S.Howe Syllabus-American Metaphysical Poetry

We are like whalers who have been on a long chase. We have at last got the harpoon into the monster, but we must now look how we steer, or with one flop of his tail he will send us all into eternity. _____ Abraham Lincoln. remark after the Emancipation Proclamation Its "My Captain again: always My Captain." My God! When will they be able to listen to me for whole and good! _____ Walt Whitman. remark after the Harper publishing house asked his permission to reprint 'Oh Captain! My Captain!' in a school reader. English 682. 19th and 20th century American Poetry: AMERICAN METAPHYSICAL POETRY. Professor Susan Howe. T. 3:30 pm. SYLLABUS : Fall 1994
Syllable. n. 2. A small part of a sentence of discourse; something very concise. This account contains not a syllable of truth. Before a syllable of the law of God was written--Hooker Syllabus. n . [L., From the same source as syllable.] An abstract; a compendium containing the heads of a discourse, &c. Metaphysical: a. See metaphysics. Pertaining or relating to metaphysics. 2. According to rules or principles of metaphysics; as, metaphysical reasoning. 3. Preturnatural or supernatural. [not used]-Metaphysics: n. [It is said that this name was given to the science by Aristotle, or by his followers, who considered the science of natural bodies, physics, as the first in the order of studies, and the science of mind, or intelligence, to be the second. ] The science of the principles and causes of all things existing; hence, the science of mind or intelligence. This science comprehends ontology, or the science which treats of the nature, essence, and qualities, or attributes of being; cosmology, the science of the world, which treats of the nature and laws of matter and of motion; antroposophy, which treats of the powers of man, and the motions by which life is produced; psychology, which treats of the intellectual soul; pneumatology, or the science of spirits or angels, &c. Metaphysical theology, called by Leibnitz and others theodicy, treats of the existence of God, his essence and attributes. These divisions of the science of metaphysics, which prevailed in the ancient schools, are now not much regarded. The natural division of things that exist is into body and mind, things material and immaterial. The former belongs to physics, and the latter to the science of metaphysics. _____ Noah Webster. An American Dictionary of the English Language. Purpose: During the seminar I hope we will explore together what an American Metaphysical Poetry might be. Is there such a thing? How does American Metaphysical poetry differ from English Metaphysical poetry? We will closely read some of the poems of Dickinson, Whitman, Melville, H.D., Eliot, and Stevens listed in the syllabus. Students will be expected to hand in a weekly typed reaction to the weekly reading and discussion. You should also be prepared to talk with Janice Knight and Susan Stanford Friedman on their work. Their books will be on reserve at Lockwood. Requirements: An oral presentation (15-20 minutes ) on some aspect of a particular poem we are reading. Much of a poem's meaning is in its sound. As part of your oral presentation you will be expected to read aloud whatever poem, or section of a poem, you choose. We must decide on the schedule for these report/performances on our second meeting. I will assign topics arbitrarily if you havent got one by September 13. The first presentation shouldl be presented on that day and each week following. A final paper (15-20 double-space pages) due on December 13. Required Texts: All these texts with the exception of Whitman are at Talking Leaves. Emily Dickinson: We will be working from Dickinson's fascicles and the Manuscript Books will be on reserve in the library. There you can copy fascicle 34 to bring to class. _______________The Master Letters, Amherst College Press. H.D.: Trilogy, New Directions. T.S. Eliot: The Four Quartets, HBJ (Harvester). _______________ Ash-Wednesday--(xerox copy of first edition). Herman Melville: Clarel, Northwestern-Newberry Edition. Wallace Stevens: Collected Poems. You can consult the first edition of Transport in the Poetry Room. Walt Whitman: An edition of Leaves of Grass that includes the poems we cover. I am using the Library of America edition. A copy of the King James version of The Old and New Testaments.
Schedule: Week 1 T. August 30. Introduction to the seminar. Discussion of purpose, schedule, etc. Week 2 T. Sept 6. Holiday. Week 3 T. Sept. 13. Preparation for Janice Knight's visit. Emily Dickinson Dickinson. Life slide lecture. Week 4 T. Sept. 20. Janice Knight lecture at 3:30. She will stay for a discussion with members of the seminar. You should be prepared to question her about her work. Week 5 T. Sept 27. I am away. (we will arrange make-up class.) Week 6 T. Oct. 4. Dickinson, master letters and facsicle 34. Week 7 T. Oct. 11. Melville and Whitman civil war poems: Battlepieces, Aspects of the War, and Drum-taps. These two volumes are a result of the years 1861-1865. Melville. "The Conflict of Convictions," " Shiloh," "The House-top." Whitman. "Song of the Banner at Daybreak," "By the Bivouac's Fitful Flame," "Come Up from the Fields Father," "Vigil Strange I kept on the Field one Night," "The Wound-Dresser," "By Blue Ontario's Shore," maybe even When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd. " Week 8 T. Oct. 18. Clarel Week 9 T. Oct. 25. Clarel (I may miss this class) if so makeup Friday? Week 10 T. Nov. 1. Finish Clarel , discuss H.D. and Trilogy . Week 11 T. Nov. 8. Susan Stanford Friedman lecture followed by a discussion with members of the seminar about H.D. and other matters. Week 12 T. Nov. 15. Eliot, Ash-Wednesday (perhaps) and Four Quartets. ("Burnt Norton" "East Coker") Week 13 T. Nov. 22. Thanksgiving Week 14 T. Nov 29. Eliot cont. "The Dry Salvages," "Little Gidding." Week 15 T. Dec. 6. Stevens. Transport to Summer. 1947. We are going to concentrate our reading of Stevens on this one volume published at the end of WW II. Students are asked to consult the first edition on reserve in the Poetry Room. Poems I would like to concetrate on include: "Dutch Graves in Bucks County, " "Chocura to its Neighbor," "Repetitions of a Young Captain," "Esthetique Du Mal," "The Bed of Old John Zeller," "Less and Less Human Oh Savage Spirit," "Description without Place," "Late Hymn from Myrrh-Mountain, " "Two Versions of the same Poem," "The House was Quiet and the World was Calm." "Credences of Summer" Week 17 T. December 13 Final class. Stevens "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction" Final papers due.
Some Recommended Books: There are many others on reserve check Lockwood. Orthodoxies in Massachusetts: Reading American Puritanism. Janice Knight. Harvard University Press. 1994.
  • The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry By T.S. Eliot: The Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge,1926, and
  • The Turnbull Lecures at The Johns Hopkins University, 1933. edit by Ronald Schuchard. Harcourt Brace, 1993.
  • Penelope's Web: Gender, Modernity, H.D.'s Fiction. Susan Stanford Friedman, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H.D. Susan Stanford Friedman, Indiana University Press, 1981.
  • Melville's Protest Theism: The Hidden Silent God in Clarel. Stan Goldman, Northern Illinois University Press, 1993.
  • Ariel and the Police: Frank Lentricchia, U of Wisconsin Press, 1988.
  • The Civil War World of Herman Melville, Stanton Garnor, U of Kansas Press, 1993.
  • American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, vols 1&2, edited by John Hollander for The Library of America Series. 1993. ( superb anthology worth buying if you are working in the period).
  • Whitman: Poetry and Prose. edited by Justin Kaplan for the Library of America series. 1982. (the best edition of Whitman available again worth owning. )
  • Melville's Journals, the Northwestern-Newberry Edition worth buying for anyone working with Melville.
  • The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: Max Weber.
  • Confessions. Saint Augustine.
  • Walt Whitman: A Life. Justin Kaplan, Simon & Schuster, NY 1980.
Ended, ere it begun-- The title was scarcely told When the Preface perished from Consciousness The Story, unrevealed-- Had it been mine, to print! Had it been yours, to read! That it was not Our privilege The interdict of God-- __ Dickinson (1860s) They say that "Time assuages"-- Time never did assuage-- An actual suffering strenghens As sinews do, with age-- Time is a Test of Trouble-- But not a Remedy-- If such it prove, it prove too There was no Malady-- Dickinson (1860s) The Ancient of Days forever is young, Forever the scheme of Nature thrives; I know a wind in purpose strong-- It spins against the way it drives, What if the gulfs their slimed foundations bare? So deep must the stones be hurled Whereon the throes of ages rear The final empire and the happier world. _____ Melville, "The Conflict of Convictions" (1866) Word over all, beautiful as the sky, Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must in time be utterly lost, That the hands of the sisters Death and Night incessantly softly wash again, and ever again, this soil'd world; ______ Whitman, "Reconciliation" (1865) Still the walls do not fall, I do not know why; there is zrr-hiss, lightning in a not-known, unregistered dimension; we are powerless, dust and power fill our lungs our bodies blunder through doors twisted on hinges, and the lintels slant cross-wise; we walk continually on thin air that thickens to a blind fog, then step swiftly aside, for even the air is independable, thick where it should be fine and tenuous where wings separate and open, and the ether is heavier than the floor, and the floor sags like a ship floundering; we know no rule of procedure, we are voyagers, discoverers of the not-known the unrecorded; we have no map; possibly we will reach haven, heaven. ____ H.D. The Walls do not Fall (1942) The dove descending breaks the air With flame of incandescent terror Of which the tongues declare The one discharge from sin and error. The only hope, or else despair Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-- To be redeemed from fire by fire. T.S. Eliot Little Gidding (1943) Soldier, there is a war between the mind And sky, between thought and day and night. It is For that the poet is always in the sun, Patches the moon together in his room To his Virgilian cadences, up down, Up down. It is a war that never ends. Stevens, "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction" (1947)
Soldier's Song: (Sioux) Over the earth I come; Over the earth I come; A soldier I come; Over the earth I am a ghost. _____ Stephen Return Riggs, trans. "Narrative of Paul Mazakootemane."Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society, 1880.