objects.

Proverb: a concise statement of traditional wisdom, usually balanced and rhythmical.

Quatrain: a stanza of four lines.

Refrain: a repeated phrase that recurs at regular intervals in a poem or song.

Scansion: the act of breaking down verse into metrical units.

Simile: a direct comparison using like or as, i.e. March comes in like a lamb.

Sonnet: A 14-line poem that, in the Shakespearean version, is organized in stanzas of 4-4-4-2 lines.

Symbol: an image that represents something else.

Tone: the relationship of a writer to his/her subject.

Unmediated readings: a traditional perspective which holds that a piece of literature has a single meaning that can be agreed upon.

c. 900-801 b.c The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer

70-19 b.c Virgil, Roman poet

5 a.d Metamorphoses of Ovid

680 Aldhelm, first Anglo-Saxon poet

1000 Beowulf, written in Old English

1304-74 Petrarch, Italian poet and innovator of sonnet

1321 Dante's Divine Comedy

1340-1400 Geoffrey Chaucer, English poet

1362 "Piers Plowman," poem in Middle English c. 1430 Development of Modern English

1564-1616 William Shakespeare

1565 Elegies of Pierre de Ronsard

1572-1631 John Donne, English poet

1608-74 John Milton, English poet

1617 Ben Jonson declared England's poet laureate

1674 Milton's Paradise Lost

1687 William Winstanley's Lives of the English Poets

1688-1744 Alexander Pope, English poet

1757-1827 William Blake

1759-96 Robert Burns, Scottish poet

1770-1850 William Wordsworth, English poet

1788-1824 Lord Byron, English poet

1789 Blake's Songs of Innocence

1794 Blake's Songs of Experience

1819-92 Walt Whitman

1855 First edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass

1830-86 Emily Dickinson

1821-67 Charles Baudelaire

1857 Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil

1874-1963 Robert Frost

1879-1955 Wallace Stevens

1890 First published volume (posthumous) of Dickinson's poetry

1929 Adrienne Rich born

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Born in Stratford-on-Avon, England, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway in 1582 with whom he had three children. Emerging as a London playwright in the 1590s, Shakespeare wrote over thirty plays, the basis of his unparalleled reputation. But he also published a wide range of poetry, beginning with the narrative poems Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594). His sonnets, easily the greatest part of his poetic legacy, were first published in 1609, though written in the 1590s. The autobiographical content of the sonnets has long been debated, though there is no question that their disciplined compression was an excellent preparation for the bulk of the dramatic work that followed.

William Blake (1757-1827)

Apprenticed to an engraver at the age of fourteen, William Blake later attended the British Royal Academy and established himself as an independent engraver. He married Catherine Boucher in 1782, teaching her how to read and write. Blake spent most of his career in London, publishing his own books and engraving illustrations for them. His Songs of Innocence (1789) and Songs of Experience (1794), like his later works, received little in the way of commercial success or critical accolades. A confirmed mystic, Blake was largely unappreciated in his own life and after. Only in the twentieth century was his reputation as a visionary poet established.

Walt Whitman (1819-92)

Born on Long Island, New York, Walt Whitman quit school early and went on to forge a career as a printer, editor, and journalist. In 1855 he published Leaves of Grass, a commercial failure that nonetheless garnered many favorable reviews. A volunteer nurse during the Civil War, Whitman later worked for the Department of Interior but was later fired when Leaves of Grass became controversial as an allegedly "immoral" book. Whitman added to and edited Leaves of Grass during his entire life, the work going through several editions. His Democratic Vistas (1871) is a prose critique of the idea of America that he had championed in his poetry. He moved to Camden, New Jersey, in 1884 and remained a relative recluse until his death.

Emily Dickinson (1830-86)

Dickinson lived her entire life in her father's Amherst, Massachusetts, house, rarely venturing far from home. She graduated from Amherst Academy at 17 but failed to complete her studies at nearby Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. She developed many close friendships, and that with her editor, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, was the most affectionate. Her most productive literary years coincided with the Civil War. She began to see fewer and fewer visitors by the 1860s. In the end, she published only 7 poems during her lifetime. Shortly before her death in 1886, she wrote to her family, "Little Cousins—Called back.—Emily." Her sister found over 1,000 poems after Emily's death, and in the 1890s her reputation began to ascend.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-67)

Born in Paris, Baudelaire developed a lifelong devotion to his widowed mother and a hatred for the man she took as a second husband. In 1841 Baudelaire was sent to the tropics after exhibiting what was considered outlandish behavior. The next year he took up a lifelong affair with a mulatto woman, Jeanne Duval. In subsequent years he was placed under a financial tutelage by his family and also developed a venereal infection. Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) was the only book of poetry Baudelaire published during his lifetime, though it so scandalized French society that six of the poems were later suppressed while Baudelaire and his publisher were fined. Baudelaire also invested considerable time in being a critic, becoming a leading light of literary circles. He translated the work of Edgar Allan Poe into French and established his reputation in France. Pursued by creditors, Baudelaire left Paris for Brussels in 1864 where he was stricken with aphasia and hemiplegia. He returned to Paris where he died in his mother's arms.

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

The son of a journalist and a teacher, Frost attended high school in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he was covaledictorian with his wife-to-be Elinor White. Dropping out of Harvard University, Frost had difficulty publishing his poems in this country and left for Great Britain in 1912, where he first received literary recognition. Later a professor at Amherst College and a frequent lecturer around the country, Frost was selected to read a poem at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961. His life was marked by frequent bouts of depression, affected by the early death of his wife (1938), his son's suicide (1940), and his ultimate failure to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the won instead by his contemporaries W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot.

Wallace Stevens (1879-1955)

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Stevens studied French and German at Harvard. After he completed law school, a legal partnership failed and he struggled to make a living with several law firms. He joined the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company in 1916 and in 1934 became vice president. Stevens's business and literary lives never intersected, business associates having little idea that their colleague was a writer of renown. Stevens's first book of poems, Harmonium, appeared in 1923; later volumes include The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937), Parts of the World (1942), and The Auroras of Autumn (1950). He won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for his collected poems.

Adrienne Rich (1929-)

Adrienne Rich was born into a middle-class family in Baltimore, Maryland, a precocious child in a family of artists and intellectuals. In 1951 she matriculated from Radcliffe College and published her first book. Married with three sons, Rich went on to publish, among other volumes, Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law (1963) and Necessities of Life (1966) before becoming involved in the politics of protest against the Vietnam War. In the 1970s she identified herself as a radical feminist and soon declared herself a lesbian. She has won the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Common Wealth Award in Literature, and the Poet's Prize, in addition to editing a feminist journal and teaching.

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